HARTSBURG — A drive down the winding five-mile stretch south on U.S. 63 to Hartsburg is usually marked by small homes and grazing livestock. But on Saturday, state Route A looked more like a parking lot. Hundreds of cars lined up for miles as visitors from around Missouri waited to park and enjoy the 15th Annual Pumpkin Festival.
The two-day fall festival, which continues today, filled the quiet streets of the 108-resident town with fathers pulling children in wagons, mothers and daughters examining crafts and children with painted faces throwing hay. The festival featured live music, a parade and 184 vendors selling food and craft items, including made-to-order pork rinds, hand-cut potato chips and wrought-iron wares.
The festival, with an estimated attendance of 50,000, does not come together overnight, Mayor Nancy Grant said. It costs about $10,000 a year and a committee of eight to 10 people to plan the event.
Hartsburg businesses, such as Summit Lake Winery, also participated in the festival. Kasey Green, manager of the six-month-old winery, served burgers and brats in addition to holding a wine tasting.
“We are excited about 50,000 people tasting our wine, meeting our staff and seeing our new establishment,” Green said. “We love that this place will be packed shoulder to shoulder.”
The festival began humbly in 1991, featuring one restaurant and one pumpkin vendor, and has become an event people return to year after year, Grant said.
“There is a small-town atmosphere and reunion-like feel that people have as they return each year,” she said. “It is great to meet up with friends and vendors that have been here all these years. It is heartwarming to see everyone come back to town each year.”
Lee Johnson of Columbia, who has been attending the festival for several years, enjoyed the event with her son, Caleb, for the first time. Four-year-old Caleb has cerebral palsy and has just recently begun to walk, Johnson said.
“I wanted him to have the experience,” Johnson said. “It is great for him to stretch his legs and work on walking. I wanted him to see the people, the animals and enjoy the beautiful weather.”
Columbia resident Jim Glenn spent the day with his stepson and daughter-in-law. Glenn, who has been attending the festival for 15 years, said he holds a soft spot for the corn on the cob.
“The corn is so good; I mean, excellent,” Glenn said smiling with corn in hand. “I’m on my second one; the first one didn’t quite hold up.”
Dotty Mann, who owns Dotty’s Diner with her husband, Jerry, said she offers an abbreviated menu including pan-fried chicken and country ham for the festival.
“We like all the excitement and fun and seeing the families together,” she said. “It is long hours and hard work, but we don’t mind. We just want people to be together and have fun.”