For 48 years, a festival has been conducted in Brownstown to celebrate the harvest of Jackson County watermelons.
But this year’s Jackson County Watermelon Festival, scheduled for the last weekend in August, has been canceled.
That news was shared by festival committee President Esther Hall on Monday night on the festival’s Facebook page.
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“It is with deepest regret that I must inform you that we will be unable to have a festival this year,” Hall wrote. “We want to make sure that we have the safest festival possible, and unfortunately, we do not feel that our electric standards are up to code and will be using this year to revamp and reorganize the festival.”
The only event still on for this year’s festival is the 5K run/walk, which benefits the Brownstown Exchange Club. That’s set for Aug. 27, with registration starting at 7 a.m. and the race beginning at 8 a.m. at the Jackson County Park. Preregistration is available at indianatiming.com.
Hall said Wednesday morning that the three-member committee had been discussing whether or not to have the festival for about three weeks. The committee made the decision to cancel it shortly before Hall posted the news on Facebook.
“It was probably one of the hardest decisions we had to make because it doesn’t just include the committee, it also includes the community, the vendors and changing everyone’s schedule,” Hall said. “We felt like it was imperative that we have to get those updates done. Without the updates, there will be no festival.”
Hall said she is in the process of contacting vendors and giving them two options — their money can be refunded or it can be put toward a spot for next year’s festival.
Hall said any money raised from completed fundraisers for the festival, including a dinner dance auction in February, will go toward next year’s festival.
The electrical upgrades that need to be made is one reason the committee decided to cancel the festival.
Last year, the state fire marshal came to the festival and provided a list of things that needed to be changed before granting another permit for the festival, Hall said.
“Most of it needs to be updated for outside weather,” she said. “There are safety issues with the electrical outlets being exposed.”
The festival uses an electrical box for vendors, and it also uses electrical boxes around the Jackson County Courthouse. The festival is conducted on streets surrounding the courthouse.
“We have a lot of vendors going to 50-amp plug-ins, and we actually at this point in time have only one 50-amp outlet,” Hall said. “We would like to accommodate everybody.”
Hall said the committee already is working on the electrical upgrades for next year’s festival.
“We have a couple of people coming in to give us estimates,” she said. “We already have promised monies from a couple of community members, and we will be asking for more financial support for these updates.”
Another reason the committee decided to cancel this year’s festival is because of it conflicting with other events in the county, including Scoop the Loop in Seymour.
That resulted in moving next year’s festival to the third weekend of September, which will be Sept. 15 and 16.
“I believe dates changing may have an effect on some of the vendors, as well,” Hall said. “We ask our vendors what would be best for them, and most of them said the third weekend of September is when they would be able to be free to be in Brownstown.”
Megan Hackman, whose family operates Hackman Family Farm Market in Vallonia, said moving the date of the festival will miss the best part of the watermelon season.
Each year at the festival, which used to be known as MelonFest, free watermelon slices are handed out, and whole watermelons are available for purchase.
“By the third week in September, people have already shifted their attention to apples, football and chili suppers,” Hackman said.
Hackman, however, said she hopes to see the committee get everything in order for 2017.
“Hopefully, it works for them,” she said. “Melons are a huge part of this community’s past and present.”
Jamie Temple of Brownstown said she was disappointed about the news of the festival’s cancellation.
“I wish that they could still do a parade and have like a one-day deal,” she said. “The parade day has always brought the biggest crowd. It is so hard to bring something back when it doesn’t happen and the date changes so often. In the past, it was a big festival. I am hopeful that one day it will be successful again.”
Several local organizations have relied on the festival as a fundraiser.
Among them is the Jackson County History Center, which offers a bean dinner, activities and tours of its campus at Sugar and Walnut streets.
The center has been open during the festival since the late 1960s, said volunteer Margo Brewer.
“It’s one of the biggest fundraisers we have,” she said of the bean dinner. “This is something we’re known for. There are a lot of people that come just to eat the beans.”
Brewer said the history center may schedule the bean dinner sometime later this year, possibly during its new event, Jackson County Heritage Days. That festival is set for Sept. 9 through 11, but details are still being worked out.
For information about the Jackson County Watermelon Festival, visit facebook.com/JacksonCountyWatermelonFestival.