Pennsylvania Maple Festival History
One scene that has become forever inseparable from a history of small-town America is a local store, a pot-bellied stove and a handful of men gathered around it. Proving no exception to the rule, any recounting of the history of our quiet rural community of Meyersdale must give special prominence to just such a Currier and Ives tableau. For it was actually around a potbellied stove of the Shipley Hardware Company Store one blustery winter night some 60 years ago that plans were formulated which, in the years since, have succeeded in launching Meyersdale into a position of international renown as "Maple City, USA" On that night a group of farseeing men had a vision--a celebration, a festival in Meyersdale to promote the sweetest of all Pennsylvania's commodities, our own Somerset County maple syrup, a Maple Festival--and that vision, that dream, became a reality.
The background for this amazing story of development and growth centers around that ever-popular American songstress, Miss Kate Smith. One day in the first part of 1947 Miss Smith, on her daily noontime broadcast, mentioned that she would appreciate a taste of some good Vermont maple syrup. Through the combined efforts of a few local citizens who accepted this as somewhat of a challenge, the idea of sending the radio star a sample of Somerset County's maple syrup was conceived and implemented. On her April 17, 1947, national broadcast, Miss Smith sang not only popular tunes but also the praises of our community's gift to her, pronouncing our local syrup to be the "sweetest she had ever tasted".
This publicity furnished the impetus for a hard-driving promotional campaign which began that May under the auspices of the Meyersdale Chamber of Commerce. However, as the long winter days began to loom ahead, enthusiasm waned and it was not until that "summit of the potbellied stove," January 20, 1948, that this campaign received the final push it needed to start it on the road to success. With Chamber of Commerce President W. Hubert Lenhart at the helm, a planning committee was decided upon and preparations for the very first Maple Festival to be held in Pennsylvania got under way.
It was on March 18, 1948 that this Somerset County Maple Festival which was to play such an important part in the postwar development of Meyersdale and surrounding communities took place. Pennsylvania's Governor Daniel B. Strickler as guest speaker addressed a crowd of 1,500 gathered on Main Street in front of the New Colonial Hotel. His words of praise for our enterprising and industrious community were followed by the coronation of Miss Agnes Jean Hornbrook, who had earlier won the right to the title of Pennsylvania's Queen Maple I. US Rep. William F. Crow performed the honors. A dinner and tour of local maple camps concluded the day.
The story of Meyersdale's Maple Festival is one of growth. From a handful of men gathered around a potbellied stove, it has come to include literally hundreds of workers. From a crowd of 1,500 spectators, it has become an attraction drawing thousands of visitors annually. Today, to mention Meyersdale anywhere in Pennsylvania, anywhere in the tri-state area and still very much farther than that, is to bring forth the reply, "Oh! the Maple Festival." The Maple Festival has truly succeeded in putting Meyersdale on the map. A search for the secret of this success leads one back to the community where it all started and back to its citizens. Each year has found more and more people putting aside their differences and working together -- for the same cause -- with the knowledge that every Festival has made our Meyersdale a little more important, and better still, a nicer place in which to live.