By Kathy Cook Hunter
On Sunday, June 21 – Father’s Day – strawberry shortcake fans will observe a yearly tradition at Coolidge & McClaine Park in Silverton. Strawberry season doesn’t seem complete without attending the Strawberry Festival, where one can feast on strawberries, shortcake and ice cream.
Since 1951, when the event began as a fundraiser for maintaining the Silverton Hill Grange’s building on Silver Falls Highway, it has drawn crowds. After all, the price was right – 50 cents – and the Marshall berries grown in the Silverton Hills were famed for their size and flavor.
The gathering started small but gradually drew larger and larger attendance through the years. In 1954, Silverton’s Centennial celebration inspired many in the crowd to wear their pioneer settler costumes, and by 1955 the attendance was 600, including, according to contemporary newspaper articles, tourists from several other states on their way to Silver Falls State Park.
In 1956 an advance ticket sale contest began, with the young woman who sold the most becoming queen of the festival.
Sunday, June 21, Coolidge & McClain Park Pavilion
Breakfast, 8 – 11 a.m.,
French toast and sausage, $5 adults, $3 children
Lunch 12 – 5 p.m. Chicken dinner, $7
Strawberries, shortcake and ice cream $5 adults,
$3 children, under 3 or over 80 free
The 1957 strawberry feed brought 1,200 guests to the Grange hall. Newpaper accounts reported “Ninety crates of strawberries, 24 gallons of ice cream, 23 quarts of whipping cream, 29 cakes, 75 pounds of biscuit mix and almost a case of coffee were used during the day.”
The article continued, “The large crowd came in a steady stream from noon to closing time at 8 p.m. and were served in the Grange Hall by a well-organized crew of kitchen and dining room workers. Berries were brought in fresh from the nearby fields as they were used and batches of shortcake were baked in the Grange kitchen as needed.”
That crew was all volunteers, mostly Grange members. Many women worked in the kitchen, men worked outside washing the fresh berries and Chamber of Commerce members from Silverton came to help with parking.
In its 10th year the festival drew 1,525 people. This time the newspaper reported, “The Silver Falls Highway looked like the Los Angeles Freeway Sunday as hundreds of cars headed for the Silverton Hills Grange and the annual festival.”
In 1963 when the Grange upped the charge to 75 cents, the people continued to come.
However, as the years passed many strawberry growers in the hills, frustrated by competition from California berry growers whose berries were not so fragile and difficult to transport and who got higher yield per acre, looked for less worrisome crops. Growing Christmas trees gradually dominated the area.
As a result, the Grange had to buy berries for the June feast.
The festival never ended, though. After 44 years in the Silverton Hills, in 1995 it was moved to Coolidge & McClaine Park, where it continues as the Silverton Hills Strawberry Festival in honor of its origins.
The all-day event features three types of food, arts and crafts vendors, and live entertainment. It begins at 8 a.m. with a French toast and sausage breakfast prepared by Boy Scouts. At noon the event sponsor, Homer Davenport Days, will present a chicken barbecue in addition to serving up the traditional strawberries and shortcake.