Monroe County History: Six-day Golden Harvest Festivals were popular in the 1920s

·8 min read
An advertisement of the 1921 Gold Harvest Festival in Monroe County.
An advertisement of the 1921 Gold Harvest Festival in Monroe County.
Carl Payson
Carl Payson
A ribbon from the Harvest Festival that was held in the 1920's.
A ribbon from the Harvest Festival that was held in the 1920's.

If you were to ask anyone in Monroe County today to name a major week-long agricultural festival in the county that had exhibits by the 4-H and Farm Bureau (for the first time), merchant displays, including automobile dealers showing new automobiles, commercial amusement rides, large animal, small animal and poultry exhibits, a parade led by veterans, fireworks, concerts, free daily entertainment and food concessions they would all name the Monroe County Fair.

Yet all of the above happened about 100 hundred years ago in the 1920's, and it was not the Monroe County Fair. It was a six-day long annual agricultural festival in Monroe called the “Golden Harvest Festival."

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It was first held in 1919. Believe it or not, the organizer was the newly formed American Legion Post #60 in Monroe. It was a veteran’s organization. They had young leadership that thought big and planned big. Local attorney and WWI veteran Oliver Golden was the Post Commander in 1923. Edward Maurer was the Post Commander in 1922. The festivals always started on the second Monday in September (at least in the early years) and went through the following Saturday.

The year 1918 was a monumental year in America. The biggest war (WWI) in history (up to that time) ended in November and the worldwide flu epidemic was killing millions of people. In 1919 the American Legion was organized nationally and three Legion Posts were formed in Monroe County that same year.

The first Post was Carl Payson Post #60 in Monroe. With millions of soldiers returning home from the war, the Monroe Post had hundreds of local veterans joining. In its first year of existence, the post had an extraordinary 550 local veterans join. They needed and purchased their own post headquarters building for $15,400 ($250,000 today) in Monroe and they sought ways to raise funds to pay for it.

They came up with the Golden Harvest Festival, which fulfilled their fundraising need. In 1919 and the early 1920’s the Monroe County fairs were not being held. Legion Post #60 decided to be the organizer of a six-day agricultural fair event and use it as a fundraiser toward paying for their new building. Their highly successful festivals allowed them to pay off their mortgage in just five years.

In 1919, the first American Legion Post #60 Golden Harvest Festival took place, starting on Monday, September 8th, and went through Saturday, September 13th. They were held in Monroe at Wood Field, which was in the vicinity of where Noble Avenue and Hollywood Drive intersect today.

Wood Field was the property of George Harley Wood, president of the River Raisin Paper Co. The Hollywood Drive subdivision did not exist then. The legion contracted with the Gooding Amusement Company out of Columbus, Ohio for outdoor carnival rides. The Gooding Company was only three years old at the time as it started in 1916.

Floyd Gooding was just 21 when he started with just two rides, a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. Those two rides came to Monroe each year in those early years. The six-day events were the defacto Monroe County Fair during their existence. The festivals were a county fair, agriculture type event that were sponsored and organized by a veteran’s organization, an odd and unique combination that proved extremely successful. The legion was anxious to make the event a big success in as much as Monroe County had no county fair going at that point in time.

In 1920, the second annual Monroe American Legion Golden Harvest Festival was held September 13-18. Admission was 10 cents per person. It included a big circus lot, plenty of amusements for the little kids and the big kids, flags unfurled to the breeze, bright lights, some good free acts and plenty of pep. Everything was ready for the festival opening.

The best music, a mammoth dancing pavilion, 50 booths filled with merchants and manufacturers’ displays, musical comedy, riding devices and everything that goes to make a high-class fall fair and festival, including last, but by no means the least, a splendid display of agricultural products, in a large tent, made by the progressive agriculturists of Monroe County.

The legion again contracted with the Gooding Amusements. It was again a six-day long fair type event. Entry registration for the farm display at the Golden Harvest Festival closed Aug. 23rd. Many entries were made, and Monroe County farmers were invited to display their products. The prizes were good, all being in cash and ranging from $1 to $20 per exhibit.

