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Downtown carnival at Forest Festival, 1974. Photo: R.L. Hughes. Commerce

In the fall of 1930, the first Mountain State Forest Festival was celebrated in Elkins and immediately attracted national attention. The festival, dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the state’s natural resources, attracts approximately 80,000 visitors annually.

The spring of 1930 saw a big change for the City of Elkins. Discussions of an Elkins’ Homecoming event began with representatives of the Elkins Business Men’s Association (now Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce) and the Elkins Women’s Club. At these meetings it was stated that various towns were successful in staging a type of annual homecoming. They decided to take a trip to Winchester, Virginia to learn about the fruition of the nationally recognized Apple Blossom Festival. When the Elkins group arrived in Winchester at the Apple Blossom Festival, the Winchester group suggested to the Elkins group that plans should be made for an annual festival similar to theirs.

The former mayor of Winchester, Virginia and the assistant director of the Apple Blossom Festival while attending a meeting in Elkins pointed out that the Elkins area had something unique to offer, the nearby Monongahela National Forest and the beautiful mountain scenery surroundings Elkins, especially during autumn. On Monday night, August 11, 1930, a meeting was held at the YMCA in downtown Elkins to finalize plans for the festival. The festival was destined to become one of West Virginia’s premier events. Chairmen of the various festival committees would decide that night on what to call the celebration. Eventually the choices were narrowed down to one – The Mountain State Forest Festival. Planning had been going on for several months.

Queen Silvia I, Margaret Straley, being crowned by Governor William G. Conley, 1930. West Virginia Photo Company Collection

Mr. George Dornblazer, a well respected businessman, was appointed as Director General due to his success in directing a rather significant ceremony in 1929.. During the organizational months, the Director General has always played a large role and made a lot of hard decisions. It was up to Mr. Dornblazer to appoint the other festival officials and decide who would be appointed Maid Silvia. In order to have an adequate amount of space, Davis & Elkins College would need to cooperate with the festival and at first, the president of the college, Dr. James E. Allen, was hesitant. He felt that a county fair would be better to plan because the festival would be too large for the small town of Elkins. However, after some persuasion, Dr. Allen changed his mind and devoted much of his time and talents to the success of the festival. Davis & Elkins College was used for several festival activities including a site for the queens headquarters, the queens coronations ceremonies, and the use of Halliehurst for a reception.  Just like the president of the college, not all Elkins citizens were enthused over the festival idea. But as the festival officials started planning the different activities that would be incorporated, conversation started to buzz around town and the Elkins community began to show excitement. Even the West Virginia governor as well as the Commissioner of Agriculture visited Elkins several times prior to the event and assisted with the staging of the festival.

The festival committee planned two featured dances. One dance as to be known as the Princess Dance and the other was the “Queen’s Ball”. To this day, the appointed princesses and queen perform a dance called The Grand March at the Queen’s Ball event. Many times, Mr. Dornblazer mentioned the need for an Elkins band. Although Elkins already had a high school band as well as the I.O.O.F. home band, he wanted an Elkins City Band. Talented musicians have always been a part of Elkins. On the morning of the Grand Feature Parade, the band comprised of local and regional musicians, got together for their one and only rehearsal and made a grand showing leading the parade.

Parade float displaying a large section of a tree trunk, 1937. West Virginia
Photo Company Collection

Before the dates were selected for the Mountain State Forest Festival, Mr. Dornblazer contacted the manager of the Elkins U.S. Weather Bureau to check the records of the local weather station. He wanted to know the days of the month of October with the best average temperature before making a decision, a very smart call. After checking the records, the first seven days of October had the best weather for staging such an event. With the information provided, the festival committee declared that the festival should be held annually on the first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of October. Should be is the key word in that sentence. The first annual festival was held not during the beginning of October but rather on October 30, 31 and November 1. Despite of the zero degree weather, the festival was attended by thousands and determined a success.

Over the years the Mountain State Forest Festival has grown so much that not only is there a Director General each year, but also a board of Assistant Directors, committee members and volunteers. The events have increased over the years from having a three or four day festival, to lasting for over a week. All together there are over 100 events. The festival has always had a strong tie with the state’s agriculture and forestry industries; each year there is exhibits like a Christmas tree exhibits, wood products exhibits and woodcrafts. Also, during the coronation the new queen plants a seedling tree, which is then placed in a West Virginia forest. There are no specific festival grounds, with activities held throughout the city.

Since it started in 1930, the Mountain State Forest Festival has become an annual event with the exception of eight years. During 1942-1948 due to World War II and unfortunately, in 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Honorary parade marshal Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, making
remarks at the Forest Festival, with U.S. Representative Harley Staggers
standing behind, 1975. Photo: Gerald Ratliff. Commerce Collection
First man to walk on the Moon and honorary parade marshal Neil Armstrong and
Representative Harley Staggers meet with D&E yearbook staff members Ron Davies and Charlene Brunt, 1970. Clarksburg Exponent Collection

Mountain State Forest Festival Fun Facts:

Five different presidents have attended and visited the mountain town of Elkins: Roosevelt, 1936; Truman, 1966; Nixon, 1972; Ford, 1975; Carter, 1978.

Silvia means “Deity of the Forest”.

The Fireman’s Parade has been a part of the Festival since the beginning of 1930.

Three competitions that have been a part of the Festival since the beginning are the Lumberjack, Tennis, and Horseshoes competitions.

The Budweiser Clydesdales have attended the festival four times.

Over the past 10 years, the WVU band has attended two times; 2003 and 2009.

Brad Paisley performed at the Country Music Show in 2001.

The WV Highlands of Davis & Elkins College have participated in the festival for over 65 years.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, was the honorary parade marshal in 1970.