From picnic to 3-day fest: History of the Frankfort Fall Festival

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Serious growth: Since its inception 45 years ago, the three-day Frankfort Fall Festival has grown to include 300 artisans, 30 civic organizations and about 300,000 attendees. | File photo

The Frankfort Fall Festival has undergone many changes over the years, but its fundamental reason for being is the same — to come together for a community celebration while benefiting our many civic organizations. The festival began asa small community picnic in 1935 in the grove off of LaGrange Road. The townspeople wanted to raise money for the all-volunteer fire department, so they organized a charitable picnic with dancing, a live band, a baseball game and fireworks.

The “Fall Festival” name first appeared in 1950. The community wanted to raise funds to purchase a 20-acre parcel of land now called Main Park. They called the fundraising event the “Frankfort 1890’s Fall Festival.” In 1954, the picnic was moved to Main Park, and the American Legion added a carnival and food to raise money for their new building. Then, in 1957, the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce was created, and, to celebrate, they hosted a two-day event in Main Park called “Town and Country Jamboree.” In August of 1961, the chamber sponsored a German festival featuring sauerkraut and frankfurter meals, German bands, a pet parade, horseshoe competitions, tug of war and water fights. “Sauerkraut Day” was attended by 2,000 people.

The festival we see today began to take shape in 1968 when village officials decided to celebrate Illinois’ sesquicentennial over Labor Day weekend. Since the chamber was promoting the 1890s theme, the two groups joined forces to promote Frankfort’s Fall Festival. For the first time, an open-air arts and crafts fair appeared along Kansas Street in addition to the German bands, parade, and games. Also added was an 1890s costume-dance held in the Legion building, with prizes for the best costumes. What had always been a charming end-of-summer community event was transformed into what you experience today.

Forty-thousand people regularly attended the festival by 1974, and the large crowds made events such as the greased pig contest, ice cream social, and kiddie parade impractical. That year, the Fall Festival hosted 120 artisans, 16 civic booths and 40,000 attendees. As of 2013, the Festival includes 300 artisans, 30 civic organizations and over 250,000 attendees.

After 44 years of impressive growth and success, one thing has remained the same — the people of Frankfort join together to organize something incredible for their community.

Provided by Sandra Schoeler, Frankfort Chamber of Commerce