In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Ocmulgee Wild Hog Festival, I’ll be posting a few photos from Abbeville today. Having attended this festival, I can attest to what a fun time it is. This Mother’s Day weekend, the weather promises to be nearly perfect and if you’ve never been, do your best to make your way to the little town of Abbeville to experience one of Georgia’s most popular festivals. From the festival website, here’s the story of how it all got started: The Ocmulgee Wild Hog Festival evolved from Abbeville’s Flight Through the Pines and May Day Festivals. Mr. D. C. Yancey did not wan the yearly festivals to die so he went to Lanier Keene, Masonic Lodge Mason, and asked if he thought the Masons would like to help with a yearly festival. So Mr. Yancey met with a few of the masons and local citizens; Bill Sims, Lanier Keene, Tommy C. McCall, Jake Keene, Pricilla Whitman, and Dean Clements. These people decided that a festival would go on but now it needed a name. Mr. Bill Sims stated that if they could get a few thousand people to come to the Opossum Festival over in Dexter, why not a Wild Hog Festival. So the Ocmulgee Wild Hog Festival began. The festival started with $750 from the May Day Festival. Each year the Masons have sold BBQ & Stew and the Abbeville Volunteer Fire Department has sponsored a street dance after the closing of the festival. For a few years, the Masons even had a womanless beauty pageant. Our lifelong family friend, Julia Davis, was also an early promoter of the festival.
Tag Archives: South Georgia Festivals
Bad weather didn’t keep people away from this year’s 34th Annual Catface Turpentine Festival in Portal, which bills itself “The Turpentine City”. The recently named Bobby Ronald Newton Turpentine Museum (background, above) is the focal point of the festival. In 1982, Denver Holllingsworth and the Portal Heritage Society suggested restoring the old Carter still and with enthusiastic community involvement, the old boiler was finally relit. The Carter still is one of only three remaining in Georgia. The two other stills are located in Tifton and Walthourville.
As he’s been doing since the festival’s inception, Mr. Roger Branch is on hand each year and eager to tell you anything you might want to know about the history of what was once South Georgia’s biggest industry. Roger is the retired chairman of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Georgia Southern University and has always been interested in preserving historical and cultural aspects of life in South Georgia. I like to think of him as the “Ambassador of Turpentine”. The calendars behind him were produced for many years by the American Turpentine Farmers Association (ATFA) in Valdosta and feature annual winners of the Miss Gum Spirits of Turpentine contests. The ATFA disbanded in the early 1990s, as commercial production of turpentine disappeared from the scene.
There are several of these old markers on the walls of the Turpentine Museum, from the Carter & Son turpentine operations. F. N. Carter, Sr., put Portal on the map as one of Georgia’s centers of the naval stores industry in the 1930s and along with his son E. C. Carter maintained this vital part of the area’s economy until the early 1960s.
David King, from the Georgia Museum of Agriculture at Tifton’s Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC), is an expert on the distillation of turpentine and runs the old Carter still at the festival.
The museum’s namesake, Bobby Ronald Newton, was a longtime volunteer at the festival and was instrumental in preserving the area’s turpentine history.
The little building beside the still is filled with all sorts of memorabilia, from signs and calendars to tools and even catfaces themselves. To those who don’t already know, the name catface was given to the slashes cut into pines to gather sap. They’re said to resemble cat’s whiskers.
Also on display are Herty cups (below left) and other early innovations for the collection of sap.
Perhaps the most popular item, though, is the hardened gum rosin itself, which has a gem-like appearance.
A variety of vendors and activities for the kids insure a good day at the festival.
Come and learn about this vital part of South Georgia’s history, and have fun in the process.
You might even try some Rosin Potatoes.
Each year, in early March, the Fitzgerald Jaycees put on a huge festival in honor of the town’s unofficial mascot, the wild chicken. Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), also known as the Burmese Wild Chicken, are thought to be the progenitor of all domestic chicken breeds today. In the late 1960s, the Department of Natural Resource released several populations around the state to be hunted as game birds, but of those populations, only the Fitzgerald population thrived and survived in the wild in any numbers.
