St. Vrain’s Pumpkin Pie Days Celebrates 49 Years

By Dale Bernard
   During the summer of 1969, the nation marveled as man first set foot on the moon, young people from across the nation gathered in Woodstock to celebrate the Age of Aquarius, and young mothers introduced their children to a new tv show called Sesame Street. Here in Longmont, the members of the St. Vrain Historical Society were facing the huge challenge of purchasing and developing an area that would become known as Old Mill Park …and they were looking for ways to raise funds for the project.
   That summer, the idea of reviving an historic Longmont celebration – Pumpkin Pie Days – was born. The original Pumpkin Pie Days, held annually between 1899 and 1914, drew thousands of visitors to Longmont to feast on free pumpkin pie, enjoy a parade, watch horse races, and participate in everything from balloon ascensions to beautiful baby contests. The turn of the century was the hey day of community festivals, and Longmont’s was touted to be one of the best in the state.
   The revival of the festival would be more modest – no parades, races, or balloon ascensions – but plenty of home-baked pumpkin pie. Society members enthusiastically got behind plans for this event , which would honor part of the community’s history and raise funds for preserving part of its past.
   The first modern Pumpkin Pie Days was held at the Memorial Building in Roosevelt Park on November 15, 1969. Although Pumpkin Pie Days would grow to become one of the best attended antique shows in Northern Colorado, there were no antiques at the first Pumpkin Pie Days. There was also no admission. The draw was home-made pumpkin pies and coffee and a display of antique cars. The Society raised $645.78 that day from the sale of slices of the 270 pumpkin pies baked and donated by 56 women, all of whom were listed by name in the Longmont Time-Call. One of the reasons the event was so successful was that total expenses were only $30.18.
   In June of 1970 the Society recreated another historic community celebration – the Strawberry Festival. That celebration included a flea market, which was so successful that it was decided to include one in the second annual Pumpkin Pie Days. (Everyone had already decided that this should be an annual event.) In the fall of 1970, Pumpkin Pie Days was expanded to a two day event. “Seventy dealers and private collectors, as well as individuals selling artifacts and junk” filled the gym floor, the stage and the risers in the Memorial Building. The Society charged an admission of 50 cents to allow visitors to browse among the wares. In the dining room, roast beef sandwiches were added to the menu and a barbershop quartet was brought in to entertain diners. The attendance was an amazing 2,400 and the $2,600 profit earned exceeded everyone’s expectations.
   In the early 1970’s, the format of the Pumpkin Pie Day “flea markets” (as they were then known) stayed much the same. The number of exhibitors varied, and the hours fluctuated somewhat, but admission was always 50 cents. In the dining room, the Society experimented with several different menus, including bar-be-cue sandwiches, onion soup, French dip sandwiches and hot ham and cheese sandwiches … but there was always home-made pumpkin pie and freshly whipped cream.
   In October 1973 Edith Nelson became general chair of the event, a role she would continue to hold for eighteen years until 1990. By now the Society was working hard to purchase and preserve St. Stephen’s Church and had an added incentive to continue to make the fundraiser successful. Features like the Great Pumpkin Contest and Longmont Artist Guild exhibits were added to the traditional antiques and pumpkin pie. By the late 1970’s, the Society had settled on ham and bean soup (together with the pie) as the traditional food for the festival, but kept soup recipe a secret. Only those who helped prepare the more than 100 gallons brewed each year were privy to the recipe.
   1981 brought the biggest change to the show when the venue moved after 12 years from the Memorial Building at Roosevelt Park to the newly opened Exhibit Building at the Boulder County Fairgrounds at Nelson and Hover, where it has been held for the past 28 years.
   Over the years attendance and funds raised at each Pumpkin Pie Days and at the Strawberry Festivals each May grew steadily. In 1997, the Society assumed the significant challenge of purchasing the local landmark, Hoverhome, and preserving it for the community. A third yearly antique show, The Longmont Heritage Festival, was added at that time and was sponsored each year until 2006.
   One reason the shows have been so successful is the large number of Society members and volunteers who staff the shows. Many of the more than 150 workers it takes to put on each show have been faithfully donating their time for many years as cooks, servers, dishwashers, and pie bakers. They have been a large part of what has made Pumpkin Pie Days a modern community tradition.
   Since 1969, the Society has sponsored forty-nine Strawberry Festivals, forty-nine Pumpkin Pie Days, and ten plus Heritage Festivals, raising more than a million dollars for historic preservation in the local community. Antique show profits were instrumental in the development of Old Mill Park, the campaign to save Old St. Stephen’s Church at 470 Main Street, and the purchase and on-going restoration of Hoverhome and the Hover Farmstead.
   PUMPKIN PIE DAY DETAILS: WHAT: 49TH Annual Pumpkin Pie Days Antique Show WHEN: Saturday, October 13th from 10 am to 5 pm Sunday, October 14th from 11 am to 4 pm WHERE: Exhibit Building, Boulder County Fairgrounds 9595 Nelson Road, Longmont ADMISSION: $5 (children under 10 admitted free with paying adult) 75 Exhibitors – Café Service – Free Parking

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