Willamette’s Summer Market (History of Cotton Candy)

Willamette's Summer Market


Hi and welcome to another episode of Around The Neighborhood with me, Scott McMahon.  This is the show about the quest for fun, history, and mystery in our backyard.


Today, we’re back in West Linn in the Historic Willamette neighborhood and we’re gonna visit the Summer Market here in a bit, which takes place right behind the Willamette Ale & Cider House ... But before we do, let’s take a stroll around Willamette Park down the hill from 12th Street.


Normally we would have the West Linn Old Time Fair running, but with the COVID-19 closures, it’s not happening this year.  The fair was originally named the Willamette Grange Fair.  What is a Grange?  Well in the U.S. it’s an organization that sponsors social events and community service.  Originally tied to farmer’s associations, Granges have had different structures, such as the women’s group of Oswego Grange 175 over in the Stafford Hamlet area.  In which I did a whole episode about that a few episodes ago and I’ll leave a link to it in the description below in case you’re interested in checking that out.


Anyway, the Willamette Grange Fair started in 1955, then got renamed to the Community Fair, as everyone thought it was only for Grange members.  But after 1956, the fair gained in popularity and although the name Willamette Fair was batted around, it was decided to rename it The West Linn Fair to be more inclusive to the greater area of West Linn.


So, in 1957, the West Linn Fair was moved here to Willamette Park.  It eventually became The West Linn Old Fashion Fair, then got renamed to The West Linn Old Time Fair.  But yes, it normally takes place right here.  There is an in-depth article over on the West Linn Historical Society’s website in which I’ll leave a link to in this video in case you wanted to learn more about it.


Anyway, speaking of fairs, besides hot dogs, hamburgers, and popcorn … What else is synonymous with fairs?  Yes, you guessed it, Cotton Candy!


DId you know that cotton candy is nothing more than sugar and air?  That’s it.


Apparently, cotton candy dates way back to the 15th Century in Italy, but it was called spun sugar.  The process was to melt the sugar in a pan and then use a fork to make strings of sugar over an upside down bowl. The sugar would then dry in strings and be served as a dessert.  But since sugar was rare and the process was so time consuming, it was only enjoyed by the wealthy citizens.


Over the centuries this spun sugar treat would be used in different variations from Chefs throughout Europe, but it wasn’t until the late 19th Century around the year 1897 did we have a breakthrough of this spun sugar goodness for the masses.


The patent for an electric sugar spinning machine was granted in 1897 to two men from Nashville, Tennessee named William Morrison and John C. Wharton. They debuted their new invention at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and again at the Saint Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The duo called the expertly spun sugar “fairy floss” and charged 25 cents per box.  In fact the boxes were made out of wood.  This was back in 1904, the cost to get into the fair was 50 cents!  These two men sold over 68,000 boxes of their “fairy floss” during the 8-month span of the fair.  They made what would be close to $400,000 during that time all for selling “fairy floss”.


The name would evolve from fairy floss, to candy floss, to eventually cotton candy.


John C. Wharton was a confectioner, but his partner, William Morrison, who was the inventor of the electric spinning machine … well, he was a dentist.  Haha.  A dentist who loved candies and sweets!


The way the machine works is that it would melt the sugar and any flavoring and coloring and then use Sent-Trif-Ah-Gull (centrifugal) force to push the melted mixture through a screen to create the strands of sugar. After the strands collect in a pan or bowl, they're twirled onto a paper or cardboard cone and ready to be served.


Their invention hasn’t really changed in design much for the past 100 years.  Although now they have machines that are fully automated.


But today, we’re gonna stop by and visit a local vendor who is making organic, all natural cotton candy.  What does that even mean?  Well, let’s find out!



Historic Willamette: http://historicwillamette.com

West Linn Historical Society: http://westlinnhistory.org/

Willamette Ale & Cider House: http://www.aleandcider.com/

Willamette's Summer Market (Faballicious Sweets): https://youtu.be/O0HfvJ8M9es

Willamette's Summer Market (First Wednesday): https://youtu.be/NCs_PBeqXUA

Sweet Day Cotton Candy: http://www.sweetdaycc.com/



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Scott McMahon, Real Estate Broker

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