Union County Heritage Festival Keeps on Growing

It's almost that time of year again, time for folks to get together in Maynardville for good food, good company, good music and plenty of old-time pass-times at the Union County Heritage Festival, to be held Saturday, Oct. 7.

This is the festival's 13th year, and festival president Marilyn Toppins has been involved in some capacity, from stage management to parking, for 12 of those years. This is her third year as president, and she remembers how the festival got its start.

"What I remember, it was an idea of Steve Hill," she said. "He came to a meeting, I believe a Leadership Union County meeting, and then he went to the Chamber of Commerce. He made the comment that the museum (Union County Museum and Genealogical Library) was just a fantastic museum, and we really should do something like have a festival."

The Union County Historical Society and the Chamber teamed up to host the festival on the museum grounds, with music, demonstrations of crafts, booths, and plenty of fun. Festival turnout was better than expected, which turned out to be both a blessing and a challenge.

"Within two years we quickly saw that it was going to outgrow the space at the museum," said Toppins. "So (former Chamber president) Marie Rhyne and the executive board moved it to Wilson Park."

Today, the festival draws guests by the thousands to four venues in the heart of Maynardville: Wilson Park, the museum, Historic Snodderly House, and the Chamber office in the Historic Maynardville State Bank building.

Toppins said the festival focuses on the rich history of East Tennessee, and in particular the rich musical heritage of Union County. With natives like Carl Smith, Chet Atkins and Roy Acuff in the Country Music Hall of Fame, plus many more Union Countians who have made a name for themselves in the music industry, the county's got a lot to celebrate.

But aside from the music, folks seem to enjoy reminiscing about the farming way of life.

"People really do like to remember growing up in a wonderful place, and family, and just the values of East Tennessee and America," said Toppins. "And that's what we do. We just have the desire to showcase Union County and our crafts and our heritage, our music and all the wonderful offerings that we have that make this a special place to live and a special place to work, and just say to people, 'Are you looking for a place to live and a place to raise a family? Come to Union County.'"

In keeping with that sentiment, this year's theme is "Come Here, Come Home." The collectible festival art print by Betty Bullen is true to the theme as well, featuring a soldier returning to the family farm after war. The print will be available for purchase at the festival.

"I think a lot of people, when they think of coming home they think of that house they left as a child," said Toppins. "That picture just epitomizes coming home. It makes us remember that what we have here in Union County came at a cost."

Activities at Wilson Park include displays of Model A cars, antique tractors and engines, a corn mill, animal rides, a kids zone with bounce house, and a train ride for kids that will run all day. Vendors include local organizations and businesses, including vendors with jewelry, handmade furniture, and other crafts. Food vendors run the gamut, including hamburgers and sandwiches, barbecue, homemade ice cream and pie. The Union County Farmers Market will be held at the festival as well, and the Society for Creative Anachronism will offer displays of crafts from the Middle Ages, plus dancing and combat demonstrations.

Student and fine arts shows will be on display at the Historic Snodderly House, plus a photography show at the Chamber of Commerce, and a quilt show and authors' table at the museum. A free shuttle will help festival-goers get from place to place.

The all-important musical acts will be on three stages at Wilson Park. The gospel tent will feature old-time inspirational music from local performers like The Valley Boys. There will be more music at the Front Porch stage, and the gazebo will be the venue for the main musical acts, including headliners Wild Blue Yonder. Also returning by popular demand are the Lakeway Twirlers with traditional clogging and square dances with a live caller.

There will be awards for best booth decorations and post-Civil-War to 1940s costumes. Festival goers are also invited to take part in the Heritage Olympics and win prizes donated by Lodge Cast Iron. Events include kids pumpkin seed spitting, skillet toss, feed bag toss and nail driving. There will be a pie contest sponsored by Beverage Solutions Group and a contest for longest beard.

To date, the festival has 43 sponsors, ranging from private individuals and businesses to governmental bodies. The event remains free to attend.

"It shows that everybody's involved," said Toppins. "Everybody has a hand in this festival, and we want everybody to feel part of it. We want everybody to come and have a good time."

For more information, visit the festival website at www.unioncountyheritagefestival.com.

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