San Juan County Fair: Cultivating a love of community | Editorial

San Juan County Fair: Cultivating a love of community | Editorial

It’s time to get a little dust on your boots, hay in your hair and pie crust on your shirt: the San Juan County Fair is one week away.

Inside this week’s edition you will find our annual guide to the fair, which is held at the fairgrounds in Friday Harbor. You will find stories about 4-H, a full schedule of exhibitions and an entertainment calendar. Other noteworthy events to check out: Trashion Fashion, Fair Feud, Circus Camp and cuisine from around the world in the food court.

While at the fair, make sure to stop by the booth of the Islands’ Sounder, Journal of the San Juans and Islands’ Weekly inside the Main Exhibition Hall. We are handing out free copies of that week’s edition and offering daily raffles for subscriptions as well as the ever-popular “caption of the day” contest (prizes include tickets to the movie theater on Orcas and San Juan).

And don’t forget to let us know how you did in the competitions! Send us photos of your prize-winning jam or grand champion ribbon in horse gaming. Email

This year’s theme pays homage to the fair’s 113 years of history, and is titledA Wheel In Time: Cultivating Roots. Prints of the poster, designed by Jessie Carter McDonald, are available to the public before and during the fair, in the administration office with a donation.

Read below for a brief history of the San Juan County Fair courtesy of

The first San Juan County Fair was held in 1906 in a warehouse on the waterfront in Friday Harbor during the first week of October, a time when agriculture was flourishing in the islands. Under the auspices of the San Juan Farm Bureau, farmers and county residents alike were proud to show off the “splendid products of the soil,” the Islander reported. The event drew a crowd of over 1,200, not just islanders, but visitors from Bellingham and Anacortes who came by the steamer.

On display during the first Fair were the county’s prolific crops: fruits, flowers, grains and grasses. Aside from “ordinary products of our fertile farms and fruitful orchards,” the paper reported that Orcas Island farmer P. Bostian exhibited tobacco, a crop he was experimenting with. Other farmers were trying out walnuts and chestnuts, quinces and citron, also displayed that year. The livestock exhibit included some of the best teams of horses driven by the county’s farmers.

A department called “Ladies Work” highlighted the fine embroidery, tatting, quilting, rag rugs, patching and darning, hemstitching, painting and other homemaking skills of the women of San Juan County. John McCormick’s stunning photographs of the islands captivated viewers.

Although farmers had banded together as the San Juan Farm Bureau, meeting regularly on Shaw Island, it wasn’t until 1921 that another Fair was held in the San Juan Canning Company’s warehouse. … The 1921 Fair was such a huge hit that it has been held annually since then.

Islanders sought a permanent location for the Fair, and considered several sites — 10 acres on Shaw, the area in Friday Harbor called Kwan Lama, and its current location — before purchasing the heavily timbered 10-acre site in 1923 for $1,200. Volunteers blasted stumps, plowed and leveled the ground. It took 10 or 12 teams of horses to get the site ready for fencing. Community members turned out to erect the main building, the stock buildings, and the Pioneer Log Cabin. On October 8, 1924 the first Fair was held in its present location, less than one year after work began. … A chartered boat from Bellingham brought 200 people to the Fair; the total attendance was 1,200.

Since 1924 the San Juan County Fair has grown from a two-day affair to four days chock-full of activities, now drawing 22,000 visitors. And the fair grounds have also grown; the Fair Board purchased 3.78 acres adjacent to the horse barn in December 2005.

We can’t wait to see what we’ll discover at this year’s fair. Our youngest community members are hard at work preparing their animals for competition; gardeners are nurturing vibrant blooms and weavers are finishing up their latest masterpieces.

Whether you are a novice or veteran of the county fair, there is a little something new to explore every year.