The Johnny Appleseed Festival began in 1974 with just a small handful of vendors, about 20. They were concentrated over on the west side of the current festival area along Parnell Avenue. Some of the larger sponsors of the time were Eckrich, Lincoln Life and the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation. For some time the festival had been just on the county side of the park. Many people don't realize that the current festival actually takes up two separate parks. There is Archer Park, which is on the county side, then there is Johnny Appleseed Park which is the city side that includes the campground area. Slowly the festival began to grow, but had a few struggles as it was continually moved around the area as the coliseum area slowly grew and for various other reasons.
Before the current Memorial baseball stadium was built, the festival had grown to encompass that area which had been several baseball and softball fields. Within about 12 years, the festival had grown to over 138 booths of a variety of vendors and entertainment. It was in the early 1980's that the festival had grown large enough to use both parks.
The Johnny Appleseed Gravesite is nationally known, but there is much controversy on where he is actually buried. We are pretty confident that this is not the actual burial site of Johnny. What many people do not know is that the hill is an actual gravesite for the Archer family. If you look up within the bushes, you will find real tombstones marking graves that are somewhere on the backside of the hill. This has been confirmed.
The festival over the years has grown to over 200 booths, and has been, in the past, represented by vendors from over 42 different states. Until just the past several years, around 2006, Lincoln Financial has been a major corporate sponsor of the festival. With the recent changes that have gone on with the company, they have had to step down from having that title. Our founding sponsors, the Settler's Inc. to this day maintain a strong presence within our organization and can be found deep within the campground, er, the Pioneer Village area, selling soups and providing demonstrations of yarn being made from wool. We also send special thanks to the continued support of the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation for their continued support each year.
The uniqueness of the Johnny Appleseed Festival still amazes people yet today. It's not often you find a festival with such stringent qualities for it's vendors. There is no modern conveniences allowed. Cooking must be done over an open fire, without the use of propane gas. Vendors are required to dress in 1800 period dress, sell products, demonstrate trades, entertain and provide food potentially available within the 1800's. Some food delicacies may look a bit modern, but if you do a bit of research you will find that a similar opportunity was available back then. Many requests to become a vendor or entertain or pass out pamphlets about their group come in through our website everyday, only to be respectfully declined because they did not realize the period style type of festival this is. We have strived to hold ourselves to that standard of maintaining the festival in this fashion and we are praised each and every year for doing so.
We, the Johnny Appleseed Festival Board of Directors, invite you to visit us on the third full weekend in September. It's easy to remember. The dates change, but the weekend does not, always the third full weekend. Many times we are asked, "Why isn't the festival a three day festival?". In the past, it was, to a degree. There used to be school group tours given to the schools in the area on Friday's, but that has since gone, probably due to various budgeting reasons. The festival has always been a two day festival and will probably continue to be that way for a long time to come.
If you have additional questions related to the history of our festival, please do not hesitate to jump over to our contact page and drop us a note. We will be happy to help you in any way we can. If your group is interested in taking part in our festival, visit our "Festival Areas" section and you can read about the different sections we have and request information about your area of interest. If your group or business would like to volunteer hours to help our non-profit organization, let us know and we will provide you with information for your consideration. We are always looking for volunteers to join in the fun and for some, historical fantasy that the festival provides each and every year.
Thank you for stopping by and we look forward to your visit with us each year.