Chilhowie Community Apple Festival Beginnings

History of the Festival

The Chilhowie Community Apple Festival had its beginning on a dreary rainy night in March of 1953. A group of young men got together for the purpose of discussing the possibilities of improving our town. During the evening, they decided to organize the Chilhowie Junior Chamber of Commerce. This organization received its charter on April 21, 1953.

During the spring of the same year, some of these members visited the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia. They returned to Chilhowie and suggested that they stage a festival and pay tribute to the apple, rather than the blossom. This would be most appropriate since Chilhowie was the second largest apple producing center in Virginia for which Bonham Brothers and Duncan Orchards were the producers. Thus, plans and ideas developed for the beginning of the Chilhowie Apple Festival. The first festival was held on October 2nd, 1953 on the grounds of the Old Chilhowie High School. Crowds, far larger than anticipated, attended that year’s events. It was estimated that 10,000 persons viewed the first parade!

The festival continued to grow beyond what one club could manage. Therefore, in 1965, other civic clubs joined in, and the name was changed to the Chilhowie Community Apple Festival. The aspirations of the new board were the same as the original board: to strive to have a Festival for which the town and surrounding communities could be proud.

In the 1980s, weather–related crop losses and the deaths of the leaders of the Bonham family combined to cause a decline in the once booming Bonson's Apple business, dealing a blow to the apple industry in Chilhowie. The Duncan Orchard continued for several years more, but closed earlier this century.

The event was, and has continued to be, family and community oriented with activities for everyone. Over the years, various forms of entertainment have been a part of the Festival. They have included: sky diving exhibitions; performances by professional square dancers, cloggers and musical entertainers; a Model T car comedy; motorcycle rider show; and pony and horse shows. Past events scheduled for participation by the public were: tractor driving contests; talent shows; square dances; baby shows; sock hops; street dances; Kids Day activities; and barbecued chicken suppers. Regular events, occurring during each Festival, are the beauty pageant, agricultural and crafts fair, pet show, parade, and high school band competition.

The funds raised by the Apple Festival Committee are used to pay for worthwhile projects which benefit the community. The Festival has made monetary contributions to the town, schools, and community. Contributions have been made to band directors for band trips and uniforms, to Project Graduation, to schools for the purchase of equipment, to Chilhowie Elementary for Williamsburg trips, to the Old High School Renovations Committee for many renovations, and to fire and rescue squads. The Festival shared the cost with the town for the stage at the Community Park and for the street Christmas lights. Prior to each year’s Festival, the committee purchases and decorates the town with fall corn, gourds, pumpkins, mums and flags. Santa Claus, Christmas treats, and community lighted Christmas trees were a Festival-sponsored traditions for over 20 years.

As soon as one Festival ends, the committee begins planning for the next year.