West Linn Old Time Fair

by Larry McIntyreJuly 2014


In relating the 50 plus years of history of what we call the West Linn Old Fashion Fair, we are also in many ways telling about a community that has changed a great deal during the same time period. The City of West Linn had gone from a quiet community of 3000 plus in the 1950’s with its economy primarily driven by the Crown Zellerbach paper mill to a city that today numbers over 27000 and many of its residents are employed all over the Portland region. It is this transition from a local to a regional lifestyle that has also changed the focus of the Fair over the years. Deemed as a vital component by the citizens of the community for its continuance, the actual volunteer citizen involvement has in many ways given way to the need for a paid professional staff. The result has been a transition from an all volunteer Fair to an event as part of a much larger program of the West Linn Parks & Recreation using a Fair Committee for guidance. Like most stories it contains twists and turns. To cover the entire fair over the years would be too extensive. This piece is concentrating on the first few years of the fairs beginning. The continuance of the Fair well into the 21st century is a remarkable story and a feat and goes beyond just tradition so here is the story of the Fair “too tough to die”. Here is how it all started.


Much of the information compiled here came from the following individuals: Ben Fritchie Jr., Cheryl Larson, Marge Logsdon & Melanie Lawer along with the assistance of The West Linn Tidings. Over the years there have been a number attempts to put into some form the history of the Fair. There were three primary sets of records or documents that I used in writing this paper.

The first source of information:

The most extensive is a series of documents generated by Cheryl Larson. The basis for most of her information came from reviewing the Fair souvenir programs that have been printed each year since its inception. In addition she reviewed various newspaper articles written about the Fair. She also used the extensive collection of Fair memorabilia owned by Ben Fritchie Jr. and others. Her interest in the Fair is more than just a passing one as Cheryl was Queen of the Fair in 1965. We are much indebted to her for the efforts in developing the written history of the Fair. Her information is in a report style. The original reports were dated July 2012 and have been updated to include the 2013 Fair information. The style of report generated, dealt with a specific event or activity as its own separate category. Example: The listing of all the “Fair Presidents” is one report while another covers “Parade Themes and Grand Marshals”. In total there are six reports. Blended together they tell the chronology of the Fair.

The second source of information:

Is a series of minutes having been taken by Mildred Younge, member of Willamette Grange #888. I secured copies of these from Ben Fritchie Jr. and Marge Logsdon. These minutes were transcribed in 1996 by Mildred Younge’s daughter, Melanie Lawer. It appears that in addition to being the Grand Master of the Willamette Grange Mrs. Younge may have acted also in the capacity of a recording Secretary for the Grange when it came to the Fair or as notes for her own records. There had been an official Fair Secretary elected in 1956 as part of the initial organization. Her name was Helen Taggart and she remained the Fair Secretary for a number of years. To the best of my knowledge most of the original minutes of the Fair taken by Mrs. Taggart were lost some years ago.

In reviewing Mrs. Younge’s now transcribed minutes I discovered that there are a few errors in the now typed documents. Specifically the dates of the meetings didn’t match up with the calendar. This error may have been due to difficulty in reading and transcribing hand written documents by her daughter almost forty years later. There is an indication by Melanie Lawer that she also noticed the problem with the dates but after asking her mother about them and being assured the dates were correct went ahead and finished the transcriptions that we have today. By cross checking the incorrect dates with other information that we have we were able match up the activities with a corrected date. It appears only the dates are incorrect and not the information. Unfortunately we only have papers from Mrs. Younge that covers a period from 1956 to 1959. The records of Grange #888 were sent to the Frog Pond Grange # 111 at the time of their merger around 1986.

The third source of information:

Among the Fritchie collection I found and I used is a copy of the Constitution and By-Laws of the Fair as adopted in 1966. The document included a heading of the stated purpose for the Fair: “The purpose of this organization shall be to organize and promote a West Linn Fair for the purpose of a community gathering and a place for organized community exhibits and fun”. By 1966 the Fair had grown into a much looked for event and a tradition within the community. Many individuals and groups outside the fair board were helping out with the fair which led to this interesting statement in the by-laws. “Committee chairmanships may be distributed among the Board members and other community personnel showing a willingness to assume this responsibility”. And that they did! A good example of “other community personnel” was that of the leadership of the West Linn Garden Club. Attached to the Fairs Constitution and By-Laws was a recap of that clubs sponsored activity at the Fair entitled “Adult & Children’s Flower & Vegetable Show for 1966”. The competition was keen and it appears that there was lots of community involvement.

