The Magical History of the Southeast Alaska State Fair

The first Southeast Alaska State Fair was held on August 29 & 30, 1969, at the Haines American Legion and was initially dubbed the “Chilkat Valley Fair”. Roughly 600 people attended the event organized by the Chilkat Valley Homemaker’s Club with 300 exhibit entries across 12 departments. It was a chance for locals to demonstrate their various talents and handiwork as well as how they spent their time in the winter. In addition to the exhibits, there was a pet show, a style show, entertainment, and an auction.

The Fair quickly outgrew the American Legion and so, in 1972, the Fair Board purchased 21 acres of property off of the Haines Highway from the Board of the National Missions of the United Presbyterian Church to be designated as the Southeast Alaska State Fairgrounds. In a feverish flurry of activity only 60 days before the Fair, a Show barn was erected, a horse area fenced, and the Fairgrounds were born. 

Over the next decade, the Fair worked to expand and improve the Fair experience: in 1973 the Horse Arena was expanded and horse stalls were constructed, the carousel was acquired in 1974 by the Glacier Valley Rotary Club, 1975 saw the erecting of the Main Stage, and Pete Andriesen introduced the Fair’s train in 1976. As the Fair grew in geographic size and amusements, so did attendance. By 1981 it was estimated that over 10,000 people attended the fair each summer. 

Entertainment has always been a fixture in the Fair’s calendar but organizers in the 1980s began to dedicate more resources to bringing musicians and performers to Haines for the Fair. In 1989, the American Bald Eagle Music Festival debuted with performances by Commander Cody, David Bromberg, Vassar Clements, and Dave Mallott at the Chilkat Center and the school gym in addition to performing at the Fair. The Festival was integrated into the Fair in 2005 and the dedication to a diverse lineup of bands and musicians is the cornerstone of the Fair’s current success. 

Today, the Southeast Alaska State Fair hosts the Great Alaskan Craft Beer & Home Brew Festival and the Haines Fishermen’s Free Salmon BBQ in addition to the four-day Fair at the end of July. Dalton City, the former set from the film “White Fang,” serves as a home for small local businesses on the Fairgrounds. Harriett Hall, the show barn named after early Fair Executive Director Harriett Jurguleit, hosts numerous events for organizations across Haines and Southeast Alaska throughout the year. The Fairgrounds is host to hockey games, disc golf tournaments, community gardeners, Little League players, and kids of all ages playing capture the flag during recess. The Southeast Alaska State Fair is the place where community happens. 

Southeast Alaska State Fair History compiled by Madeline Witek, 2018