(photo by Tim Jaynes)
In light of the events of Sept. 11, "America the Beautiful," was suggested by a Charleston citizen as the theme for the 34th Annual Dogwood-Azalea Festival scheduled for April 18-21. The festival is sponsored by the Charleston Chamber of Commerce.
Linda Banta, long-time resident and member of the Molly French Garden Club of Charleston, said the Dogwood-Azalea Festival can be traced back to 1951, when the club was founded by Paula Crowe. Banta said one of Crowe's goals was to see the town full of dogwood trees and azaleas. Eventually, an annual plant sale was held by garden club members and has grown into the widely-known festival that exists today.
"For those who have never visited the festival, they can expect a fantasy of azaleas and gardens with brilliant hues," Banta said. "The trail is six miles long and visitors can stop at various points of interest to view the displays."
Banta, who has been involved with the festival for several years, is referring to the Candlelight Tour, one of the festival's main attractions. The entire Dogwood-Azalea Trail is lit by over 6,000 votive luminaries. Many Charleston citizens put out luminaries in their own yards to help decorate for the weekend event. The tour is sponsored by the Mississippi County Savings and Loan Association.
According to Banta, visitors shouldn't have to worry about finding something to do during the festival. "We have musical entertainment and there's lots to do in the park," she said. "There's arts and crafts, a petting zoo, a fish fry . . . oh, and there's the parade on Saturday (which begins at 11 a.m.)."
Aside from the previous events mentioned, the festival also includes the Third Annual Home Tour, sponsored by the Charleston CTA. Three private residences along with the Mississippi County Historical Society home will open for tours on April 18-19 from 1 to 4 p.m. and on April 20 from 12 to 4 p.m.
The festival isn't limited to Charleston residents. Visitors from all over Southeast Missouri come to the festival. Out-of-state visitors are welcome as well. Some of the visitors through the years have come from Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky and Kansas, Banta said.
Generally rain can pose as a problem when the majority of a festival's events take place outside, but with this festival, Banta said, rain really isn't an issue. She said the odds of it raining all four days of the festival are slim.
"Around here, it's not likely to rain more than one day so the festival can still be a success even if it does rain," Banta said. "I remember one time when it rained," she recalled, "and we were frying fish. We had to walk over crates (placed on the ground) so that we wouldn't get muddy."
Banta estimates around 5,000 people visit the festival each year.
One popular event is the annual Molly French Garden Club Plant Sale, which runs 9 to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday. "We always try to give handouts with caring tips for the plants we sell," Banta said. "We've had people come back and say, 'We never knew how to care for the plants and we'd lose them. But when you really told us how to plant them, it worked.' It's just great to hear those kinds of things."
A variety of other events such as the Hearnes Museum Open House and a quilt show, as well as activities like carriage and carnival rides will take place at the festival.
For more information and a complete list of festival events, visit the Web site at charlestonmo.net or call Lisa Hillhouse at the Charleston Chamber of Commerce office at (573) 683-6509.