While we are all disappointed at the cancellation of this year’s Strawberry Festival, we can all accept it is probably the only decision possible under the circumstances.
Maybe we can enjoy looking back at some previous festivals. There are a few in town who attended and still remember the very first Strawberry Festival held in Portland.
Mrs. Parnell Suttle is one who has told of the activities held on Main Street with the highlight being the selection of the Strawberry Queen. We recently were brought an old newspaper from 1940 that gives detail of the festival.
Most people believe the festival started in 1941 and that mistake is reinforced by the Historical Marker by the Richland Building. At the time it was done that was believed to be the date. When one is relying on old newspapers or someone’s memory for proof of something it can often be troublesome.
However, I feel confident the 1940 is correct for the first year. The proof is the souvenir PORTLAND ‘Strawberry Festival’ GUEST CARD with the date, Saturday, May 25, 1940.
On one side is a message from Mayor Elmer Hinton and on the other is a list of the important points of “Strawberry Capital of the World”:
Population of 1211 friendly people, 3 Good Churches, Beautiful Twin Caves Lake 2 miles northeast of town, Crate Factory employing 200 hands, Ice Plant, 2 Planing Mills, 2 Newspapers, Accredited High and Elementary Schools, Baseball Team, 2 Cold-Pack Plants, 4 Strawberry Associations, 2 Nurserys, Flour Mill, Nice Theatre, Stock Sales Barn, 4 Doctors, 1 Lawyer, Strong Bank, 1 Drug Store, On Main Line L & N R. R., Over 50 Stores and Places of Business, The boyhood home of Opie Read, Organizations: Rotary, P.T.A., Home Demonstration Club, Eastern Star, Masonic, W. O. W., Federated Music Clubs.
This keepsake came from the home and memorabilia of some of the major organizers of the festival. Mr. H.H. Bryant was the “Smith Hughes” (Vocational teacher) for Portland and oversaw the strawberry judging contest. The winning crate on the first day of the three-day event brought $14 and was shipped to a Chicago Restaurant for display and the culinary delight of their patrons.
His wife, Mrs. Bryant, planned the contest for the selection of the Queen, and her close friend and music teacher Mrs. Russell Hobdy directed a Boys Glee Club who presented the music.
All the activities were held on Main Street and Mrs. Parnell Suttle has told of the excitement of the girls parading up and down the street and posing on a beautiful float under the spotlight.
Mr. G.C. Flannery, Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture, made a short address in which he stated that nowhere in the United States had he seen strawberries equal in quality to those produced in the Portland area.
Then came the selection of Miss Marjorie Culbreath of the Chestnut Grove area as Portland’s first Strawberry Queen. The three out-of-town judges also selected Maids of Honor: Cappie Caudill, Nelle Hill, Wanda Lee Hester of Portland, and Lucille Yokley of Mitchellville.
Flower girls were Mary Dean Wilks, Martha Jean Lassiter, Portland, and Ann Pond, Fountain Head. Douglass Shannon was the herald and David Kerley was crownbearer.
Flannery placed the crown on the Queen’s head and handed her the scepter, declaring “Queen of the Strawberry Festival,” amid cheers for the regent.
Following the coronation, George. R. Dempster, candidate for Governor, made a short talk, praising this section of Tennessee for the beautiful girls, as well as the fine strawberries produced in this section.
Mayor Elmer Hinton, announcer at the microphone, asked that the street be cleared and that fiddlers come forward for a contest. D.L. Storey of the Corinth community was selected as winner from a dozen entries.
Dancers were then told to come forward and more than 100 responded, dancing the old-fashioned square dance, with the Red River Shots string band furnishing the music.
The dance lasted until midnight and everyone present reported a good time. Mrs. John Stinson and Brady Hatler won first prize for being the best dancers on the sawdust.
As a footnote, it was fortunate the events of the night were able to take place. As frequently happens, rain came intermittently throughout the day, forcing the entertainment committee to cancel the afternoon baseball game scheduled with Gallatin, as well as other athletic events planned to be held on Main Street. But aren’t we happy, spirits were not dampened and planning continued for the following year’s Strawberry Festival!
The Hinton, Bryant and Hobdy families again organized the festival the following year in much the same fashion. Joyce Smart of White House was selected Strawberry Queen for 1941. The unique thing about Joyce was that she held her royal title for four years.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and the United States entering World War II, the idea of having a big festival celebration just did not seem proper. The Strawberry Festival did not return until after the War ended.
So, Joyce Smart, who by 1946 had become Mrs. Joyce Smart Plumley, was able to yield her crown to the 1946 Festival Queen, Marie Cummings.
Johnnie Freedle is a member of the Highland Rim Historical Society.