Grant, Adams, and Franklin counties begin celebrating the Columbia Basin Water Festival on May 22, 1952.

  • By Elizabeth Gibson
  • Posted 4/12/2007
  • Essay 8114

Beginning on May 22, 1952, Grant, Adams, and Franklin counties celebrate the Columbia Basin Water Festival. The event celebrates the first irrigation water sent from the Grand Coulee Dam through canals to the Columbia Basin to irrigate 66,000 acres, the first of a projected million acres to be irrigated. To celebrate this first irrigation, three counties and 10 cities schedule a 10-day series of events.  Adrian Awan is the main organizer.  Sally Johnson of Soap Lake is voted queen of the festival.  Phyllis Elaine Pfeifer Brown of Wilson Creek, Irene Snyder of Quincy, and Dolores Larreau of Moses Lake are her princesses.

Marching Bands and a Free Farm

The celebration kicked off at Pasco, in Franklin County.  A large crowd gathered at Liberty Theater, where Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) gave the opening speech.  At 2:30, a jubilee parade marched through downtown Pasco, with 121 marching bands participating.  Presidential candidate Harold Stassen (1907-2001) rode in the parade.  Stassen and Langlie later gave speeches at a Kennewick dinner.  The evening concluded with the Aqua-Rama at the Pasco athletic field, a musical and dance extravaganza.  Nearly 500 individuals participated in the Aqua-Rama, which was held for four nights.  

The highlight of the celebrations at Moses Lake, and indeed, the entire festival, was the Farm-in-a-Day construction.  Over a 24-hour period beginning at midnight on May 25 and ending at midnight on May 26, volunteers tilled the land and built a farmhouse and outbuildings.  The farm was awarded to Donald Dunn, a farm-implement salesman from Yakima.  He won the $75,000 farm in a drawing held exclusively for war veterans.  The plot contained 120 acres, 80 of which would be put under cultivation.  The land was donated by the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Floodlights lighted the area while one crew unloaded trucks, another assembled frames, and another erected posts.  Wind plagued the first four hours of work, chilling the workers and covering everything with dust. Meanwhile another crew cleared the farm’s 80 acres.  Sixteen pieces of heavy equipment leveled the land.  By morning, sprinklers had been laid and were watering freshly plowed ground.

In mid-afternoon of May 26, local dignitaries conducted a ceremony on the hill overlooking the farm.  State congressmen and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael W. Straus presented the deed for the property to Dunn.  Another ceremony took place on the farm property.  Brigadier General Howard Bowman, commander from nearby Larson Air Force Base, attended the ceremony and milked the family cow.

Most of the volunteers worked throughout the full 24 hours to complete the project.  Much success was owed to the cooperation among contractors, union members, government agencies, and the cities.  Some 150 to 200 AFL union men participated.  Twenty soldiers from Larson, no one below the rank of major, also donated labor.  Forty-five suppliers donated building materials.  Fifty-five local contractors and subcontractors furnished equipment free of charge.  Farm implement companies and dealers donated equipment to the farm and loaned other equipment to prepare the land for planting.

Later, Dunn would share his story of success during his first year on the farm.  He planted 16.5 acres in potatoes, which averaged 17 tons to the acre and were valued at $13,143.55.  He planted 21 acres in beans, which yielded 21.5 hundredweight bags per acre, for about $3,000.  He planted 10 acres of oats, yielding 55.5 bushels per acre for about $693.75.  His 10 acres of alfalfa yielded 45 bales per acre for $450.  His smallest plot of six acres of grass yielded 35 bales per acre for $210.

Canal Day in Grant County

Further events continued throughout Grant County, which was receiving most of the benefit from the new irrigation system.  On May 26, Quincy held its annual Canal Day, highlighted by a large carnival with some 30 concessionaires.  “The Old and The New” parade entertained young and old on Main Street.  There was also a novelty show with trick riding, a jack rabbit derby, a treasure hunt, and a dinner at the Quincy grange.  That night, residents and visitors attended a street dance to Bud Meyers and his 12 piece band.  Fireworks capped the evening.

On May 27, Soap Lake began a six-day showing of the Grand Coulee Cavalcade.  The Cavalcade depicted the history of humankind and irrigation since earliest times.  About 700 people participated, mostly students, in the Cavalcade.  Soap Lake also hosted a golf tournament in which 72 golfers participated.

