A Little History To Enjoy Along With That Maple Donut
Monterey, VA – This year, the highland county maple festival will celebrate its 52nd year. According to the story told in the New History of Highland County, the festival’s origins are thought to have started with Dr. Thaine Billingsley who was visited by an Ohio surgical supply salesman who was familiar with a maple festival held in Chardon, Ohio, a rural community east of Cleveland.
Doc Billingsley was president of the Highland chamber of commerce at the time and he mobilized that group to help organize the first maple festival. With just a few weeks to prepare, the festival was setup and despite some very cold and gloomy weather, over six hundred people attended the first festival and were treated to an open house at George Hevener’s sugar camp, located west of Monterey. The second year there was a late spring so the sugar camps had deep snow and the festival was cancelled. Not wanting the highland maple festival to completely lose momentum, Doc Billingsley, Marvin Eagle, Joseph Pritchard and Melvin Puffenbarger traveled to Chardon, Ohio to learn more about their festival and bring that experience back to Monterey.
Austin Shepherd was also involved in the early days of the maple festival. Maple syrup and maple sugar were used for barter and helped many families get through hard times like the Great Depression. Mr. Shepherd was on the chamber of commerce executive committee and was also a member of the local Lions club. Both of those groups were important contributors to the early years of the maple festival.
To bring more attention to the maple festival, organizers invited state officials to visit Monterey during the festival. The highland maple festival now attracts dozens of vendors and tens of thousands of people every year and has become one of the premier events in the mid-atlantic states. The money raised by all the civic organizations is put back into the community as scholarships for high school seniors and support for groups like the rescue squad, the volunteer fire departments and the local ruritan clubs. So the maple festival gives back to the county residents every year in many ways.