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Wellsburg Applefest

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Festival Celebrates Apples With Pies, Fritters, Cider

Not much has changed in the 34 years since the first Wellsburg Applefest was held.

"The thing is, don't reinvent it," committee co-chair Ernie Jack says. "If it's working, leave it alone. We put little comment cards in our booth every year, asking people to tell us what they like or don't like. When we find something people don't like, we really investigate it."

Brooke County is where the Grimes Golden, a long-time favorite for eating, cooking and making cider, developed. It was found growing on the Thomas Grimes farm some 200 years ago, and if local lore is to be believed, there's a very good reason for it.

"(It's said) Johnny Appleseed planted the tree two miles east of Wellsburg on Washington Pike — it was the Washington turnpike then from Washington (Pa.) to the Ohio River," Jack said. "The Conestoga wagons would come this way because it was easier to cross the river here in Wellsburg than down in Wheeling."

Johnny Appleseed, of course, was really John Chapman. 

"He and his brother had left Massachusetts, walking across New York and Pennsylvania and ending up in Pittsburgh," Jack said. "His brother stayed there, but John Chapman headed out in a canoe with buckskin bags of apple seeds he planted along the river as he went south to Illinois."

The story, as it's been passed down through the generations locally, is that Chapman planted some of those seeds on the Grimes farm.

"That's why I love West Virginia so much," Jack said. "There's no state that has the history we do. I've traveled everywhere. ... Family matters here. People pass this stuff down from generation to generation."

Jack and co-chairs, Rita Ramsey and Michael O'Brien, stage Applefest with help from a dozen or so volunteers and a lot of support from local businesses. A couple of local banks cordon off their parking lots to make room for amusement rides and a midway, pony rides and other kid-friendly activities. Another sponsors an art contest for first through fourth graders, buying wooden cutouts along with the glue, glitter, paints and brushes kids need to decorate them with and, when it's done, the entries are hung in the town square.

"Our  local merchants and businesses truly do support Applefest. They really step up to plate," he said.

Vendors sell everything from Mexican and Chinese foods to hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue chicken and funnel cakes, but the star of the show, of course, is the apple. 

"We have one vendor that brings in about 800 bushels of apples (from their orchard). They'll bring in seven different varieties," he said. "People will come from all around to get the different types; they can't get them at their grocery store.  We also have a church that's been with us from the start. They make apple butter. I think they sell 2,400 quarts in three days. It's the only fundraiser they do."

Other groups sell apple dumplings topped with ice cream, or apple slices drizzled with hot caramel, apple fritters and apple pies. The Kiwanis club sells about 3,000 (mini) pies during those three days. And there's apple cider, lots of apple cider.

To keep kids busy, Jack said they have pumpkin decorating contests and a pet show as well as the midway.

"We've had children bring in rabbits and turtles. We even had a child come in once with grasshoppers," he said. "It's all family-oriented. We just want everyone to come and have a good time."

There's also plenty of live entertainment, including Elvis impersonators.

The festival is held the first full weekend in October, Jack said, "and we get probably 14,000 to 18,000 people in three days, depending on the weather. A lot of them come back year after year."

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