Celebrating Ohio’s History and Culture: Community Festivals

Residents line the street to watch the Second Annual Tomato Festival parade, ca. 1939, as floats and bands process through downtown Bowling Green. Courtesy of Wood County District Public Library via Ohio Memory.

Local festivals are one of Ohio’s characteristic sources of family fun, as well as opportunities for communities to come together and remember their local history. Many festivals revolve around a local food of cultural importance, like the Tomato Festival in Reynoldsburg (Ohio’s state fruit), the Paw Paw Festival in Athens (Ohio’s state native fruit), and the Circleville Pumpkin Show. Others celebrate a cultural group within the community, like Columbus’ Asian, Greek, and Italian Festivals, or something of local acclaim like the Washboard Music Festival in Logan, the Juneteenth Festival in Oberlin, or the Maple Syrup Festival in Lucas. Let’s take a journey back in time to look at the history of some festivals that still happen today through photographs on Ohio Memory!

Can you spot an Applebutter Fest goer promoting another Ohio festival? Courtesy of Toledo Lucas County Public Library via Ohio Memory.

In 1976, in conjunction with the nation’s bicentennial, the village of Grand Rapids in Wood County organized its first annual Applebutter Fest. Apple butter production brought the community back to the traditions of early settlers in the Maumee River Valley. Early Ohioans did not consume raw apples as we do today–rather, some apples were pressed into cider and others were made into apple butter. Pioneer women boiled cored and peeled apples with cider and spices in large copper pots over an open fire for hours, vigilantly stirring and monitoring the mixture until it reached the desired consistency. Fest attendees could take turns stirring the simmering butter. The photograph at right from Toledo Blade photographer Herral Long shows crowds moving through Grand Rapids for the Applebutter Fest, probably in the 1970s or 80s.

Framed t-shirt from the 2016 Columbus Pride Festival, with a button, newspaper clipping, photographs, small Stonewall Columbus flag, casino card, and awareness ribbon. For more items relating to Ohio’s LGBTQ history, visit the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) and GOHI Community Collections on Ohio Memory!

Some of Ohio’s most anticipated summer gatherings are the pride festivals that take place throughout the summer across the state. Pride parades, festivals, and other events are usually annual celebrations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender culture, and many take place in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots that occurred in New York City on June 28, 1969. Pride festivities take place in most major cities across the state, and nation, every year. These celebrations often include a parade, entertainment, activities, and food. Pride festivals are one of the many ways Ohio’s rich LGBTQ communities share their stories and culture with their neighbors.

Miss Moonshine Festival and her court of attendants, ca. 1971, with a distillery set-up behind them. Via Ohio Memory.

New Straitsville, Ohio, remembers its prohibition-era history as one of the country’s major producers of moonshine, a type of whiskey made from corn mash, often made “by the light of the moon” to avoid being caught by law enforcement. During the Great Depression, when most of the region’s coal mines were closed, bootleggers produced the moonshine to make ends meet. One of the major events of the New Straitsville Moonshine Festival is the crowning of Miss Moonshine Festival. Although the sale of moonshine is illegal in the state of Ohio, the city of New Straitsville receives a license to brew moonshine for demonstration purposes, and disposes of the moonshine after the festivities conclude.

What’s a source of local pride for your town? Visit Ohio Memory to find photographs or newspaper stories about your community’s festivals, and to learn about our state’s local heritage!

Thanks to Kristen Newby, digital projects coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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