In the Beginning:

The event we now call The West Linn Old Fashion Fair started as an offshoot of a fair program being promoted and operated by the Willamette Grange Hall #888 during the early 1950’s. They used the basement of the Willamette Methodist Church and Willamette Park for a series of small fairs and social gatherings. While they used the Church property on occasion the Grange was not an outreach of the church. The Grange was and still is a stand-alone fraternal organization encouraging family values and community service. Many Grange locations continue today and in many communities the Grange members built a local Grange building for its activities and for the community use. The building of a facility did not happen in West Linn. The Grange #888 appears to have held its meetings and activities at times in both the basement (lower level) of the Willamette Methodist Church and the second floor of the Willamette Fire Hall. The hall was located where the Tualatin Valley Fire Station in Willamette is located today. The second story of the Willamette Fire Hall was considered a training area for the fireman and a community meeting room.

According to Cheryl Larson the idea of having a local community fair came from the Clackamas County Grange. In verifying this with Mrs. Larson her reference was the 2006 special edition of The West Linn Tidings that was created for the 50 year anniversary of the Fair. It quotes from an article that it ran in its paper in 1986 as its source. According to that article there was an offer by the “Clackamas County Grange” to pay $10.00 to the local Grange Hall for them to start a local fair. In reviewing the 1986 article I found it was written without a byline or any other information. I then contacted the current National President of the Grange, Ed Luttrell, to see if we can locate this local Grange unit. (Mr. Luttrell lives in Sandy, Oregon). Mr. Luttrell made a correction as to the specific unit possibly making the offer. It would have come from The Clackamas Pomona Grange District #1. The Willamette Grange was just one of a number of units that made up the Clackamas Pomona Grange District #1. As to the issue of offering $10.00 for the start of a Fair he is not familiar with such an offer but did say it would be consistent with the promotion approach of the Grange.

In researching the history of the Oregon State Grange I found the organization used the concept of a fair as a way to bring people together and discuss issues relating to their industry. Going back to their origin of 1874 the Grange held fairs on a regular basis on a local and statewide level. I ran across a number of articles that seem to indicate the Grange has its linage connected to the Oregon State Fair back in 1861 held in Gladstone. While we may never totally know for sure about the $10.00 offer, the concept of the fair and its encouragement of community involvement can easily be connected with the Grange.

The exact date of the first Willamette Grange “Fair” is not known but it appears that by 1955 there had been a number of fairs and special events held by the Grange. Frequently held in the basement (lower level) of the Willamette Methodist Church and the community responded by participating. Each year the event grew. People were getting involved. It is this involvement, both individuals and groups from outside the Grange that helped start what is now The West Linn Fair. Members of the Grange would often be members of other organizations and groups such as the church the fire department or a service club. By 1955 the Grange fair had become a success and many outside the Grange were starting to see the value of a fair as a community event. Many of the local merchants were being solicited for funding and prizes. They found that is was to their benefit that they were supporting this community effort as they were getting increased competition from merchants from other parts of West Linn and Oregon City as well. During the fair of 1956 the question of expanding it was a top topic.

1956 seems to be the pivotal year as the change from the Grange Fair to what would be known as the Community Fair then ultimately The West Linn Fair.

According to the minutes of a meeting dated July 24th 1957 there was enough interest to expand the idea of a fair to include the community. At a meeting held at the Willamette Fire Hall Chairman Nathan Wright opened the meeting with eighteen people in attendance. It was suggested that the fair be renamed the “The Community Fair” because many people thought the Fair was only for members of the Grange. After some additional discussion the Fair was re-named The West Linn Community Fair forgoing Willamette as a way to increase interest from all parts of West Linn. By early summer the Fair was shaping into a much larger and more organized event. The new group organized itself with an Executive Committee, a Board of Directors, an Official Fair Committee and a General Committee. It appears that 19 people held some sort of office during this first year. Many of the people listed as being an official of the Fair were the same people that were involved in many other activities and organizations as well as in many cases business owners in the Willamette area. There are many, many names from the beginning that need to be recognized but I will only mention a few. Nathan Wright served as Chairman, Clem Dollar as Treasurer, Ben Fritchie Director, Charles Ridder, Director, Mildred Younge, Director, and Helen Taggart as Secretary. Over the next few years this group shepherded the Fair into what became a major event. The minutes of this first meeting now show the heading as the “Fair Board Meeting”. The Fair was now fully expanded and officially moved to the Willamette Park and on Saturday August 24th, 1957 the West Linn Community Fair opened for business.