Festivities began in Ephrata on May 28 at the old air base.  Visitors gathered for the opening ceremony of the Little World’s Fair.  Straus spoke at the opening ceremony dubbed All Nations Day.  A special parade was held that day to celebrate memorial day.  Veterans groups and members of the Elks lodges participated.  Making a special appearance for the day's parade was the El Katiff Shrine Patrol Band from Spokane.  In addition to local dignitaries, leaders in reclamation from several countries sat on the dais.  The ranking member was Adolfo Orive Alba, minister of water resources of Mexico.  Other countries that sent representatives included Iran, Turkey, Nepal, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, India, Australia, Haiti, El Salvador, The Phillipines, Formosa, Indonesia, French Indo-China, and Iraq.   The Little World’s Fair lasted five days, each day with a different theme: 

  • May 28 -- All Nation’s Day
  • May 29 -- Industrial Day
  • May 30 -- Gonzaga University Homecoming Day (and Memorial Day)
  • May 31 -- Pacific Northwest Day
  • June 1 -- Flying Farmers Day

The fair was billed as the only fair where a pilot could taxi over to a hotdog stand. Two carnivals entertained the crowds at the Ephrata air base.  The visiting dignitaries were treated to a dinner with C. P. Peterson, president of the National Reclamation Association, at the local Rotary Club.

Moses Lake was the site of most of the festivities on May 29.  Residents enjoyed a rodeo, county fair, fashion shown, children’s show, outdoor square dance, and performances by the Wenatchee High School band.  In addition, celebrations continued at the Ephrata air base with a lunch with the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Richard D. Searles as speaker. 

Memorial Day 1952

In those days, Memorial Day was celebrated on Friday.  For Memorial Day on May 30, a special parade marched to the Ephrata air base for a flag ceremony.  A choir from the Moses Lake Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints performed at the ceremony.  On the same day, there was a large outdoor Catholic Mass at the Grand Coulee amphitheater on the shores of Soap Lake. Bishop Joseph P. Dougherty of Yakima spoke at the Mass.  Bishop Charles D. White of Spokane served the Mass. The ceremony was held in connection with Gonzaga University Homecoming Day at the Little World’s Fair.

A memorial celebration was also held at the Moses Lake city park on Dogwood Street between Broadway Avenue and Third Street.  Virgil W. Jackson, superintendent of Samaritan Hospital, an army chaplain during World War II,  gave the address.  Boyd Bolvin led the high school band.  The American Legion and VFW brought color guards and the Larson Air Force Base sent a firing squad.  The Moses Lake Junior Legion team played the Empire Furniture team from Spokane (players from Gonzaga High School) in a doubleheader baseball game at the high school.

The big event on May 31 was the land drawing at Othello.  Now that Grant County had water, people were eager to start working the land again.  But not all acreage was irrigated yet and demand outpaced supply of irrigated land.  Potential buyers had to put their names into a drawing.  On May 31, 42 names were drawn from 7,000, for the privilege of purchasing designated acreage.

Last Festival Days

Meanwhile, at the northern end of the county, Coulee City began a two day Frontier Days festival.   The festival included a parade and rodeo.  There was also a dance at the high school gym.  In Ephrata, residents could choose from several events including an oratorical contest, pet show, shrine parade and festivities, fashion show, and dance.

June 1 signaled the last day of the Columbia Basin Water Festival.  It was also the last day of the Grand Coulee Cavalcade at Soap Lake and the Little World’s Fair at Ephrata.  Soap Lake hosted the largest interdenominational church service in the state.  The service was sponsored by the Washington and Northern Idaho Councils of Churches.  Singers for a choir of 700 arrived from all over the state.

The festival was well attended.  An estimated 44,000 people visited Moses Lake during the Farm-in-a-Day construction alone. 

The festival celebrated the irrigation of the first 66,000 acres.  Over the next decade, more and more acreage received water, until eventually approximately 550,000 acres in Grant, Adams, and Franklin counties received water through an extensive network of canals, siphons, and reservoirs originating behind Grand Coulee Dam. 

Sources: “Nine Cities Sponsor Major Events for Water Festival,”  Tri-City Herald (Kennewick), May 25, 1952, p. 1;  “Workmen, Like Bees, Swarm Over Famed Farm in a Day,” Beth Tampien, Ibid.,  May 29, 1952, p. 1; “Excitement Fades as Farm-in-a-Day Finished,” Beth Tampien, Ibid., June 1, 1952, p. 1; “Memorial Day Services Friday, Water Festival Program,”  Columbia Basin Herald (Moses Lake), May 8, 1952, p. 1; “Soap Lake Girl Festival Queen,” Ibid., May 15, 1952; “Pasco Scene of Festival’s First Event, Ibid., May 22, 1952, p. 1; “Farm-in-a-Day,” Ibid., May 29, 1952, p. 1; “Donald Dunn Gets $8,000 Clear in First Six Months,” Ibid., December 18, 1952, p. 1; "El Katiff Shrine Patrol Band Due at Little World's Fair," Ibid., May 15, 1952, p. 14.

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