Since its humble beginnings as a pie baking contest in 1983, Applefest® in downtown Franklin has grown into a three day affair offering non-stop free entertainment, more than 300 arts and crafts and food vendors, and drawing crowds of more than 100,000 visitors to the small town.
The first seeds of Applefest® were planted when a newcomer to the area, Mrs. Lee Chapman, visited the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce office expressing “enchantment” with the area. Coming from an arid region of South Africa, Mrs. Chapman was especially impressed with the abundance of red apples growing in Franklin. She thought the apples should be celebrated and would make a fabulous basis for an event that could help improve the spirits and instill some old-fashioned community pride in the residents who had been hard hit by an economic downturn.
Combining Mrs. Chapman’s suggestion with the area’s historical link to the fabled folk hero Johnny Appleseed, the idea for Applefest® was born. John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman (No relation to Mrs. Chapman) lived from 1797 to 1804 in the Franklin area in the French Creek/Allegheny Valley, strategically planting apple trees, before continuing his journey of planting orchards throughout the Midwest that raised him to legendary status among American pioneers.
That first Applefest® consisted of an apple pie baking contest and a collection of a few local vendors. It was pulled together on very short notice by the Chamber’s long range planning committee and was scheduled to coincide with the Franklin High School Homecoming.
Franklin celebrated the 25th anniversary of Applefest® in 2007, and many of the original volunteers and coordinators have continued to be involved with the festival and have watched it grow first-hand. In addition to the apple pie baking contest, there are essay and logo design contests that involve the local schools, pie eating contests for youths and adults, the Applefest® 5K Race for Any Pace organized by the Franklin YMCA, an enormous antique and classic car cruise, and free entertainment for all three days.
Although those favorite activities have carried on through the years, the Applefest® organizers strive to keep the festival fresh and exciting, offering new events and changing up the entertainment lineup.
All set in the beautifully preserved Victorian Franklin downtown, Applefest® has proved to be a tremendous fundraiser for the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as a boon to the downtown retail and restaurant and lodging industries which thrive on the increased foot traffic. Some downtown retailers consider Applefest® a “second Christmas,” as far as sales are concerned, and pull out all the stops to impress the influx of visitors. That attitude spreads as far as Cranberry Mall. Although it is miles away from the festival, the mall offers indoor sidewalk sales and a chance for diehard shoppers to grab up bargains even after the parks are closed.
Applefest®’s reach does not stop with businesses. Spaces in the park are reserved each year specifically for Venango County non-profit agencies to use for fundraisers and to spread the word about what they do.
Applefest® is the result of tremendous community spirit and cooperation. Without the tireless efforts of the Core Committee and the hundreds of volunteers, the cooperation of local businesses and especially the City of Franklin, Applefest® would not be one of the largest festivals in northwest Pennsylvania and the economic engine for the region that it is today.