819 Camano Avenue

Whidbey Island Fairgrounds (Chicken Farm)

1917: Island County Fair in Langley

1917. Island County Fair at the Langley Marina (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

The idea for an Island County Fair began in in 1912 when nine Coupeville men formed the Island County Fair Association funded with private stock. Fairs were held at the play pavilion from 1912 to 1916 when it was decided to discontinue the fair. The decision was due primarily to the difficulty for people to travel to Coupeville on the existing roads.

The concept of an Island County Fair was reincarnated at the Langley marina in 1917.

To get the fair started, J.C. Langley, town banker and nephew of the town namesake James Weston Langley, announced that all the women who agreed to provide an exhibit would be eligible to hunt for a gold coin he dropped somewhere on his farm.

Exhibits were housed in the large dance pavilion.

1917. Fair exhibits and band in dance pavilion (Courtesy MOHI).

1922: Fair moved to Cascade Avenue

The property on which the dance pavilion sat was purchased by the Standard Oil Company in 1921, and in 1922, the dance pavilion at the marina was demolished to make room for oil storage tanks.

In November, 1922 seven men formed a new Island County Fair Association funded by memberships and the fair moved from the marina to Cascade Avenue. Events were held in the grassy area south of the school and exhibits were housed in the school gymnasium.

1922. Exhibits inside the gymnasium. Langley mayor Margaret (Maggie) Mcleod in foreground (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

In 1923, The Island County Fair Association refined its structure and reincorporated as a Washington state nonprofit organization. Their mission was to manage the fair.

1927. Fair next to the Langley School. Gymnasium (left) (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

As the fair grew in popularity and the school census rose, the decision was made to leave the school gymnasium and move to new quarters.

1934: Land for new fairgrounds purchased

Circa 1934. Plat book image of property purchased in 1934 (arrow) (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

In 1934, local builder Albert Melsen advanced the fair association $300 for the six-acre chicken ranch of J.O. Blackford on the fairgrounds' current site. Seven more acres were eventually added.

1937: Pole Building

The first building on the new fairgrounds was a large Pole Building erected during the Great Depression years. Construction began in 1935 and was completed in 1937. Materials and labor costs were paid by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was considered to be the largest pole building in the U.S. at the time. The river rock chimney, which once was used for the kitchen's wood cook stove, featured a small star pattern in the upper portion.

Circa 1937. Pole Building (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

It was placed on the Langley Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Additional buildings were added during the 1940s and 1950s.

1950. New buildings next to the Pole Building (arrow) and elsewhere on the fairgrounds (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

1954. Pole Building and adjacent buildings (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

A row of small booths was built along the north end of the fairgrounds.

1954. Booths (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

Equestrian and other activities were still held on the field south of the school buildings.

1954. Field south of the school campus (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

A new slab wood entrance and a row of more permanent concession booths along the north end of the fairgrounds were added in 1955. Additional exhibit buildings, horse barns, and other structures were also added.

1955. New entrance to the Fairgrounds (Courtesy Island County Fair Association).

1955. Marchers in front of concession booths (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

In 1962, the Fair Association deeded the fairgrounds property to Island County, but remained responsible for managing the annual fair.

1963. Aerial view of Fairgrounds (Courtesy South Whidbey Historical Society).

The fairgrounds continued to add venues, including an arena for equestrian events named for Jim Eakin built in 1998, and a large barn named for Raymond Gabelein, Sr. built in 1984 to house a collection of antique farm equipment and other items.

2018. Jim Eakin Arena (Courtesy Robert Waterman).

2018. Raymond Gabelein Sr. barn (Courtesy Robert Waterman).

The McLeod and Brooks Hill log cabins were moved to the fairgrounds in 1980 and 1996 respectively as part of the collection of the South Whidbey Historical Society.

2010. McLeod cabin (Courtesy Robert Waterman)

2010. Brooks Hill cabin (Courtesy Robert Waterman).

The Pole Building that over the years has served as a dance pavilion, roller skating rink, theater, school classrooms and cafeteria and fair exhibit hall, was renamed for fair manager Gust Skarberg in 2001.

2012: Whidbey Island Fair

2018. Entrance to the Fairgrounds (Courtesy Robert Waterman).

The Island County Fair was renamed the Whidbey Island Fair in 2012.

2017: Port of South Whidbey assumes stewardship of the Fairgrounds

Discussions between the Fair Association and Island County Commissioners regarding financial issues required to maintain the aging fairground structures resulted in the Fair Association severing their contract with the County.

After lengthy negotiations, the Port of South Whidbey became the new stewards of the Island County Fairgrounds on March 23, 2017. The Port is responsible for maintaining the fairgrounds, and the Fair Association manages the annual fair.

Under the Port's stewardship, improvements to the older facilities are underway with the hope of making the fairgrounds a site for year round activities.

2017. Goggle Earth view of Fairgrounds.

2019: The Port of South Whidbey changed the name to Whidbey Islands Fairgrounds and Event Center to highlight the plan to make it a site for activities in addition to the annual fair throughout the year.