There is a recap of the 1957 fair among the minutes of Mrs. Younge’s collection that shows some of the events and activities as well as expenditures for that year. While we do not have total revenue generated, we do have a final accounting - the total outlay was $556.97. The selling of food was a major consideration early on in the planning for the fair as it would represent a significant revenue generator. While the food concession for the fair was an undertaking of the Fair Board the Willamette Grange was used for both providing people power for running the concession activities as well as being one of the suppliers. The Home Economics Grange Women were assigned the job of coming up with a menu, to prepare it and serve it as well. The final menu included: Hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, pie, coffee and ice cream. Interesting note: While they were involved with preparing the hot dogs they didn’t purchase them. The new Fair Board did. The Board purchased 200 hot dogs and 200 buns from each of the four “grocery” stores then operating in the Willamette area plus 200 each from the West Linn Thriftway (totaling 1000 hot dogs and buns). This was intended to spread the business around the West Linn community as much as possible. That is with the exception of one entry. There is a listing on having purchased $5.69 worth of “Paper plates and groceries” from the Clackamas County Grange Supply. This was a store operated for the benefit of Grange members only and was located on Hwy 99 in the Gladstone area. This store would have been a primary supplier to the Grange for events such as small fairs, etc., and would have enjoyed the bulk of the business up to that point. This may have been a token way of keeping everyone happy with everybody getting at least some of the business. The amount of $5.69 is the smallest bill for food and supplies of all “grocery stores”. The final food bill from the Home Economics Grange Women for 1957 was $40.60. Their itemized bill shows: 6 cakes @ $1.00, potato salad $2.00, baked beans $2.00 & 51 pies @$.60 each. This was the beginnings of the pie concession tradition that continues today. The Willamette Grange relinquished this role of being the supplier of pies to the Willamette Methodist Church in 1972. During the first few years the role of selling food would shift from just a few providers to a much larger base of concessioners including groups like the West Linn Lions who have been serving Lions Burgers since 1958. The minutes leading up to the Fair indicate that the Boy Scouts would be selling soft drinks and possibly popcorn as well. There is no indication in the recap that they did.

Also included in the 1957 recap is a detailed report on the Fair Exhibits. This being a community fair was the place to show off your talent as a gardener or your handywork skills. There were six categories or classes. #1 Fruits and Vegetables, #2 Canned Foods, #3 Needlework, #4 Hobbies and Collections, #5 Cooked Foods, and #6 Flowers and Plants. A three dollar prize was awarded to each of the winners of the various categories or as they were called Classes. In addition there was a Grand Prize for Best in All Categories and this title was accompanied with an additional $3.00 in silver dollars. There was also a three dollar prize being paid to the person who traveled the fartherest to make an entry into the Exhibits. That distinction went to a Mrs. June Butcher from California. The actual point of origin in California is not listed but she also won first place in the pie competition in the Cooked Foods Class.

To promote the Fair $38.80 was spent on 1000 bumper stickers printed by Oregon City Printing Company. (Think about that quantity for a moment. The entire city had a population of about 3900 at this time and that included children. At four people to a car ----Those stickers must have been placed everywhere).

One area that the new (1957) fair board changed was to enlarge the carnival / concession portion of the fair. While the idea of having a carnival or concessions was not new to the Grange, the enlarged scale was. The basic idea of the Grange fair was to help promote agricultural activities and provide a local focal point or place as a social avenue for its members. The new and improved Fair was going to have a bang up carnival and the Grange was going to help. The Grange Master Mildred Younge stepped forward and took on the task of finding a source for this project as well as determining the cost of the prizes to be awarded for these new games and events. It was determined that from her report the Fair would have a fish pond, a dart game, a baseball throw, bingo games and a Wheel of fortune plus lots of give-a-way’s so everyone got something from the Fair. The supplier for the games and give-away items was Portland Wholesale Company in Portland and their invoice of $261.61 represented over one half of the total cost of the Fair for 1957.

