History and future of the Clallam County Fair

The county fair is set for Aug. 15-18, 2024. The 2024 fair theme is “Celebrate The Bounty Of Our County.”

The roots of the Clallam County Fair trace back to an initiative by civic leaders in response to the economic downturn during the Panic of 1893. Determined to uplift the spirits of Clallam County residents, they organized the county’s first-ever celebration, centered around showcasing the natural beauty of Port Angeles’s harbor. Inviting the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet as honored guests, the event aimed to bring joy and resilience to the community amid nationwide hardship.

The inaugural county-wide celebration featured an agricultural fair sponsored by the Clallam County Horticulture Society, housed in the grandeur of the Opera House on First Street in downtown Port Angeles. The venue was festively decorated with auditoriums, stages, and galleries brimming with exhibits, while outside, pens and stalls overflowed with livestock—a testament to the region’s agricultural opportunities.

Over the course of three days, festivities unfolded, culminating in the Harvest Home Ball, a spectacular event that drew attendees from all corners. The Pacific Fleet’s presence became a cherished tradition, with annual visits continuing until the 1930s. Even the second Clallam County Fair in 1914 found its home in the Opera House, underscoring its significance as a hub of community gatherings.

In the subsequent years, the fair’s stewardship transitioned to various organizations, with the Granges taking the helm until 1961, when the County Commissioners entrusted the Clallam County Fair Association with its management. Eventually, in May of 1991, the fair’s operations came under the jurisdiction of Clallam County, administered by the Parks, Fair, and Facilities Department.

At a recent Forks Chamber of Commerce meeting, members of the Fair Board offered insights into the fair’s history and its ongoing impact. Dan McCarty of WSU Extension-4-H highlighted the virtues of youth involvement in 4-H programs, emphasizing the invaluable life skills and experiences gained.

You say you don’t have room for your child to raise a 4-H pet? Well, now kids can “raise” a cardboard pet. They still learn all about the animal, skeleton, organs, and care and give a presentation just like the kids with the real animals.

Despite facing challenges, such as a decline in adult volunteers post-COVID, the fair remains a cherished community event. Last year’s livestock auction alone generated $167,000, while the fair’s rodeo received acclaim as the best new rodeo by the Rodeo Association.

Beyond its traditional offerings, board member Carol Johnson told about other uses for the fairgrounds. The 40-acre space can act as a versatile venue for many events, from reunions to weddings, with ample camping facilities, concert spaces, and storage options available.

The Clallam County Fair continues to evolve and adapt, creating cherished memories for generations to come.