Friday, June 27, 2014

This Day In Louisiana History, June 27, 1951

From the official Louisiana Peach Festival website louisianapeachfestival.org:

History of the Peach Festival - Ruston, LA


"Few peaches were grown for commercial purposes in Lincoln Parish until the 1940s. Before then, most peach farming was done on a small-scale family basis.  In the late 1930s, several commercial peach orchards were located in Lincoln Parish.

In 1947, the area peach growers organized the Louisiana Fruit Growers Association. And in 1951, they voted to promote their industry by spreading word throughout Louisiana and surrounding states of the excellent taste of Lincoln Parish peaches.


Plans to hold an annual Louisiana Peach Festival were placed on the drawing board. For months preceding June 1951, Ruston citizens busied themselves preparing for the event. J.E Mitcham, president of the Louisiana Fruit Growers Association, and Walter Smith, chairman of the first Louisiana Peach Festival, spent many hours planning the celebration. Area merchants filled the local newspaper with advertisements offering special sales and savings to honor the first Peach Festival. The Association, with the cooperation of the city of Ruston, the Chamber of Commerce, civic clubs, garden clubs, merchants, and many other individuals, decorated the main streets, public buildings, banks and stores with banners and placards headlining the popular Dixie Gem peach.


The program of the First Annual Louisiana Peach Festival, which was held on June 27-28, 1951, consisted of "Peaches and Posies" flower show, a peach cookery contest, an art show, several athletic tournaments, and the crowning of the First Queen Dixie Gem and Princess Peach.

South Louisiana humorist, Justin Wilson, master of ceremonies for the pageant, entertained the audience in Howard Auditorium on the Louisiana Tech University campus with his Cajun dialect. In the final moments of the pageant, Louisiana state Sen. Dudly J. LeBlanc, the town of Abbeville’s famous Hadacol salesman, presented the crown and title of Queen Dixie Gem I to Ann Colvin of Bernice, La.  Lou Ellen Stevens was named the 1951 Princess Peach. During the ceremony, LeBlanc handed Miss Colvin a gold miniature bottle of Hadacol, his cure-all wonder drug that had gained him national fame and great wealth.


The first Peach Festival achieved far greater success than any of the sponsors expected. Crowds of people came to attend the events and to take advantage of the special sales held by local merchants. More important, however, the Lincoln Parish peach growers had started their most potent annual publicity event."