The Fair Board was reaching out to get other community groups and businesses by inviting them to get involved to help promote the Fair and promote their program or business as well. One business, The Oregon City Drive In Theater, responded by providing free pony rides. These ponies were part of their Drive In operation in Oregon City as a way to encourage families to come to their Drive In. In those days going to the Drive In was often a family outing. A free amusement center could be the draw that made the difference of where to go for a family with a carload of kids. So it was good PR for the Drive In to be at the Fair. As an additional offer the Drive In was giving away free tickets to a drawing, where the kids could win a free pony at some future date. I’m sure you had to be at the theatre at the time of the drawing to win. Great PR for the kids but I’m sure it made more than a few parents uneasy with the thought of suddenly owning a pony.

Even though it was summer the West Linn High School band committed to play. The Archery Club gave a free exhibition. The West Linn Small Craft Club donated $20.00 toward the cost of the Fair and gave three exhibitions in water skiing. In addition they had a few boats on the river and gave what was called “short excursions”. A quilt from the Grange was contributed and was raffled off as a revenue generator for the Fair. A Black & Decker electric drill valued at $29.95 was donated through the efforts of Ben Fritchie at the Willamette Builders Supply. Two men from the manufacturer were assigned to be on hand to demonstrate the unit and answer question about this expensive tool. In addition a special drawing was held exclusively for this item and caused much interest. These were the days when everything was DIY. Money and merchandise was contributed by local West Linn merchants plus from a good number in Oregon City. A general drawing or raffle was held to award all the prizes that had been given. You could buy chances in the raffle; tickets were sold at a rate of 2 tickets for 25 cents or 5 tickets for 50 cents. Monies from the tickets sales were used to offset the cost of operating the Fair. Any remaining money after all expenses were paid, was to be saved for the next year’s Fair.

The Willamette Volunteer Fireman stepped in not only to help but also suggested a challenge to the other West Linn Volunteer Fire Stations in a series of fun and timed events to be held at the Fair. These events would require teamwork and show the proficiency and pride of our volunteer fireman. The Fair Board not only thought this was a good idea but purchased a Loving Cup to award to the winning Station for that year. Anticipating that this would be a yearly activity at the Fair, the Board went on to announce that the Cup would be retired to the first station to win the competition three years in a row.

The Horseshoe tournament was to be held with silver dollars to be the award in each of the various categories. Five separate children’s running races were held with the winner of each race winning a silver dollar.

All indications are that the 1957 Fair went very well and plans were immediately made for the following year. The minutes of August 28, 1957, four days after the Fair, show that the officers were re-elected in mass for the next year.

By the September 24, 1957 Fair Board meeting, the Fair was advised that it was on solid financial footing with a bank balance of $387.73. The expanded plans for 1958 included enlarging “a swimming area” that had been used during the 1957 Fair. There was a concern expressed that the Fair was viewed by those outside of the area as only for the community of Willamette. It was decided that every effort was to be made to involve other areas of the City. The initial outreach would include church, service organizations and the schools. Letters were sent out inviting the various groups requesting that, if interested, they were to send a representative to the next regular Fair Board meeting to be held in October.

It was time to start getting serious about how the fair was going to physically move forward. This was going to be a much larger event and needed some additional planning. On Saturday September 28th 1957 a group of five men met at Willamette Park to create a “blueprint” or physical plan for the 1958 Fair. The plans included the placement of a number of, at that point, yet to be built booths. Ultimately these booths were constructed and stored throughout the year using 2”x 4” wood studs and covering them with discarded drier felts, a cloth material used in the manufacturing of paper, by the Crown Zellerbach Paper mill. It should be noted that this unusual covering gave all the booths a “light gray” appearance. Most booths were then painted resulting in a collection of various colors that added to the color of the Fair.

By the October 29th meeting the minutes indicate that there was a very positive response to the community outreach. Representatives including the schools were not only in attendance but many of them offered to head up new activities. The Willamette PTA asked for a presentation to be made to the PTA membership outlining what they could do to help. All indications were that 1958 was going to be a year of expansion for the Fair.

