125 years of flavorful festivities | PostIndependent.com

125 years of flavorful festivities

A look back at the history of Strawberry Days

People gather on long picnic tables to eat strawberries and cream during an early Strawberry Day in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Provided by Glenwood Springs Historical Society

The year is 1898, the state of Colorado is just 21 years young and the West Slope town of Glenwood Springs is looking to grow up from its Wild West days of gambling and gunslingers. But little did the farmers and townsfolk know that one day their quaint little town would be the home of one of the longest-running festivals west of the Mississippi.

“The western slope and especially Garfield County is already becoming noted for the fine berries it raises, and all that is lacking to make the raising of strawberries both delightful and profitable is to create a market for the fruit, by stimulating the consumption of them as much as possible,” Silt farmer G. William Hoover wrote in a Farm, Garden and Orchard article from that year.

And what better way to promote the demand and sales of a product than to celebrate and establish a day dedicated to it? So Hoover and the Tri-County Farmers Union brought forth the idea of an annual Strawberry Day.

Prior to the 1898 Strawberry Day, locals gathered for traditional strawberry picnics to celebrate the bright red berries grown by local farmers in nearby fields.

A marching band makes its way over the Grand Avenue Bridge in downtown Glenwood Springs during a past Strawberry Days Parade.
Provided by Glenwood Springs Historical Society

The headline “Strawberry Day Assured” was printed in the March 21, 1898, edition of the Avalanche Echo newspaper. “The large meeting at the courthouse Saturday night decided to push the arrangement, committee appointed,” the article read.

The rest is history.

Come one, come all

The inaugural Strawberry Day took place June 20, 1898. Strawberries were donated from farms in Canyon Creek, the cream was provided by Cattle Creek dairy farmers and hundreds of cakes were baked by local town ladies.

Special trains were scheduled for both the Midland and Denver & Rio Grande routes, delivering folks to downtown Glenwood Springs from Aspen and Denver.

The following year the festival added a parade, baseball games, rifle shoot, free swimming at the pool and a ball at the opera house.

The Strawberry Day Parade passes onlookers on Grand Avenue.
Provided by Glenwood Springs Historical Society

The annual mid-June strawberry themed festival continued successfully into a new century in 1900. Eventually a queen contest was added and for a few years a king was also chosen.

The June 19, 1916, edition of the Daily Avalanche newspaper recounted in an article that, “Five thousand rollicking, jolly, boisterous, good natured people were her guests and to say that every man, women and child present had the time of his or her life would be as adequate a way of putting it as to say that Walter Johnson is well liked in Coffeyville, Kansas. They came. They saw. They conquered.”

World War I would impact Strawberry Day; food was in limited supply, and the traditional strawberries and cream distribution was interrupted. However, the festival did go on to include a rodeo and horse racing.

Later, in 1927 drama arose when Chicago gangster Diamond Jack Alterie proclaimed himself as the grand marshal of the Strawberry Day Parade. His unofficial announcement caused a stir among parade participants, and numbers dropped, leading festival chairman Carl Fulghum to make an official note that Diamond Jack would not lead the parade after all.

Chicago gangster Diamond Jack Alterie.
Provided by Glenwood Springs Historical Society

The front page of the June 17, 1926, Glenwood Post listed the official Strawberry Day program with thrilling events ranging from airplane stunts, a world record parachute leap from an airplane, fireworks and bombs.

The annual festival was briefly suspended after the stock market crashed in 1929 and again from 1943-1946 during World War II.

“Strawberry Day Canceled” read a headline in the May 23, 1946, edition of the Glenwood Post. “The unsettled situation caused by the present strike situation prompted the action,” the article went on to state.

Races and rodeos

The 49th annual Strawberry Day celebration in 1951 came to a close with a powerboat race at the Shoshone Dam in Glenwood Canyon.

“The huge crowd present for the occasion was estimated at 3,500, and a count of automobiles parked in the area indicated approximately 680,” an article in the June 28, 1951, edition of the Glenwood Post stated.

A trio of women rides in a powerboat on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
Provided by Glenwood Springs Historical Society

The popular Strawberry Days rodeo started in the early years of the festival, and the two-day Wild West-themed event included trick riding, steer riding and bulldogging. Following World War II, the rodeo returned in 1953 and later moved from what would be Vogelaar Park to a new arena in the Cardiff area in 1961, where it would remain until 2008.

“The Strawberry Days Rodeo has run a hard trail since formulating in 1897, and it looks strong as Copenhagen Skoal as it heads into the next century,” proclaimed Rod Harwood in a 1999 Glenwood Post article.

New century, same festival

Now over 100 years old, Strawberry Days continued into the new millennium.

The Coal Seam Fire would rip across 12,000 acres on Red Mountain and into the Flat Tops above West Glenwood in early June 2002, but the festivities went on.

“It takes more than a fire to keep people from celebrating Strawberry Days,” a June 23, 2002, article in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent stated.

A year later, the Strawberry Days Parade honored two local veterans, Lance Cpl. Brian Chee and Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Sigmon, who were returning home from Operation Iraqi Freedom, by making them the grand marshals of the parade.

Family members of servicemen and -women still overseas were encouraged to hold pictures of them on a parade float.

The recession in 2008 didn’t put a damper on Strawberry Days —  an estimated 40,000 visitors were in attendance throughout the three-day weekend. Most locals stayed in town for the festival, which was themed to celebrate Glenwood Springs’ 125th anniversary.

Strawberry Days continued to charm visitors and locals alike with the favorite event each year continuing to be the free strawberries and ice cream in the park.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic would cause a temporary suspension of the annual gathering in 2020 and 2021, the Glenwood Springs Chamber is bringing back the strawberry-themed festival this year and celebrating its 125 years of sweet, sweet history.

Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or cself@postindependent.com.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.