From Fruit Days to Blossom Festivals

History From Fruit Days to Blossom Festivals

It has long been tradition in small towns all across America to acknowledge new growing seasons or harvests through community celebrations that are part festive and part commerce based. This tradition actually predates American history by thousands of years, with similar such celebrations by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and many other cultures long since disappeared. But in some small towns like us, that history is not altogether relevant, because the sun sets and rises on the accomplishments and achievements of the individuals in these towns, making each community unique and profoundly different. Canon City has never been shy about showing unbridled exuberance for its festivals and fairs. To this end, the town has always loved a parade and its parades have always been a microcosm of the town at large, from the fire fighting hose teams of the 1890's to the high school bands of the 1990's. From the beginning of the towns history and always complete with an impressive array of delicacies from funnel cakes to candy apples, parades have always bared the towns’ soul.

The first recorded mention of a festival in Canon City occurred in the 1860's in the Canon City Times. By the 1880's, residents were celebrating Fruit Day as both an acknowledgment of their remarkable harvests and a way to acquaint neighboring communities with their bountiful products. The 1890's found Fruit Day being organized by the Fremont County Horticultural Society, with as many as 10,000 annual visitors enjoying this one‑day event. They came primarily by passenger train from such far off places as Denver, Colorado Springs, LaJunta and Rocky Ford. Paper plates filled with apples, plums, pears, peaches and grapes were given away to all visitors. The fruit was displayed in grand fashion in a large 50 ft. pavilion on Main Street and in a delicate manner at the opera house. The Rocky Mountain News held that 16 tons of fruit were distributed in 1894 alone.

For many years, tours of the Territorial Prison were conducted with as many as 5,000 gawkers passing through its gates. A like number also toured the orchards of Rockafellow, Harrison, Catlin, Trout and others in the areas of Fruitmere, Orchard Park, Park Center and Lincoln Park, and when the day was done, visitors did not immediately return to their home cities, but stayed with residents in makeshift boarding houses and campgrounds, for in the towns few available hotel rooms. Fruit Day in Canon City continued until about 1900 when it was then called May Day, shifting the emphasis from harvest to Blossom. The orchard tours continued, but were now at the beginning of the planting season. Local fruit farmers and the nurserymen had effectively gotten the word out about this garden citys produce and were now disinclined to give away their products for nothing.

It is believed that the first use of the word "blossom" in relation to the annual celebration was coined by wealthy Canon City resident Dall DeWeese, who entertained several dozen friends at his home during a May Day even in 1908 that he termed "blossom fete'.” His home was decorated with thousands of fruit blossoms and lilacs. So popular was this gathering that the guest list the following year rose to over 100 guests.

By the time 1910 arrived, DeWeeses' private affair had turned into a public gathering and renamed the Flower Carnival, complete with a May pole dance, flower queen and music from both the Canon City High School and Territorial Prison bands. Two years later in 1912, the blossom celebrations were under the direction of the Canon City Improvement League and by 1913 it was being called the Blossom Day Celebration. In addition to managing the celebration, the League also coordinated an annual city clean up project in preparation for the welcoming of the towns annual visitors.

The WWI years almost brought an end to the Blossom Day events with the war raging in Europe, and emphasis clearly focused on the war effort, the League decided not to promote the event outside of the city. These festivals were marked by low attendance, but enthusiastic local participation. After the war, the Canon City Chamber of Commerce began sponsoring the even and attendance once again began to skyrocket, with 5,000 people traveling to the city each spring from 1926 to 1937. The Boy Scouts were information directors, baseball games at the Abbey were in vogue and an airplane ride over the orchards was the new popular attraction.

The year of 1938 saw the first Jaycees‑sponsored Blossom Festival with a well‑coordinated publicity campaign, attendance ballooned to 8,000 people.

The following year of 1939 also marked the first Band Festival Day, with bands from all across the state competing for the coveted trophies. And the 1940 event brought 10,000 visitors for a carnival, a dance at the Annex, boxing at the State Armory and of course, the highly anticipated parade down Main Street. Once again the war years of the 1940's compelled the Jaycees to sponsor what the referred to as "token" blossom festivals, with little publicity, the resulting turnouts were predictably well below normal. However, after the war, participation returned greater than ever and by 1948 more than 35,000 visitors made a rousing return to Canon City, Since that time, the Jaycees‑sponsored Blossom Festival has consistently been Canon Citys longest and best attended event in the citys history.

This exert was taken from the book EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY by Larry Thomas Wood