Watermelons have long been a calling card for the City of Hope. The Festival itself dates back to the mid-1920's when the city's Chamber of Commerce staged a one-day Festival each year. The early Watermelon Festivals bear little resemblance to the recent ones. During the 1920's-era festivals, citizens served ice-cold watermelon to passengers on the many trains which stopped in Hope. The festival also featured a "Watermelon Queen" pageant and a large parade. These early festivals brought upwards of 20,000 people in a day to Hope. The end to the first festivals came about 1931 when the city, suffering from the effects of the depression, could no longer accommodate the crowds.
Hope celebrated its centennial in 1975. The event was a rousing success and local residents started thinking about another celebration. Local promoter and newspaper man C.M. "Pod" Rogers organized a new Watermelon Festival in 1977. The success of this first reorganized festival led to the event gaining annual status. Since the 1970's, the festival has continued to grow, attracting approximately 50,000 visitors to Hope over a four-day period.
The modern day Hope Watermelon festival features numerous activities including Arts & Crafts, food, entertainment and other family-oriented activities. Nearly 300 Arts and Crafts booths will be set up at the festival grounds.
The Arts and Crafts come from a 6 state area. The festival also features dozens of food booths, serving everything from burgers and corn dogs to pork rinds and "chicken-on-a-stick".
Local civic clubs also hold dinners featuring such down-home fare as locally grown smoked chicken and golden fried catfish. The Watermelon Festival features a variety of musical talent each year. What else can you do at the festival? You can participate in a 5K race, take in a dog show, enter the "Watermelon Idol" talent contest or play "hillbilly horseshoes".
The Watermelon Olympics will also be held, pitting local teams against each other in such events as the melon-toss. There's also an antique car show, an antique engine show featuring old steam engines, and a volleyball tournament. The festival also features a number of melon-oriented events such as the seed-spitting contest and the Watermelon eating contest And what of the famous Hope melons? Those attending will be able to see some of the bigger specimens of the year, some tipping the scales at close to 200 pounds. Ice-cold watermelon will be sold by the slice for $1.25 each day and numerous melon growers will have whole melons on sale at the festival for visitors to take home.
Photo Courtesy of the Hope Star 1927 – Entry in the 1927 Parade. Mr. Lowthorp created the Hope market for giant watermelons through business and railroad convention contacts in the off-season. These men of Rocky Mound and Shover Springs supplied him with the giants for his sales. The group included four men who grew world record giant watermelons. Arthur Powell grew the winning melon for 1927 in the Rocky Mound community.