Written by Tuffy Fields
Last week Farmerville hosted the 52nd Annual Farmerville Watermelon Festival. It was rewarding to go downtown and see what the city and the Jaycees had accomplished and it was rewarding to know that the tradition will continue.
As I walked through the old Peoples Department Store and admired the renovation, I thought back to another time when the spirit of the town was at its’ best.
In 1967, Farmerville was preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary. The celebration was scheduled for March so the weather was mild and clear, perfect weather for a grand celebration. And grand it was. A festival of this magnitude doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of individual dedication and a large amount of community spirit. All were present in Farmerville as the carnival atmosphere began to build.
The steering committee was a cross-section of Farmerville residents. Larry Armstrong was the chair and Mrs. Fred Eldridge was the co-chair. Committee members were Stein Baughman Sr., Mrs. Jimmy Wade, Zeke Tettleton and Mrs. Frank Yelton. Fifteen individual activities made up the celebration and each activity had its individual committee with each headed by a who’s who of local residents.
The four-day event kicked off on March 15, with a performance by the Centenary Choir in the Farmerville Gymnasium. Mrs. Mary Louise Read chaired the inaugural event as the choir performed fifteen different melodies. Price to attend was $1 for adults and 50 cents for students.
Earlier that day, the Forest Products Exhibit opened to the public. International Paper sponsored the exhibit on Water Street and this was chaired by local timber contractor Max Gilmore. Next to the Forest Product Exhibit was the Flower Show hosted by the Farmerville Garden Club and chaired by Mrs. N. B. James. There was no admission charged.
On March 16, First Federal Savings and Loan at 301 North Main Street became the anniversary museum. Mrs. Frank Yelton chaired the museum and admission for this was also free. That same day also saw the opening of the three-day run of the festival’s art show. Mrs. James Fenton oversaw this event and once again there was no admission.
Later that day witnessed the 125th Anniversary Parade, chaired by Richard Neely. People lined the streets as high school marching bands with high-stepping majorettes and floats snaked their way through the streets of Farmerville.
Farmerville also used commercial expansions in the area to help with the celebration. The Preaus-Auger Chip Mill located on the old CCC Camp Road, was dedicated on March 16. Fred Preaus, part owner of the new mill, chaired the dedication committee. On March 18, there was an airshow at the Farmerville Airport. A new addition to the community, the airport would serve as the gathering point as spectators watched skydivers from the Ark-La-Tex Exhibition Team perform their free fall maneuvers. Gerald Farrar was the head of this committee. Admission was charged and entry to the airport was 50 cents. That night, the Order of the Eastern Star hosted a banquet, chaired by Mrs. C. R. Rainwater. Admission was $5.
On March 17, students of Farmerville High School wore period clothing of a bygone time. Girls in hooped skirts and even one male wearing a Confederate uniform were caught in a picture that was archived in the Pine Knot. That night, the Miss Farmerville Pageant was held. This was far more than a pageant, as the Farmerville High School stage band performed while individuals sang and the Miss Watermelon and Miss Peach queens were present. Ray Masling was the master of ceremonies and the pageant was chaired by Jack Hill, founder of Hill Oil. The variety show portion of the pageant was chaired by Roy Forester.
The culmination of the anniversary was the Old South Ball held in the Farmerville High School gymnasium, sponsored by the Farmerville Jaycees. People danced until midnight to the music of Phares Corder and his orchestra while two local bands, the Fontiques and the Grim Reapers provided a break for the orchestra.
The event was a magnificent success and shows the spirit of small town America.
There was a 150th anniversary celebration but I missed that one while overseas.
If there is a 175th anniversary I will definitely be there and plan to be around for the 200th anniversary.