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RiverFest journey continues Saturday

Annual Leavenworth festival moved to Lock and Dam No. 44 Historical Park

July 27, 2011
Saturday's Leavenworth RiverFest may have a new location, but organizers say it will continue to build on the event's long history.

The Majestic Show Boat, which featured performances by Indiana University students, was a big draw at the original Leavenworth Riverboat Festival, which drew upwards of 15,000 people. Photos courtesy of Harry and Helen Cummings
The RiverFest, in the old town along the Ohio River since its inception in 1961, will be held just upriver at the Lock and Dam No. 44 Historical Park.

Meredith Sarles, who has headed the past three festivals, hopes the move sparks interest in the event, which drew thousands of people in its early days.

Thirty-four vendors — crafts, food, information and more — will be at the park as will a full slate of entertainment, including live music, a pie wheel raffle, silent auction and cornhole tournament.

Other activities will include a RiverRevival and pancake breakfast hosted by the Moms on a Mission Relay For Life team to kick off the day from 8 to 10, a RiverCruise-In open to all makes and models of street rods, motorcycles and antique tractors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., an old west re-enactment that afternoon and various contests, including watermelon eating, sunflower seed-spitting and potato sack and toad races, throughout the day.

New this year will be a beer garden from noon to midnight, with The Big Phatty Band kicking off live music at 9 p.m. There will be a $5 cover charge at the door. Primitive tent camping will be available for persons attending the beer garden.

The Leavenworth RiverFest has a storied history. Known originally as the Riverboat Festival, the event drew upwards of 15,000 people from throughout the region in its early days.

Randy Coleman, who grew up in Leavenworth, remembers looking forward to the festival each year. He especially liked The Majestic Show Boat, which featured performances by Indiana University students.

"That thing would be packed every night," he said. "That's what drew the crowds."

Also popular was The Last Chance Saloon, whose strongest beverage was root beer. Above right, Harold and Dorothy Merrilees of Leavenworth dress the part at the saloon.
Harry Cummings, one of the original organizers, said other popular attractions included square dancing and tap dancing — a concrete slab "dance floor" was constructed and remains today — and a parade.

His wife, Helen, said The Last Chance Saloon, whose strongest beverage was root beer, also was a crowd favorite.

Annabelle Breeden, who with her late husband, Russ, also helped organize the first festivals, said it was a community effort.

"They really got with the festival," she said. "We had a lot of concerts and singing. The town really was full."

Roy Archibald, who owns O.U.R. Antiques in Leavenworth, ran electricity with his father at the first festival. Also, he had a cane with "Riverboat Festival July 1962" on it.

Unfortunately, putting on a five-day festival was a lot of work and organizers grew tired after four or five years. It wasn't until the early 1980s, when the Crawford County Chamber of Commerce, with the Cummingses and Sam and Mary Swan, became involved, that the festival restarted.

Beth Swan Wilson, who was a teenager at the time, remembers lots of crafts, a horse parade, fireworks and dances. However, her father Sam's famous barbecue chicken is one of her favorite memories.

"He would start at 8 o'clock in the morning and go until 4 or 5 in the afternoon," she said.

Coleman, who with other Leavenworth boys helped Swan during many chicken barbecue fundraisers, verified for Wilson.

The festival evolved into the RiverFest and, while it has been held fairly consistently through the years, now is just one day.

"It never did pick up like it was," Cummings said.

"They used to come in far and wide," said Breeden, whose daughter, Kathy, is married to Coleman.

But, she said, that was a different time, explaining "people are more active in other things" today.

Sarles is hoping to change that and believes moving the festival to the more spacious old lock and dam park is the first step in doing so.

Unfortunately, since the dam's closure almost 40 years ago, the property hasn't been maintained as it once had been. However, Sarles and other volunteers have been working to clean up the old powerhouse and hope to make more progress by next year's festival.

Following is the complete schedule:


—Dave and M Roach, 10 to 10:30 a.m.

—Canine demonstration with Crawford County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Shawn Scott, 10:30 to 11 a.m.

—T.C. Corn, 11 a.m. to noon

—CARES talent show, noon to 1 p.m.

—The Old West Players re-enactment, 1 to 1:20 p.m.

—Old Stuff by Gary and Mary Byrne, 1:20 to 2 p.m.

—VittlePickers, 2 to 3 p.m.

—Strings of Indian Creek, 3 to 3:30 p.m.

—Sara Wilson and Family, 3:30 to 4 p.m.

—Crawford County Community Band, 4 to 5 p.m.

—Paul Smith and Company, 5 to 6 p.m.


—Pie wheel raffle, 10 a.m.

—Silent auction, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

—Dunking booth, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

—Watermelon eating contest, noon, 12:15, 12:30 and 12:45 p.m.

—Sunflower seed-spitting contest, 1, 1:15, 1:30 and 1:45 p.m.

—Potato sack race, 2, 2:15, 2:30 and 2:45 p.m.

—Toad race, 3, 3:15, 3:30 and 3:45 p.m.

For more information, visit online at www.leavenworthindiana.org and click on "RiverFest".

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