By Hannah Combs
On the wall of the Bonner County Fairgrounds office, a blue ribbon is framed and hangs prominently on the wall. In lustrous gold figures on the worn blue background are the numbers 1927, which is known as the year of the first Bonner County Fair. In 1927, before the fair moved to the area now known as Lakeview Park and decades before it moved to its current location on North Boyer, the fair was held at the Methodist Community Hall and livestock entries were penned in an empty lot across the street. It was a “tremendous success,” according to the Pend Oreille Review, with so many entries that there was hardly enough room for visitors to navigate around them.
At the time, the focus was on agriculture and communities competed for awards as well as individuals. With award premiums totaling nearly $250, communities got competitive. The Sagle community was noted for creatively spelling ‘Sagle’ out of apples in their display. Colburn produced many novelty items, from Filbert nuts and popcorn to buckeyes and rabbit mincemeat. The Midas (Garfield Bay today) display, though the smallest, took home the prize for best spuds. But no one could beat the Sunnyside-Culver-Oden display, which was the largest and took home first place that year. Much of its success may have been due to Mrs. Ole Peterson of Oden Bay, who individually had more fair entries than most of the communities. She won awards for her elephant pears, turnips, cantaloupes, and just about every canned good imaginable.
The story of the first Bonner County Fair is well known… or so we thought. At the request of Darcey Smith, current Fairgrounds Director, the Bonner County Historical Society’s research team dug into the early history of the fair, and what they found surprised us all.
In the summer of 1908, an enterprising young politician gave a speech to the Sandpoint Commercial Club. Paul Clagstone had brought his new wife to the Hoodoo area a few years earlier and built a successful cattle ranch. As his prominence in the area grew, he took a shot at running for a seat in the state legislature. But in order to secure the vote, he knew he would have to win over the bigwigs in Sandpoint. He appealed to the Commercial Club that he could bring together all of the farmers for a county fair, saying “the displays could then be taken for exhibition at the Spokane Interstate fair and Bonner County and its resources would thus be doubly advertised.”
With the Commercial Club’s support (and funding), the first fair was held that fall in the upstairs rooms of what is now Larson’s on First Ave, and its exhibits were later transported, fully intact, to Spokane. The 250 entries featured primarily fruits and vegetables since the building owners did not want livestock inside, but nevertheless the exhibits showed “a marvelous representation of Bonner County.”
Over the next few years, the fair bounced between other improvised locations while the community tried to make plans for a permanent fair site. The Bonner County History Museum’s collection includes a few artifacts from these years, including an award slip from 1909 entitling Ethel Ashley to a $1.00 prize for her watercolor painting. The museum collection also boasts a silver-plated trophy from 1912 with the inscription ‘Best Apples.’
The fair ended after 1912 for unclear reasons, possibly connected to WWI, and the fair lay fallow for the next decade and a half. When it was revived in 1927, it appears the community was so excited that they forgot all about the earlier events.
As we enter the 13th decade of Bonner County Fairs, agriculture is still one focus of fair exhibits, but many people now know the fair for its exciting livestock shows and auctions. Just like the origins of the fair itself were a surprise, when animals were first accepted in 1927, the entries were equally surprising. That year, Mrs. E.D. Blood of Dover took home the silver cup for her display of chinchilla pelts.
Research courtesy of the Bonner County History Museum and Maggie Mjelde.