By Kate Flinn
A stop in Statesville led to an unexpected surprise of closed roads and throngs of people: the annual Statesville Pumpkin Festival, a beloved community tradition that marks the start of the fall season for this quaint little town. Almost immediately upon arrival, we fell upon the festival’s main stage, garnished to theme with hay and various fall squashes. A young band occupied the stage, performing a twangy, though otherwise on-key, rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” Excited about this sudden turn of events, we decided to tackle the festival head on.
Statesville is one of the oldest towns in the state, founded in 1789 shortly after North Carolina joined the United States. Due to a series of fires that plagued the original infrastructure, most of what is today recognized as historic downtown Statesville was constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town’s pride for the history and community are evident throughout the festival. Festival-goers interested in learning more about Statesville are encouraged to visit the town’s historical collection, just down the street from what locals refer to as “the square.” For those seeking out recreation, the festival boasts attractions for attendees of all ages. Guests can stroll down historic Main Street and choose from a huge selection of local food vendors. From traditional North Carolina barbeque to enormous Greek gyros, this festival has it all. Personally, I opted for an appetizer of one of my favorite treats: a powdered sugar covered funnel cake.
Aligning with the peculiar human passion for smashing things, attendees of all ages can line up for the chance to bludgeon a pumpkin with a large sledgehammer. Sounds relatively straightforward, right? Yet these attempts may be the most entertaining part of the festival. For as many people lined up to try, there were observers in the crowd, watching five- and fifty-year-olds take a crack at it with a good laugh.
For those willing to fight the crowds and branch out into the streets surrounding Main Street, much more awaits at the Statesville Pumpkin Festival. Diving headfirst down a side street, one will find a sea of merchandise vendors. Hesitantly glancing at a few of the vendor’s booths, we spotted everything from handmade jewelry to mason jars of from-scratch butters and jams. The plethora of options is nearly counterintuitive, inducing an over-stimulated trance that makes it difficult to choose where to begin.
One stand in particular–the unbranded soy-candle tent with over fifty unique flavors–was a big hit for any self-diagnosed candle addict. Of the couple selling the candles, it was the husband who began making candles when a back injury put him out of work. He and his wife import the soy locally from Raleigh and use scented oils to craft their signature flavors including “Sandalwood” and “Clean Linen.” After smelling every single scent they had to offer, at least twice, I settled on the “Ocean Breeze” scent and walked away excited about the new addition to my collection.
Amidst the seemingly endless expanse of tents, booths, and vendors, non-shoppers may enjoy strolling through the Festival’s antique car show. From vintage pickup trucks to glimmering muscle cars, the assemblage of old-fashioned automobiles is bound to transport visitors through time. Though hours could be spent milling through the festival’s beer garden or watching the line up of scheduled performances, for the sake of the college student budget, it was time to end our day there. Though our experience at the Statesville Pumpkin Festival was unplanned, the sounds, smells and history of historic downtown Statesville will stick with us long after we continue our journey down Highway 64.