A fall celebration
Even before the Apple Butter Festival began in 1974, there was a tradition of September-October events here. Something about a little nip in the air, the harvest winding down and the colors of falling leaves brings out a more invigorating spirit between hot, lazy summer days and winter nights by the fire.
Not long ago, Bossie Ganoe gave us a copy of the Morgan County Bicentennial Year Home-Coming program for September 1-5, 1932. Seems that was a George Washington Bicentennial Year, not a local one, but given the First President’s ties here, well, you know. Who cared that he was born in February or first came here in March?
Apparently that “Home-Coming” was a success at the height (depth) of the Great Depression. So, you can imagine community leaders a few years later looking for ways to create a spark. They probably thought, “We drew a crowd in 1932. Let’s do it again.”
The result was the Tomato Festival, which filled Ye Olde Town every Labor Day weekend from 1937 to 1941. Of course, it wasn’t quite fall yet, but you’ve got the idea. The tomato was Morgan County’s cash crop and hundreds of local people worked at the seasonal tomato canning factories. The annual festival pageants usually had an agricultural theme, such as “A Dream of Harvest,” the title of the 1940 production.
Those who were young in those days still remember the big event. It featured a parade, a pageant, band concerts, bathing beauty and baby contests, a baseball game, even boxing in the park on Saturday night for the guys while the women attended a reception for Queen Morgan & her Court at the Park View Inn.
The five-year run ended in 1941. Just three months later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and, we guess, the festivities didn’t seem appropriate any longer. By the time World War II was over, the tomato industry had started to decline.
For the next three decades, there was no fall festival. Some of the slack was picked up by the Morgan County Fair, high school homecomings and occasional other things. The fall of 1963 saw big doings in Berkeley Springs State Park to mark the 100th birthday of West Virginia. The governor and other dignitaries came, a time capsule was buried and a good time was had by all.
Finally, in 1974, with a gasoline crisis shadowing tourism, the local Chamber of Commerce put together an Apple Butter Festival for late October. Once again, there was a harvest theme and a fall date.
The first year saw a wintry blast on Sunday, but everyone knew they’d hit on a good thing. They moved the festival earlier in the month to Columbus Day weekend, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.
Through good years, bad years, big crowds, smaller crowds, hot Saturday afternoons, chilly rainy Sundays, Apple Butter has celebrated this time of year in Morgan County.
What would Berkeley Springs be like without a fall festival?