Unfortunately we do not have any minutes or records of the activities of the 1958 Fair except for the Fair program and it is virtually the same as 1957. These programs were made using a mimeograph machine with its purple ink and even after 50 plus years they are still very legible. The Fair logo appeared on the cover in a hand drawn version.

But by 1959 the Fair was getting into a true “community” mode. The next minutes we have for reference are from April 28th 1959. Note: These minutes are initially given the date of April 28th 1956 by the typist but after reviewing minutes for content and subject it is obvious the date should be 1959. The same will be true of the only other minutes from this time period, May & June. Remember these were transcribed from hand written notes some forty years later. There are a number of references that would have only happened during the 1959 time period. The first concern expressed was that the community of West Linn continued to see the Fair as a Grange Only fair and it was requested that the Fair Board contact the city for approval to be called a “Community Fair”. This is followed up with a proposal seeking City funds for use by the Fair in developing that year’s theme around the upcoming State Centennial Celebration. By May, the minutes include a line that states, “No funds by West Linn City. They gave $175.00 for Tri-city”. Further support for the 1959 date is that of an idea proposed in the June meeting to having a “quick-draw gun contest” as a way of blending the fair into the State’s Centennial celebration.

The idea of having a Court was not finalized until the 1959 Fair. It was seen as a way of reaching out to other areas of our community and getting them involved. It is in the April minutes that we see the introduction of a Queens Court. They were not called princesses but Queen Candidates and were made up of eighth grade young ladies from the West Linn – Wilsonville School District. The first court was selected sometime in early spring of 1959 and introduced to the Fair Board at the April 28th meeting They included Linda Freeman from Sunset: Janet Boddy from Bolton: Marilyn Berger from Wilsonville and Bonnie Hunt from Willamette. Bonnie Hunt went on to be the first Queen.

It is at this meeting we see the beginnings of a layout for a concrete slab measuring 14’ x 24’ apparently to be used for a cooking area. It is again mentioned as being worked on in the May 26th 1959 meeting and by the June 30th meeting the slab was done. Total cost $66.45.

The biggest thing to come out of the May 26th meeting was the decision to expand the fair to a two day event. The first two day Fair was scheduled for Saturday August 29 & Sunday August 30th.

By the June 30th meeting the minutes reflected that the fair was picking up speed for that year. They show the candidates for Queen were to ride in the upcoming Molalla Buckaroo Days Parade on the 4th of July. It was the start of the tradition of our Fair Court participating in many other community’s parades. In addition plans were underway for what appears to be our first parade. According to the Parade Committee: Shetland ponies were to pull a buggy for the Queen Candidates and four boats were scheduled to also be in the parade. The activities at the Fair were to include the West Linn Lions providing two venues: Snow cones and breakfast. In addition the Willamette Volunteer Fire Department challenged the fire stations located at Sunset and Bolton to a baseball game at the Willamette Park. This was going to require Fair Board member Clem Dollar to notify the West Linn semi-professional baseball team that used the park field that the baseball field was now reserved for the Fair and they would have to make other arrangements.

Also at the June meeting there was a suggestion made and apparently approved to having a dance the week before the Fair. The location is not known but the music was going to be provided by an “unidentified” three piece band. As we do not have minutes after June 30th 1959 we don’t know if the dance went on but it likely set the stage for 1960 as there is a poster for the 1960 Fair in the Fritchie collection that says there would be a “Free Street Dance” to be held on Saturday August 6th – time from 9pm to 1am. No location is mentioned. On this same poster it announces that the crowning of the West Linn Fair Queen would take place at 9:45 (just before the 10 AM parade) at the Willamette Grade School Grounds.

The last set of documents we have is also from the Fritchie collection and are identified as “Constitution & By-Laws West Linn Fair Board” dated November 1966. While there are no surprises when reading this document it does show the organization had grown into a solid community-based group. The concept of reaching out into the community and getting them involved had worked. It is best stated as they did under the heading “Purpose”.

“The purpose of this organization shall be to organize and promote a West Linn Fair for the purpose of a community gathering and a place for organized community exhibits and fun”.

A bit of a disclaimer: What you will see here is a compilation by Larry McIntyre of the known facts. It is not exhaustive and is subject to correction. Like so many events that become part of our lives it is our perspective on the event that shapes how we look at it. Various community members representing their different views are presented here and we have attempted to weave this into an acceptable presentation.