Southwest Washington Fair: A Celebration Dating Back to 1877


Editor’s Note: This brief history of the fair was first published in 2006. The 2022 Southwest Washington Fair begins Tuesday, Aug. 16, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 21. Find out more at

It all began in 1877, when Washington was still a territory. An association was organized for the purpose of promoting “the advancement of agriculture and to aid in developing the resources of Lewis County, which are mainly agricultural, and needing the stimulus of friendly competition to advance them beyond the first rudiments of agriculture which are generally found in a new country.”

On Nov. 21, 1882, the Lewis County Agricultural Association was incorporated and its fair was held in Chehalis on Oct. 6-9, 1891. Successive fairs, under the direction of the Lewis County Agricultural Association, were held until the early summer of 1907.

An item found in the files of the Lewis County Historical Museum reports the first fair was held in 1891 “somewhere in the vicinity of South Market Street in Chehalis about where Fullers Market Basket store (was formerly) located.”

We learn from a 1987 item in The Daily Chronicle that certain harness and other horse racing enthusiasts were not satisfied with the fair as it was. They made many trips in the early 1900s to the state Legislature in Olympia, to persuade that body to provide funding for their dream of a racing venue and new fair facility here.

Their dream became a reality when, in 1908, the Legislature agreed to provide some funding for the fair while stipulating it be held between Chehalis and Centralia. The new fair was to serve a six-county area consisting of Lewis, Thurston, Mason, Grays Harbor, Cowlitz and Pacific counties.

According to “Centralia: The First Century,” we learn that an option for 30 acres of land was secured for the new fair site from a Mrs. Somerville, for $200 per acre. The amount was raised in equal shares by the two towns in less than 30 days; the option was taken up and the deed secured.

Numerous buildings, including a grandstand and a half-mile racetrack, were completed in time for the first fair at the new site in late September of 1909, but all didn’t go so smoothly.

“The weatherman did not cooperate with the first fair as it was deluged with five days of continuous downpour. The rainy debut, however, did not dampen the fair’s progress and it soon became known as an outstanding showplace and as the home of the finest harness horse track in the region,” we read in the Aug. 13, 1982, The Daily Chronicle.

“Through the support of racing stables up and down the West Coast, trotters and pacers were able to compete at the fair’s oval,” the article went on. “Competition in the livestock departments stimulated interest in breeding fine cattle. Consequently, Lewis County and surrounding areas began flourishing as a source of excellent dairy and beef cattle for breeding purposes.”

With its up-and-down financial issues, the fair was suspended in the late 1920s. In 1935, it returned, and continued to operate until the start of World War II. Little is known about this period or the specific reasons for the fair’s closures.

The fair resumed operation after the war under the management of a Carl Hampe. He was followed by the noted Arthur W. Ehret, who worked closely with the new fair board to renew the former prestige of the fair.

“Perhaps one of the outstanding accomplishments during Ehret’s time was construction of a dike on the south portion of the grounds adjacent to Salzer Creek,” we read in The Daily Chronicle, July 25, 1987.

“The dike prevented the annual inundation of all the fair buildings, which were not built high enough to prevent flooding.”

However, even with the dike, flooding was not prevented some years.

“The 1972 break in the dike resulted in flood damage to the fairgrounds of nearly $500,000. Many of the damaged facilities were replaced and other buildings gradually modernized. The dike broke again in November 1986, however, with heavy water damage being sustained by the fair office. The office has been relocated to a building near the fairgrounds’ south entrance.”

Today’s fairgoers flood the fairgrounds for a chance at some good old-fashioned fun.