Celebrating Pumpkins at the Eureka Pumpkin Festival

Autumn is a beautiful time of year in Illinois when the leaves on the trees change from green to a wild display of colors, the crops in the fields are completing their lifecycle and are ready for harvest, and wildflowers such as goldenrod are putting out their final, golden blooms.

To celebrate this wonderful time of year,  in 1939, the Eureka Community Association, of Eureka, Illinois organized the first Eureka Pumpkin Festival. Originally billed as a way to boost the local economy after the Great Depression, the Eureka Pumpkin Festival was a successful community festival that celebrated pumpkins and the people of Eureka, IL, and lasted from that first festival in 1939 to 1961.

The Eureka Public Library District has nearly 300 photographs and scans of pamphlets and recipe books that document the festival over the years.

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Dickinson & Company, Eureka, Illinois. Dick’s Kitchen About Custard Pumpkin: How Manufactured How Used In Cooking. 1922. Eureka Public Library. Permission to display was given by Dr. Junius Rodriguez.

A woman and four children look at a freshly baked pie. They are standing in a kitchen.
A woman and four children marvel over a pumpkin pie in anticipation of the Eureka Pumpkin Festival, 1957. 1957. Eureka Public Library. Permission to display here given by Woodford County Historical and Genealogical Society.

 

Explore the Dick’s Kitchen booklet, About Custard Pumpkin, which describes how Dickinson & Co. developed a canned pumpkin (known as “custard pumpkin”) that was “superior to other canned pumpkins due to the selection of the pumpkins with a fine grain, the best taste and color, and the highest sugar content.” The odd numbered pages detail the process of growing, selecting, and manufacturing the custard pumpkin, while the even numbered pages include recipes for pumpkin soups, pies, muffins, sherbet, biscuits, and more. Dickinson & Co. was the predecessor to Libby’s. For those curious about the cooking from the 1920’s, this is a great, seasonal peak into that time!

The Eureka Pumpkin Festival itself was a major draw to the city of Eureka, bringing in tens of thousands of people each year. Many photographs in the collection attest to the crowds that the festival parade alone brought to Eureka. In addition to the floats in the parade, a Eureka Pumpkin Festival Queen was nominated. The Eureka Pumpkin Festival court were paraded on floats, and participated in many events before the queen’s coronation.

A tractor driven by a man in glasses is pulling a parade float with two people sitting on it. On either side of the people is a small house. On the front of the float is says "From the red school to the red barn." There are hundreds of people lining the streets of the parade.
Bill Lamb. 4-H float, Eureka Pumpkin Festival, 1955. 1955. Eureka Public Library. Permission to display here given by the Woodford County Historical and Genealogical Society.
Five women in dresses are standing in front of a wall of carved pumpkins. The woman in the middle is holding a scepter with a pumpkin on top, and has a pumpkin crown on her head.
Eureka Pumpkin Festival court on the Eureka Pumpkin Festival stage, 1955. 1955. Eureka Public Library. Permission to display here was given by Woodford County historical and Genealogical Society.

 

The fame of the Eureka Pumpkin Festival made its way to the ears of the Hollywood star, Ronald Reagan. Here Ronald Reagan is presented with a festival tie by Eureka Mayor, Bryon Britt and festival attendant, Audrey Hagan. Ronald Reagan was an alumnus of Eureka College where he studied economics and sociology.

Two men and a woman are standing in front of a train. The older man, known as Mayor Bryon Britt, is tying a tie around the neck of a young Ronald Reagan. A young lady, known as Audrey Hagan, is standing in the background smiling.
Eureka Mayor Bryon Britt presenting Ronald Reagan with an Eureka Pumpkin Festival tie, 1947. 1947. Eureka Public Library. Permission to display here is given by Eureka College Archives.

For more pumpkin mania, see the entire collection here. Many thanks to the Eureka Public Library, Woodford County Historical and Genealogical Society, Dr. Junius Rodriguez, and Eureka College Archives for permission to reproduce these images here.

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