Strawberry Festival began with library benefactor for new town of Longmont
In early June 1871, when the new town of Longmont was scarcely more than three months old, the word was received that Elizabeth Thompson of New York would pay a visit to the newly established town. She was bringing books, engravings, an organ, and a town bell for a library, which she declared should be “put up right off.” The early settlers in Longmont wasted little time in responding to her wishes, for Mrs. Thompson, a wealthy widow who gave generously to many causes, was one of the early benefactors of the new colony town.
The concept of Western colonization – especially when coupled with her staunch support for temperance – intrigued Thompson, and made the Chicago-Colorado Colony’s efforts to establish a temperance colony a worthy recipient of her largesse. She had purchased several lots, giving some away to deserving settlers and one to the Colony to be used as the site of a library. The Colony founders, mindful of her generosity, had named one of the three parks on the town plat after her. Now they worked feverishly to complete a sturdy, frame library building topped by an imposing belfry before her arrival in mid-June.
In less than two weeks the building was ready, and plans were made for a gala celebration to dedicate the building and honor the donor.
Because of their popularity in the East, it was decided to have a strawberry festival and strawberries were ordered to be brought in by rail. On Wednesday evening, June 15 almost every one of the new town’s 300 citizens dressed in their finest to attend Longmont’s first major social event. The evening included speeches, music, and a magnificent banquet.
Unfortunately, the fresh strawberries, intended to be the centerpiece of the feast, never arrived. Longmont housewives scoured their pantries for canned berries and preserves as a substitute. Despite that small glitch, the evening was a great success, and the organ, bell, 300 books and 3000 engravings were installed in the new building.
Although Mrs. Thompson‘s only visit to Longmont was a brief one, the legacy of her generosity remained an integral part of community life for well over a decade.
In time the town constructed a school building and town hall, and congregations built their own churches. No longer needed as a civic and social center, the building became a private residence and then was converted into apartments. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union took over the duty of managing the town’s reading room that was moved to Main Street. Library Hall still stands today at 335 Pratt Street, although the belfry has been removed and a partial addition obscures the original vestibule.
One hundred years after Longmont’s only Strawberry Festival, the town was celebrating its centennial with parades, pageants, and other special events. The members of the St. Vrain Historical Society, at the urging of the Library Board, decided to sponsor a special antique show and flea market to commemorate the celebration that had marked the founding year.
Forty-five antique and collectible dealers sharing 90 tables were packed into every conceivable spot in the Memorial Building at Roosevelt Park where the stage was decorated with a replica of Library Hall. Society volunteers dished out barbecue beef sandwiches, bean soup, and strawberries Romanoff and sold copies of their newly published book, They Came to Stay.
The 1971 event was such a success that it has been held every year since, growing larger each year. In the three decades since, the Strawberry Festival has developed into a modern-day community tradition, drawing thousands of visitors from across the Front Range.
Now held at the more spacious quarters of the Exhibit Building at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, each year thousands of visitors attend to browse and buy antiques and strawberry shortcake still dished up by Society volunteers.
This year’s Strawberry Festival will be held May 20-21, 2023 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road in Longmont. == Admission fees of $10 and sales from the café go toward supporting The St. Vrain Historical Society and the four historic properties under its care: Old Mill Park, Old St. Stephen’s Church, Historic Hoverhome, and the Hover Farmstead. The St. Vrain Historical Society, Inc. 9595 Nelson Rd, Longmont, CO 80501 (Photo of Thompson provided by St. Vrain Historical Society)