Barry Peavey and Ricky Haggard hatched the idea for the Wild Chicken Festival in 2000, when an alternative to the Rattlesnake Roundup, which had been a popular Fitzgerald event for over 20 years, was being sought. Barry notes that it took a few years, but it really caught in 2007. There’s a Friday night street dance and a 5K race, as well. An estimated crowd of 10,000-15,000 was in attendance this year.
It’s really nice to see the brick streets of Fitzgerald’s historic district so crowded.
Laura Wiggins Norris, Jennifer Glenn, and Gina Wiggins (L-R above) are all involved in the Artisan Market, a part of the festival focused on showcasing local art, pottery, and agricultural products.
The second weekend in November will be the 19th year that Richland has been holing their annual PigFest, which is as much about community as it is barbecue, but the barbecue. That’s just magic.
Rattlesnake roundups are mostly a thing of the past, but I believe Whigham’s is still held each January. Jerod Maxwell writes: My Grandfather (Julian Maxwell) and his cousin (Herman Maxwell) started it inadvertently when they caught a couple of snakes and took them to the Whigham High School to show the science class the snakes in order to teach kids about them. That week at the Whigham town meeting eight men decided that they would hold a festival in order to raise money for the town and Grady County and to milk the snakes in order to make more anti-venom because many people were being bitten every year in our area. He notes that his Uncle Herman was at the meeting, but not his Grandfather, because he didn’t like politics. Most old farmers stayed a far away from politics as they could. I know my grandfather did.
Over a century ago, a prominent local family, the Peacocks, wanted the name of their town changed from McDonald to Peacock. They compromised and chose the Latin name for peacock, Pavo. Check out the Peacock Festival if you’re in the area on the 2nd Saturday in May. Just know you won’t find many peacocks.
James and Barbara Spires and family graciously open their beautiful farm each year to showcase those curious creatures we call mules at the famous Mule Roundup in Guysie. (There’s also a Mule Day, in Calvary, Georgia). I photographed the sign, a landmark in its own right, in 2009. The photos that follow were made at the 16th Annual roundup in 2010. A nice history of the festival can be found here.
UPDATE: Sadly, the Mule Roundup has ceased operation.
Hands down this is one of the best festivals in South Georgia, with mule competitions, old-fashioned cane grinding, cloggers, and gospel and country singers, as well as antique automobiles, and plenty of vendors and fun for the kids.
The best part about it is that it doesn’t feel like a festival; it feels like you were just invited over for a hoe-down on the farm! Don’t forget to stop by the Guysie General Store and buy a souvenir of your visit. They have great t-shirts!
Art Bennett (right) with a friend, calling the mules.
I’m told (31 March 2016) that the National Grits Festival is no longer being held in Warwick due to the loss of the sponsorship of the Quaker Oats Company. I believe it’s been defunct for several years. The building pictured here is the old Warwick Masonic Lodge.Dan Aultman and Lee Lucas shared memories of the building. Dan wrote: Sixty years ago when I was a young fellow, this old Masonic Lodge was an old wood building . The kids in Warwick, lacking safe places to play, used the bottom floor to roller skate. I don’t remember if we were given permission or if we assumed it was okay. The one police officer never threw us out, but life was different back then. Lee recalled: In the middle to late 60’s, upstairs in the Masonic building was where we held the Boy Scouts meetings. The Scout Master was Mr. Grady West, who would take us on hikes and camp outs through out the surrounding countryside. We even went on canoe trips down the Flint River from just below the power dam (where Mr. West worked) to downtown Albany Ga. This was during the heyday of Turner Air Field, an U.S. Air Force B-52 airfield. You have not lived until a B-52 takes off just feet above your head while you are in a canoe. The way our troop scattered INTO the river,you would have thought we were being strafed! Fun memories!