The Jackson Apple Festival has been welcoming people into Jackson from near and far for 74 years and become one of the largest and most respected festivals in Ohio. While there have been many changes over the years, still there are many things that are still the same, the reason why so many Jackson natives who have left the home of their youth come home every year the third week in September so they and now their families can enjoy the Apple Festival once more.
It was in the early spring of 1937 a group of members from the Jackson Chamber Of Commerce were interested in developing some idea that could really mean something to all of the people in the county, either directly or indirectly. It was decided to promote particularly one of Jackson County’s leading industries, namely the production of apples. There were more than 40 farmers who were producing apples as a commercial product. It was also felt that something should be done that would have a tendency to bring the people of the rural areas and the cities together in a cooperative effort and the idea of a festival was born. The hope was this project would advertise all of Jackson County’s industries with a special emphasis on the apple production, and in doing so would give the former residents of the area at least one time each year when they could come home to visit relatives and friends. The idea was new to Jackson County and it had been many years since that kind of festival had been held, but the interest grew rapidly and the first festival was a successful one in many ways.
The initial Apple Festival was not a financial success, but not to worry. In order for all debts to be paid, about ten of the promoters of the festival borrowed the necessary money by personally signing a note at the local bank. They were not discouraged and their faith has been rewarded many times over.
The festival was only five years old in 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor launched the country into World War II. Like so many other events of the time, the Apple Festival was silenced “for the duration”, but resumed again in 1946. By the time the 20th anniversary of the Apple Festival rolled around in 1957, the festival organizers were still trying to attract patrons with new ideas. Unlike today, the biggest festival parade was the opening Wednesday night parade, and many of the honors from the opening day were gained by Lick Local School. Thursday was big in 1957 because of the establishment of “Old Fashion Bargain’ Days”. Saturday was Shriner’s Day and the festival ended on Saturday night with the annual Apple Festival Ball, beginning at 10 p.m. There was also a change in leaders about this time.
The Jackson Jaycees, which incidentally stands for Junior Chamber of Commerce, was chartered in Jackson in 1955 and within five years was making a mighty impact on the community. By 1960, the Jaycees had taken over the sponsorship and coordination of the Apple Festival from the Jackson Chamber Of Commerce, and continued as the sponsoring organization through 2012. In 1961, one of the top festival events was a foxhound show and one of the top displays came from the Jackson Camera Club.
In 1963, “Apple and the Orient” was the theme and in honor of Jeno Paulucci, president and founder of the Chun King Corporation. Chun King was Jackson’s largest employer and the Chun King was the largest maker of oriental food in the world. Ohio Gov. James Rhodes, a Jackson County native, brought his entire cabinet to Jackson and held the first cabinet meeting of the Ohio government in southeastern Ohio. The featured musical entertainer was nationally known bluegrass balladeer Hylo Brown while nightly musical entertainment was provided by Lloyd White and his band. . When not performing, White also served as the festival president that, year. By the time the 30th anniversary of the first Apple Festival rolled around in 1967, it was starting to find its niche. Jackson High School had a home football game, and it was dubbed “The Apple Bowl”. With county rival Wellston as the opponent, it was a perfect “Apple Bowl” game. There was the school parade at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Mr. Cartoon from WSAZ-TV in Huntington, W. Va. On Saturday for the kids, with the feature entertainment happening on Thursday night with Dave Dudley and the Road Runners, featuring Kenny Price.
By 1977, some 40 years since the first festival graced the streets of downtown Jackson, many of the events loved and anticipated in the Apple Festival of today were beginning to become regular fare on the Apple Festival’s agenda. Saturday had replaced Wednesday as the biggest day, and the Saturday Night Parade was now the festival’s biggest event and still is today “the largest lighted parade in Ohio”.
In 2012, it became obvious that it was time for yet another new era for the Apple Festival. In order to ensure the future of the Apple Festival, a corporation was established, the Jackson Area Festivals and Events. This corporation was chartered as an Ohio Tax Exempt corporation, and it is awaiting it’s classification as a 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status from the IRS. On April 1, 2013 the Apple Festival, now to be known as the Jackson Apple Festival became part of the Jackson Area Festivals and Events Corporation. This change opens the way for making tax exempt contributions to the festival, and broadens the membership base, both of which will ensure the strength and longevity of the Apple Festival.
It is the Saturday Night Parade that has brought the Apple Festival some of its finest moments in the last 15 years. Twice in the early 1990s, courtesy of Budweiser, the famed Clydesdale Horses were a part of the Apple Festival Grand Finale Parade. Arguably one of the greatest moments in Apple Festival history occurred on September 21, 2001 when the world renowned full Ohio State University Marching Band came to Jackson for the Apple Festival. Believed to be appearing for the first time at a festival in Ohio, the band performed a “halftime show” at the Jackson High School football field that filled every available seat. That night, the town of 7,000 people seemed to be bursting at the seams as a crowd estimated at more than 80,000 people, and eight to ten deep all along the parade route, cheered with ecstasy as the band made its way throughout the downtown parade route. It was moment in time never to be forgotten.
It is often said there are 51 weeks of the year in Jackson, and the Apple Festival. Like clockwork come a Saturday in the middle of September, the downtown streets are closed and booths are constructed along the street. The festival now opens at noon on Tuesday, draws tens of thousands of people, ends on Saturday night, but without the Apple Festival Ball. By Sunday at 5:00 p.m. the streets are clear, open to traffic, and the 51-week wait begins for the next Jackson Apple Festival and another moment in time.