Seattle Now & Then: Chehalis County Building at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition visitors stroll past the Chehalis County Building in 1909 on the University of Washington campus. At left is a portion of the Spokane County Building. The 112th anniversary of the fair’s opening will be June 1. Find many more A-Y-P photos at Dan Kerlee’s website, (University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, AYP448)
NOW: Near what had been the entrance to the Chehalis County Building, University of Washington students Rachel Kulp (left) of Washington, D.C., and Kaya Dunn, of Vancouver, Wash., walk along the backside of present-day Miller Hall, home of the UW College of Education. Kulp majors in environmental studies and history, while Dunn majors in political science. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on May 20, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on May 23, 2021)

In today’s online world, will you ever again ‘Meet me at the fair’?
By Clay Eals

Betcha can’t name the last world’s fair held in North America. Thirty-five years ago, it was Expo ’86 in Vancouver, B.C.

Today, as technology brings nearly every aspect of the planet to our fingertips, eyeballs and eardrums, the appeal of another in-person, all-in-one extravaganza on this continent seems elusive.

Even so, we in Seattle revere our pair of world’s fairs past. They assembled multitudes in real time and concrete space and left enduring legacies and ambience.

The six-month 1962 fair drew nearly 10 million and gave us the well-used Seattle Center. Touchstones included the Space Needle, International Fountain, Pacific Science Center and now-named Climate Pledge Arena (I’ll always call it the Coliseum).

Less known today was the direct predecessor, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. It yielded the spectacular University of Washington promenade known as Rainier Vista while fostering a steadfast locus of learning. In four-and-a-half months, 3.7 million AYPE visitors encountered an endless array of cultural and commercial offerings, both high and low of brow.

Dan Kerlee (Clay Eals)

This and other fairs constituted “the internet of the early 20th century,” contends Magnolia’s Dan Kerlee, a leading AYPE researcher. “You could come to the A-Y-P and ‘click on’ most anything you wanted.”

Among myriad examples is the dominant hall in our “Then” photo. Promoting “the greatest timber belt in the world,” the Chehalis County Building faced southeast near the UW’s northeast corner.

Above the columns of this temporary structure, a 3D frieze of a log trailer, locomotive, mill and other figures depicted what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called the “pretty legend of travels of the tree from the forest to the building,” along with the pursuits of livestock, dairy and farming.

This building would give the county (six years later renamed for Grays Harbor) worldwide recognition “in capital letters with indelible ink,” predicted its executive, H.D. Chapman. He signaled hopes for a harbor-based “metropolis” to export timber that he labeled “the finest on God’s footstool.”

Cover of “Boosting a New West” by John C. Putman (Washington State University Press, 2020)

Such AYPE zeal also pervaded three other expositions of the era: in Portland in 1905 and in San Francisco and San Diego in 1915. The book “Boosting a New West” (Washington State University Press, 2020) says the coastal fairs sought to outstrip the backwoods imagery of dime novels and “Wild West” shows to lure new settlers and investments.

Will we ever again see such a one-off, global smorgasbord?

An AYPE ad from the book whets my yearning for common physical ground:

You ought to see Seattle,
And the Fair she plans on giving;
’Twill put new notions in your head,
And make life worth the living.


To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Special thanks to Dan Kerlee, as well as Caryn Lawton of Washington State University Press, for their assistance with this installment.

Below are a second “Now & Then” comparison, a map and five additional photos. Also, we present, in chronological order, 14 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archives (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

THEN2: An unnamed visitor to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition prepares to take a photo just southeast of the University of Washington’s Frosh Pond. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
NOW2: A view from the same prospect southeast of Frosh Pond, renamed in 1961 as Drumheller Fountain to honor regent/philanthropist Joseph Drumheller. (Clay Eals)
A red arrow shows the location of the Chehalis County Building on the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
Detail of the frieze atop the Chehalis County Building at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
A period postcard depicting the same elements of the frieze. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
Another image promoting the industries of Chehalis County during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
An ad for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. (from “Boosting a New West,” credited to University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections)
Postcard for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. (from “Boosting a New West”)
Oct. 23, 1907, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11.
June 25, 1908, Tacoma Daily News, page 10.
Aug. 2, 1908, Seattle Times, page 26.
Jan. 26, 1909, Seattle Times, page 3.
Feb. 17, 1909, Seattle Times, page 9.
Feb. 18, 1909, Seattle Times, page 16.
Feb. 21, 1909, Seattle Times, page 28.
March 19, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 4.
May 4, 1909, Seattle Times, page 15.
Aug. 7, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 13.
Aug. 24, 1909, Seattle Times, page 10.
Sept. 15, 1909, Seattle Times, page 4.
Sept. 16, 1909, Seattle Times, page 7.
Sept. 17, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 16.

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Chehalis County Building at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909”

  1. Hi Clay,

    I really enjoyed this week’s “Now & Then.” The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair had an incredible impact on my life, definitely for the better.

    I grew up in the Cincinnati area. The longer I was there, the more unhappy I became with the place. Then one day I saw an ad telling of the future plans for the 1962 Fair in Seattle.

    Right then, the seed was planted!

    Boating was a major sport for me on the Ohio River, so Seattle and Puget Sound were a natural fit for me. I was 22 years old. My Dad told me one day, “Son, you are at the perfect time in your life to choose to live anywhere you want.”

    So I chose Seattle, and started buying the Seattle Times at our newsstand for the next two years while I paid off my debts, and got ready to come west.

    I made it to Seattle, towing my boat, in January, 1963, and have lived in the area ever since. I spent the next 50 years in the boating business. I met my wife, now of 42 years, on Lake Union. I have had a zillion experiences and can tell many stories.

    It all started with: “You ought to see Seattle, and the Fair she plans on giving; ‘Twill put new notions in your head, and make life worth the living.”

    I’ll say it did — the Fair was an incredible influence in my life — and yet I never got to see the Fair.

    But I did get to experience Seattle Center in all its glory, the Fair’s ultimate legacy.

    Thanks for writing that article. It brings back many happy memories.


    Tom Taylor
    Mount Vernon

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