It’s all things pumpkin in Caledonia this weekend, as the historic village celebrates its bicentennial this year and gears up for its 18th year celebrating autumn’s favorite squash with a parade, a coronation, and many, many options for family fun.
Anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people visit the annual festival, inundating the town that normally sports a population of about 130, said Nina Gilliam, one of the organizers of the festival and owner of Old Village Mercantile.
Hayrides, old-time contests, church bazaars, corn mazes and pumpkin patches are just bits and pieces of activity found throughout the autumn event.
“There’s a lot to do at the Pumpkin Festival, with great food and music, crafts, it’s just a great family festival,” Gilliam said. “You can come with the kids, not spend a lot of money and have a full day’s entertainment. We’re lucky to have great sponsors who help make that happen for families every year.”
Parking options are plentiful, Gilliam said. There’s parking at the school and in a field on North Highway 21, and field parking further south on Highway 21, with shuttles happening 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. to Pumpkin Fest central at the village park, courtesy of SMTS and Jiffy Cab, which is bringing a party bus. Gilliam said one of the best places to park, though, is at Pattie’s Pickins at 429 S. Highway 21, because they offer a hayride back and forth to the main festival activities.
The Pumpkin Festival officially opens at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and lasts until about 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Friday starts off with the king and queen coronation at 5:30 p.m. in the big red Village Barn. You can’t miss it as Caledonia is only a few blocks long and concentrated near the junction of Highways 21 and 32. Friday events also include a 6 p.m. talent show and an 8 p.m. barn dance with Paula and Roger, featuring Dr. Joe Huck.
A pumpkin recipe cook-off, a 50-50 drawing, and a fundraiser dinner/silent auction by the Methodist Ladies round out the first night’s festivities.
It all picks up again on Saturday as the parade lines up at 9 a.m. Gilliam said there’s no registration, the parade entries just make their way to Larry Heisel Equipment north of the village on Highway 21. The procession begins wending its way along 21 at 10 a.m., crowds thronging each side of the highway.
Debbie Bay also organizes the Pumpkin Festival, and said her favorite part is the parade.
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“It’s so heartwarming because it’s so American,” she said. “The VFW leads the procession, everyone’s expertise in float-building is shown off, and you know everybody. They’re just cool. You can even walk in the parade.”
Contests begin after the parade, about 11 a.m. Competitors of all ages will pit their bubble-gum-blowing, pumpkin-seed-spitting, and finding-money-in-hay skills to the test. One of the biggest crowd pleasers is the pie-eating contest at 12:30 p.m., for which registration is required at the information booth near the Village Barn.
Food purveyors, crafters and vendors will be found among more than 80 booths, but Caledonia’s mainstay shops and restaurants will also be open for business to festival-goers, and many of them are sponsoring the annual event.
“We couldn’t do everything we do without the annual support of our sponsors,” Bay said. “We’d be lost without them. And non-profits would be lost without their fundraisers at the festival, too. Our local fire department depends on proceeds from their barbecue concession.”
At noon, crowns will be bestowed on the heads of Little Miss and Mister, Junior Miss Belleview Valley, and Miss Belleview Valley 2018-19. The royal tradition at the Caledonia festival tapered off for a while, Bay said, but she was interested in bringing it back.
Creative pumpkin crafting for children ages 5-12 will be offered at the Masonic Hall on Main Street. The pumpkins and supplies are free, and the “best of the best” will be determined at 2:30 p.m.
More Saturday activities include the hayride to Rowe Crop Farms’ corn maze and pumpkin patch, a Civil War camp, bounce houses, a petting zoo, pony rides, mechanical bull riding, and wine tasting at the Village Hall Lawn and Twelve Mile Creek Wine Cottage.
The brevity of the weekend belies the months of planning that precede it. Bay said Pumpkin Fest work begins in April, and by July, the vendor list is almost complete, the sponsors are being contacted and the various mini-events are being organized.
Planning and organizing the two-day event means she and her fellow volunteers get to experience a few thrills that are unavailable to the regular festival visitor.
“Another one of my favorite parts of the Pumpkin Festival, is when all of the vendors are plugged in and no breakers have blown. That’s a very good feeling,” she said, laughing.