Canal Apple Festival pays tribute to Hancock's past

September 18, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ


There were no tears or vigils, but as the residents of Hancock gathered Saturday at Widmeyer Memorial Park for the 29th annual Canal Apple Festival, there was an undercurrent of mournfulness as some of the community's older residents reflected on its roots.

"The apple industry was big in this area, as was the C&O Canal," event chairman Fran Shives said. "It's a reminder of our heritage because this area was 70 percent employed by orchards, and the canal employed a large number, too."

Shives said the event was organized three decades ago by the Hancock Grange. It was started to celebrate the C&O Canal and the orchard industry, which together accounted for much of the community's economy and labor force, and it was held along Main Street instead of at the park to encourage community members to support the local economy.


Before long, the members of the Grange decided they no longer could coordinate it and handed it over to the Hancock Lions Club, which has run it ever since, Shives said. The Lions soon moved the festival to Widmeyer Park because of the traffic congestion it caused along Main Street.

In recent years, including this weekend's festival, none of the town's downtown merchants set up booths at the park, though some of the community's religious and civic organizations set up food and information booths.

This year's festival started Friday with a kickoff dance at the Hancock American Legion, followed by a Grand Parade along Main Street to Widmeyer Park. Through today, the festival features a variety of craft and food booths, contests and music.

Hancock Lioness Club Secretary June Mills said this year's event would have been the 30th annual if Hurricane Ivan had not flooded much of Widmeyer Park the Friday before last year's festival. As it started to rain Friday, she said, she had a moment of fright at having to cancel the festival two years in a row.

"I think we all are enjoying it more because we didn't have it last year," she said. "Yesterday at 1 o'clock, I almost cried because it was raining."

Frances "Pat" Cohill, board member for the Hancock Historical Society, said even today, people come up to her to say they used to work at her husband's father's farm. E.P. Cohill started one of the town's first orchards, she said.

Over time, several factors, including tightening Occupational Safety and Health Administration restrictions and taxes, slowly caused most of the town's orchardists to close their farms, and so went the town.

Events such as the Canal Apple Festival are important for people to reflect upon what happened to the town, and perhaps learn something from it, Cohill said.

"For those of us interested in history, it's very important because if you want to know where you're going, you have to know where you've been," she said. "I think it's very important for our heritage."

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