A Brief History of the Whidbey Island Fair

Fairs were founded by land grant colleges, and have deep roots in agriculture, education and the economy of the communities they serve.

Initially formed in 1912 as a private stock company, the Island County Fair Association refined its structure and reincorporated in 1923 as a Washington state nonprofit organization. In 2002, the Fair Association qualified for and received 501(c)3 nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service, in part because the Association saves taxpayer dollars.

From the acquisition in 1934 of the first parcel of land for $300, through construction begun in 1935 to the Pole Building’s completion in 1937, with the addition of horse barns and exhibit halls erected during the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s .... the Fair Association owned and maintained the fairgrounds with the indispensable help of its many volunteers - and without County involvement.

In 1962, the Fair Association deeded the fairgrounds property to Island County with the stipulation that the land could never be sold without a majority vote of the descendants of the South Whidbey pioneer families who built it with their own funds and sweat equity, as represented by voters within the South Whidbey School District boundaries.

From inception and for the past 50 years, Island County has overseen a separate Fair Fund that is distinct from the County’s Current Expense Fund. Revenues for that fund are generated by the Fair Association from gate admissions, booth fees and concessionaire percentages, camping, stall fees and the carnival commission. The other 360 days of the year, revenues are augmented by boat storage, camping, facilities rentals and donations.

Thus, while Island County citizens now own the land, the Fair Association continues to manage the fairgrounds on the same self-supporting basis it has done since Albert Melsen advanced that first $300 to purchase an old chicken ranch.

Although more land has been acquired and more buildings have been built since 1923, the focus and intent of the Fair Association remain unchanged. Our mission is to improve the Fair and enhance the fairgrounds, but it is with the fervent hope that we never lose sight of our beginnings as an old-fashioned country fair. Like drive-ins, good fairs are hard to find and worth keeping!

It is toward that end that the Island County Fair Association elected to become an area fair, defined by state statute as a fair that represents more than a single county’s citizenry.

Reverting to the privately-managed nonprofit entity we have been since 1923 eliminates confusion as to the role of the Fair Association, which is not now and never has been part of Island County government, in the minds of State and County officials as well as the public, and reduces the County Commissioners’ responsibilities to those of a landlord. As stewards of the fairgrounds property envisioned, erected and maintained throughout the years by Fair Association volunteers, we anticipate attracting wider Fair participation and attendance from our neighboring counties, keeping us vibrant.

A quilted sampler hanging in the Fair office attests to the fact that "There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer." Fair Association members are volunteers; all department superintendents and stewards are volunteers, 4-H is a volunteer organization. Fair Association members are interested in presenting the best possible Fair, and our membership is open to all who share that goal. The Association generally meets on the first Monday of each month and our dues are $10 per year. If you enjoy the Fair, consider being a part of it. We are always anxious to welcome new people and new ideas. Drop by our office on the grounds, give us a call, or send us an email sometime. We look forward to meeting and working with you.

Membership Application