All kinds of products were covered in the prizes. Farmers were asked to display their grain in clean sacks and their farm products in clear plastic baskets to make a uniform display. Women were given notice that cash would be given for the best display of canned fruit.

In 1921, the third annual Monroe American Legion Golden Harvest Festival took place from September 12-17. It was again a six-day long fair type event and was held at Wood Field.

The National Commander of the American Legion attended the 1921 festival. It included agriculture displays, amusement rides, an acrobat show and a “first time in the county poultry and small animal exhibition”. The poultry exhibition included chickens and ducks. No mention of geese or turkeys. Rabbits were also exhibited for the first time. There was also a parade, a band and nightly dancing. They took out a rain insurance policy from the Dansard Little Agency. that covered $12,000 in losses.

In 1922, the 4th annual Monroe American Legion Golden Harvest Festival took place from September 11-16. The legion contracted again with the Gooding Amusement Company for outdoor carnival rides. The 1922 event grossed $15,707.06 ($260,000 today) in receipts and netted the Legion $4,479.94 ($75,000 today).

The entertainment program that year included a high wire act 105 feet in the air. The high wire artist was Frederick Dobell who was dressed in a rooster costume for his matinee show and he rode a bicycle on the high wire with fireworks being shot around him during the evening show. He also wore electric lights for his evening show.

There was also a band concert by the Monroe Cornett Band and dancing each evening. Fifty-seven free drawing prizes that were donated by Monroe businesses were awarded by random drawings.

The Monroe County 4-H program was founded in 1922 through the efforts of the Monroe County Farm Bureau. The Monroe County Farm Bureau was founded in 1919, the same year the first Golden Harvest Festival was held. The first Monroe County 4-H pig club exhibit took place at the Golden Harvest Festival in Monroe in 1922. The pigs were judged and ribbons awarded. The poultry and small animal exhibits tripled in size from the 1921 festival. The fireworks display drew 3,500 people that year. The festival moved to Loranger Field which was at the southeast corner of the intersection of Jones Avenue and Monroe Street.

From 1923 to 1929, the annual Monroe American Legion Golden Harvest Festivals were held in September each year. The annual events had the usual programs and attractions as the previous events. Fireworks, exhibits, displays and daily events took place. In the Farm Bureau tent there were displays of fresh and candied fruits, vegetables, flowers, fancy handicrafts and other domestic products. A large dance floor was built next to the band shell and music was provided nightly by the Monroe City Band.  The festival was held each year at Loranger Field.

In 1930, the 12th Monroe American Legion Golden Harvest Festival was held from September 1st through the 6th. An award ribbon still exists from the 1930 event. The year 1930 was the last year the festival was held, likely due to the Great Depression.

Music in 1930 and a number of previous years was provided by Leon’s Band of Toledo.  At the 1930 event the American Legion and the F.E. Gooding Amusement Company worked most of Sunday and Monday morning in last-minute preparations to have the show in top shape for the opening night.

The amusement company arrived early Sunday and immediately set about the task of getting its five rides ready to operate. The rides included a merry-go-round, a Lindy Loop, a whip, a Ferris wheel and the swan, a ride for the young kiddies. There is no record of the festivals after 1930.

The namesake of American Legion Post #60 was Carl Payson. He was a Monroe man who was killed in combat in WWI. The Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest medal for valor, was presented to Carl F. Payson, Sergeant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Cierges, northeast of Chateau-Thierry, France, on August 1, 1918.

During the attack made by the company on the village of Cierges, Sergeant Payson was mortally wounded in the head by a machine-gun bullet. He succeeded in keeping on his feet, however, and with the attacking wave, encouraged them, and by his strong will power he instilled in them all the spirit of fearlessness. His DSC was awarded posthumously. His body was never recovered and he is listed as missing in action but is likely buried in France in an unmarked grave.

Written by David Eby. Contributing researchers include Rick Grassley, Jim Ryland, Suzanne Wisler and Robert Lutey.

This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Local History: Golden Harvest Festivals were popular in the 1920s