HOPE — What began as an effort to lure out-of-town folks to Hope to spend their money a half-century ago has evolved into Bartholomew County’s longest-running and biggest multi-day festival.

Hope Heritage Days will return for the 50th time Friday through Sunday, primarily on the Hope Town Square, where clear skies and warm temperatures are forecast to stick around all weekend.

Considered by many Hoosiers to be the quintessential Indiana fall harvest festival, the family oriented jubilee has been known to attract more than 30,000 people to Hope over the three days with the lure of free parking, no gate admission and enough food, music and other activities that are too good to resist.

Food for thought

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Naturally, that can make things a tad cramped in a town of 2,100 residents. But the 16 nonprofits, churches and charities operating food booths wouldn’t have it any other way, food committee chairwoman Tonya Sims said.

They are among the Hope area organizations who rely on Heritage Days sales for most, if not all, of their annual budgets, she said.

“The food is always the big draw,” Sims said.

Many visitors walk from one food booth to the next “until they can’t walk anymore,” she said.

Healthy competition among food vendors has generated popular culinary delights such as wood-fired pizza, ribbon fries with cheese, chocolate-dipped cheesecake, Moravian coffee cakes — and even a concoction called chocolate gravy.

New this year will be meatball submarine sandwiches made from scratch by supporters of the Hauser baseball team, Sims said.

One of the rules for food vendors is that the menus must be different at each one.

It’s quite the cornucopia when compared to the “light refreshments” offered during the first festival in 1968 — when Lyndon B. Johnson was in his final year as president of the United States. For the record, LBJ did not make it to Hope that year.

The first Heritage Day on Oct. 13, 1968, was largely the creation of the Hope Business Association.

A festival co-founder, the late Merrill Clouse, described the debut event as “a totally selfish endeavor that has evolved into something totally unselfish,” said Heritage of Hope, Inc. CEO Michael Dean, whose organization sponsors the festival.

Family’s deep roots

A half-century ago, the celebration of heritage during the single-day event mostly consisted of asking everyone to “dress old,” according to Republic archives.

But one of this weekend’s parade marshals is himself a personification of Hope’s history from the beginning. John Robertson is a descendant of three families who came with Hope founder Martin Hauser from North Carolina to Bartholomew County in 1829: the Bruners, Branums and Romingers.

The Rominger family was responsible for building the first permanent home in Hope (Adam Rominger), the first inn and grocery store (Levi Rominger) and the first mill (Samuel Rominger).

For her own contributions, John Robertson’s wife, Shirley, was selected as co-grand marshal. A co-founder of the Hope Chamber of Commerce and the Haw Creek _ Flat Rock Endowment, Shirley Robertson was also instrumental in bringing the Hope Health Clinic to the community.

History on display

Hope’s Yellow Trail Museum volunteers expect to draw in quite a crowd to see life-size replicas of an old-time soda fountain shop, drug store, physician’s office, barber shop and general store.

On top of that, volunteers from the Actors’ Studio of Hope have studied hard to walk in 19th Century garb and interact with visitors as Hope residents from the 1800s, Dean said.

Other favorite characters making a return appearance to Heritage Days are Johnny Appleseed and snake oil salesman Dr. Hope, Dean said.

In 1968, the festival promoted 28 different antique exhibits in store windows, as well as “an ancient corn planter” brought in by FFA students.

In contrast, there will be multiple rows of merchandise tents not only encompassing all four sides of the Hope Town Square, but also spilling out onto several residential blocks to the east this weekend.

Foot-tapping sounds

During the inaugural festival, kids in 1968 were entertained by pony and stage coach rides while couples skipped a do-si-do or two at a square dance.

In contrast, there will be three different genres of music performed by three different groups in two different locations on Friday:

Rock: The Jackson Way, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Town Square Bandstand

Gospel: Brian Free and Assurance, 7 to 9 p.m., Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School.

Country: Sand Creek Soul, 8:30 to 10 p.m., Town Square Bandstand

On Saturday, three more musical acts will perform along Jackson Street.

Funk and blues: Catfish Davis, 5:30 to 7 p.m., Jackson Street stage.

Light rock and pop: Barry Johnson, 7 to 8 p.m., Bandstand

Beach Boys tribute band: Sounds of Summer, 8 to 9:30 p.m., Jackson Street stage.

And just as the 60s-style surf music winds down, the skies will light up with a fireworks extravaganza west of Main Street (State Road 9) at 9:30 p.m.

During the 1968 Heritage Day, some antique cars were parked around the Town Square. But the parade that year mostly consisted of 4-H kids and their animals.

When the 2017 Heritage Days Parade passes the Jackson Street reviewing stand at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, attractions will include floats, high school bands, fire engines, tractors, horses _ and even Civil War reeneactors.

Following the parade, the three-day festival will conclude with a live performance by the Gordon Bonham Blues Band at the Bandstand from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Schedule of events

FRIDAY

5 to 10 p.m. – Booths open

6 to 7:30 p.m. –  The Jackson Way, Bandstand.

7 to 9 p.m. – WYGS Gospel Sing featuring Brian Free & Assurance, Hauser High School gymnasium.

8:30 to 10 p.m. – Sand Creek Soul, Bandstand.

SATURDAY

8 a.m. to 10 p.m. – Booths open

9 to 10:30 a.m. – Heritage Classic Cross Country Meet, along Jackson Street.

9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Yellow Trail Pioneer Village, open lot along Jackson Street.

10 a.m. – Horseshoe Tournament, behind Hope Town Hall.

11:30 a.m. – Heritage Classic Awards presentation, Bandstand.

Noon and 1:30 p.m. – UTOPIA Wildlife Rehabilitators presentation, Bandstand.

12:30 p.m. – Dr. Hope Medicine Show, along Jackson Street

12:30 p.m. –  Kiddie Pedal Tractor Pull Signup, along Jackson Street

2 p.m. –  Kiddie Pedal Tractor Pull Heats, along Jackson Street

5:30 to 7 p.m. – Catfish Davis, Jackson Street Main Stage

7 to 8 p.m. – Barry Johnson, Bandstand.

8 to 9:30 p.m. – Sounds of Summer (Beach Boys tribute band), Jackson Street Main Stage

9:30 p.m. – Fireworks

SUNDAY

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Booths open.

9 a.m. – Worship service, Bandstand.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Yellow Trail Pioneer Village, open lot along Jackson Street

Noon to 1:30 p.m. – The Dude Daddys, Bandstand.

1:30 to 2:15 p.m. – Special presentations honoring the late Glen Keller, as well as athletic coaches Jerry Schoen and Bob Nobbe, Parade Reviewing Stand.

2:15 p.m. –  Flyover.

2:30 p.m. –  Parade, Town Square.

3:30 to 5 p.m. –  Gordon Bonham, Bandstand.

5 p.m. – Parade trophy presentations and closing prayer.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.