Sweet Treat!

Published 8:36 am Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MURFREESBORO – There are certain guarantees when the calendar turns from July to August – the heat of summer remains, tobacco harvest is underway, cotton is in full bloom and the Watermelon Festival cranks up in Murfreesboro.

The latter holds true in 2013 as the North Carolina Watermelon Festival begins its 28th annual run in Murfreesboro on Wednesday, July 31. That small, historic town will attract upwards to 40,000 visitors during the Festival’s four-day run (through Saturday, Aug. 3).

For Percy and Lynette Bunch of Murfreesboro, an idea hatched over a quarter of a century ago has evolved into an event they never imagined.

In 1986, Percy Bunch – whose main crops on his land include peanuts and watermelons – acted on an idea to have a Watermelon Day in Murfreesboro. Joining forces with others, a parade and small festival, one that lasted just four hours, was held in honor of a young woman from Murfreesboro, Whitney Cuthbertson, who had won the state watermelon queen title.

Over the years, the Bunch family – with plenty of help from a planning committee as well as the Town of Murfreesboro – saw the Watermelon Festival expand by leaps and bounds, now encompassing four full days of food, fun and entertainment.

And, as is always the case, admission is free. Parking is available in downtown Murfreesboro, only a short walk to the festival grounds. Security is orchestrated by the Murfreesboro Police Department with the assistance of law enforcement agencies in the surrounding communities.

This year’s theme is “NC Watermelon Festival Takes Flight.”  This design embraces the town’s historic connection with flight by incorporating the Gatling Airplane which is flown by the Festival’s mascot, Percy the Ant.

The Murfreesboro Historical Association’s (MHA) had plans to “launch” the legendary “Turkey Buzzard” at the annual Watermelon Festival parade (10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3). However, those plans were scrapped when it was discovered that since 10-plus years had passed since the last time this item had been moved, there was concern that the wings may collapse.

Those wishing to view the “aeroplane” can do so by visiting the Agriculture/Transportation Museum located across the “walking bridge” at the corner of Williams and 5th streets. That item is a replica of what is officially known as the Gatling Aeroplane of 1873.  The original was constructed by James Henry Gatling who lived in HertfordCounty from 1818 until 1879.

A farmer and inventor, Gatling was the older brother of Richard Gatling who invented the famous Gatling Gun. He launched the “aeroplane” on a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1873 and stayed aloft about 100 feet before hitting a tree and tumbling to the ground. He never flew it again, but he did beat the Wright Brothers’ flight attempt by 30 years.

The original was unfortunately lost to fire in 1906.  This replica was built by volunteers of the Murfreesboro Historical Commission as part of a class at Roanoke-ChowanCommunity College.

The annual parade will also feature Brian Schrader and Lisa Prince from WRAL TV 5 as the Celebrity Grand Marshals. Colin Ballance, curator of the Jefcoat Museum of Americana in Murfreesboro, has been honored with the title of Grand Marshal of the parade.

The festival’s opening day (Wednesday, July 31) is highlighted by an appearance by Steve Owen and the Summertime Band (6:30-10:30 p.m.) on the Broad Street stage. Local celebrity Jay Jenkins of Woodland (of “Shaggin’ on the Beach” fame heard Sunday afternoons on WDLZ FM) will serve as the evening’s DJ.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda is the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce’s steamed shrimp dinner (4:30-7 p.m.), amusement rides (the midway opens at 6 p.m.; Family Night featuring unlimited rides for one price of $20) and Bingo (in the Murfree Center, hosted by the Ladies Division of the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce) starting at 7:30 p.m. featuring loads of prizes.

An opening ceremony will be conducted at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Thursday features the Emily Minor Band on the Broad Street stage from 6:30-10:30 p.m. That day’s agenda also features a trout dinner sponsored by the Murfreesboro Rotary Club (4:30-7 p.m.), another round of Bingo at 7:30 p.m. in the Murfree Center hosted by the Chamber Ladies, and amusement rides (unlimited rides for $20 per person).

Business really picks up on Friday where the crafts/antiques fair opens at 12 noon, along with a wide variety of “eats” at the Food Fair. The Moonshine Band performs Friday at 12 noon; the amusement rides open at 6 p.m.; and there is a pork barbecue/friend chicken dinner hosted by Jefcoat Museum from 4:30-7 p.m. The evening’s featured band on the Broad Street stage is North Tower (7-11 p.m.).

Saturday is the festival’s biggest day – beginning at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast (7-9:45 a.m.) at Murfreesboro Baptist Church and ending with the Pizaaz Band performing from 7-11 p.m. on the Broad Street stage.

In-between is the state’s largest agricultural parade (10 a.m. on Main Street), a 5K run/walk road race (preceding the parade), the crowning of the 2012 Watermelon Princess, the selection of Little Mr. and Miss Farmer, watermelon eating and seed spitting contests, largest watermelon contest, helicopter rides, amusement rides, a full afternoon/early evening line-up of entertainment (bands, clogging groups and solo artists), Bingo (7:30 p.m. in the Murfree Center) hosted by the Murfreesboro Historical Association, and a huge display of fireworks (9:15 p.m.)

For those looking for a sweet treat, be sure to visit the main tent where free slices of delicious, homegrown watermelons will be served. The main tent also offers the new 2013 Watermelon Festival t-shirts for sale.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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