Insider’s Guide to Fall Festival
Ellicottville’s Oldest And Largest Festival Is Here
By Carol Fisher
For two days, our little sweet village turns into a haven for leaf watchers, shoppers, fun seekers, beer drinkers, sausage eaters, and outdoor enthusiasts by the thousands. It’s hard to imagine putting that many people into one small portion of “main” street and two short side roads, but we do, and they just keep streaming in.
If you are reading this before the festival, please take some advice from an old hand and come in very early to (1) have a steady, non-stop drive into Ellicottville, and (2) to secure your parking space.
Before 1975, Ellicottville was a traditional “ski-town” and closed shop for much of Spring, Summer and Fall. Little by little it became a tradition for friends to gather during the Fall foliage time to get their winter homes ready for the ski season. Holiday Valley began a small annual celebration for the loyal skiers’ late autumn return by providing lift rides and hot dogs on the hill. Eventually the Ellicottville Arts Appreciation Association (EAAA), chaired by local arts patron Betty Kerns, added an arts and crafts show in one of the chalets. From these humble beginnings, local business owner Heidi (Rounds) Widger (John Rounds’ mom) took it upon herself to formalize the annual event. With the blessing of the Chamber of Commerce, Ellicottville’s Fall Festival was officially born in 1975, originally with an Octoberfest theme, complete with musicians dressed in Lederhosen playing in an Oompah band in the village square.
Fall Festival extends to Holiday Valley with a 5K run and chairlift rides to Spruce Lake. HoliMont’s Exhibition Express will also be giving views of the valley on Saturday from 11::30-4pm. To assist with transportation from the downtown area to Holiday Valley, shuttle rides will be available at a cost of $3. There is also a taxi service available by calling (716) 375-TAXI (8294). To ensure safety and a family-friendly environment, there will again be a highly enforced “zero-tolerance” law set in place.
When one comes to Fall Festival, two things become clear: the die-hard commitment of skiers and boarders who love the sport enough to cheer in the streets when it snows in October and the continuous efforts of the residents and business owners who work tirelessly to make Ellicottville a great place to be. The spirit of 1975 lives on.
However, since I generally do pieces with an historic bent, I sit here imagining what it must have been like a century or two ago in our geographic region.
In 1817, the first frame house was built in the village. In that same year, while the Erie Canal was starting to be constructed, Ellicottville was growing as well. In that political “Era of Good Feelings” (unfortunately a stark contrast to where we are today), old records and cemeteries reveal strong marriages and close families unlike the American West at this period in history. Apparently, pioneers moving west found a serious shortage of marriageable women in those rough and tumble frontier towns. Instead of the traditional courtship, men advertised for wives in newspapers (see the book Sarah Plan and Tall). Here, I quote an ad from an Arkansas newspaper seeking a woman who would bring practical skills to the marriage. “Any gal that got a bed, calico dress, coffee pot and skillet, knows how to cut out britches and can make a hunting shirt, knows how to take care of children can have my services till death do us part.” Any takers?
I’m picturing a Fall festival in those bygone days looking something like this: contests for the family might include a water bucket brigade, sawdust for the children (coins are thrown into a sawdust pile and the child finding the most coins wins a prize), greased pole, “catch the greased pig;” kiddie contests including a wheel barrel race, three-legged race and sack race, pie eating, egg throwing (for women only, of course) and a tug of war between hardy locals, with the winner to challenge visiting participants. A beard contest for men would be featured, with judging on the longest, best appearing, ugliest, most colorful, and the best appearing goatee and mustache.
The log sawing contest would include cross cutting saw competition, with the latter by local World Champions. Add to all that an unusual land log rolling contest, with lumberjacks attempting to roll uneven-sized logs down a field by means of cant hooks. We couldn’t leave out the parade floats with candidates for Festival Queen and runners up, school bands, marching bands, clowns, horses, and pet parades. Of course, musical choral groups would perform (Sweet Adeline, my Adeline…) with fiddlers making music for the nighttime square dancing. The featured food would be a roasted pig on a spit on the 1887 schoolhouse lawn.
Today’s festival offerings are quite different from those 200 years ago but surely just as much fun. Dress in comfortable shoes and layers. Come early. Stay late, and have a safe and happy time. Welcome to Ellicottville’s 42nd Fall Fest.