The annual Tobacco Festival is Logan County’s biggest event, attended by and participated in by more people than any other activity held in this south central Kentucky County. The cities of Adairville, Auburn, Lewisburg, and Russellville, the county seat, plus unincorporated communities come together in the planning and staging of the Festival, which is sponsored by the Logan County Chamber of Commerce
The Tobacco Festival had its beginning in 1941 and was a one-day event, coinciding with the opening of the Christmas shopping season. Photographs document a parade with floats around the park that is centrally located within the town square.
Conceived as an annual event, the second Festival was held in 1942. However, it ceased during the World War II years because of shortages of time, labor, and materials dedicated to the war effort.
In 1957, the Festival was revived and it has continued uninterrupted. A three-day program in November of 1957 featured the selection of a queen, various contests, floats, dances, and prizes. The length of the celebration has varied, but for the last two decades, the Festival has consistently expanded and has covered approximately two weeks with additional events that may precede and follow the main time frame. The climax of the festival is a parade, scheduled on the second Saturday of October, with all other activities adjusted to fit before and after.
The main purpose of the Festival, at its conception, was to focus attention on Logan County’s chief crop and to pay tribute to Russellville, the largest one-sucker tobacco market in the world. In 1956, tobacco was a $5 million industry for Logan County. In 1998, tobacco sales totaled well over $16 million in Logan County, indicating that tobacco is still very important to this area, both industrially and economically.
By the mid 1970s, the Festival had taken on an added purpose – to call attention to Logan County itself. Traditionally, it is a time for examining and appreciating our heritage and for taking stock of progress and aspirations for the future. One observer stated, “The Tobacco Festival helps make us more conscious of ourselves as a community of friends and neighbors who live and work together.”
The Festival is directed by a chairperson or co-chairpersons who work under the sponsorship and oversight of the Chamber of Commerce and its staff. Planning is year round. Numerous committees assume responsibility for various functions. Clubs, organizations, and groups often carry out the same activities year after year. Examples include the Rotary Club’s pancake breakfast; the Taster’s Luncheon, prepared and served by the women of the United Methodist Church; decorating and judging of store windows, a project of the homemaker clubs.
Events, in addition to the above, that are consistently a part of the Festival schedule include the following:
-Reenactment of the 1868 robbery of the Southern Bank of Kentucky by the Jesse James gang. Begun in 1970, the play was written by Dan Early, director of the Community Theatre at that time. Local attorney J. Granville Clark narrated the reenactment until his death in 1986. Interestingly, his son, Joe Gran Clark and his family now live in the historic bank building in front of which the dramatization takes place.
-The Kiddie Parade for young children
-Historical walking tour of the business and residential section of Russellville. With a population of 7,869 (1990 census), Russellville has more sites on the National Register of Historic Places than any other community its size in Kentucky.
-Old Time Gospel Singing
-Jesse James 5 mile Walk and 5K Run
-Over 50 1- mile Walk
-Little Mister & Miss Contest
-Tobacco Festival Queen Pageant
New events are instituted every year, sometimes replacing those that have become less popular. Over time, the following have been or still are a part of the festival.
-Car Road Rally, bicycle tour, horse trail ride
-Tour of historic homes, tour of farms, tour of historic city cemetery
-Antique car show, car stereo contest
-Craft show, flea market, old farm implement show, antiques show
-Civil War relics display
-Tobacco spitting contest, pipe-smoking contest
-Horse show, rodeo
-Pet show, petting zoo
-Air show at the local airport
-Talent show, fiddlin’ contest
-Art, photography shows
-Tobacco Bowl football game
-Show of Bands
-Tobacco Producers Appreciation Dinner
-Statesmen Luncheon, sponsored by the Logan County Fiscal Court and the Russellville City Council, to which were invited state and national military and governing officials.
In 1965, an Industrial Fair was a major event featuring products on exhibit from the county’s industries.
In 1966, the Big Show was introduced and it continued for a number of years. Large and unusual items of farm and garden produce were displayed, with prizes awarded.
Whenever possible, community events are scheduled to coincide with the Festival time period. Open house at the newly renovated courthouse, a tour of the new jail before occupancy, dedication of newly erected historical markers, dedication of a park, and opening of the Old Saddle Factory Museum are examples.
Since Logan County successfully balances agriculture and industry, it was fitting in 1960 that groundbreaking ceremonies for the Emerson Electric Manufacturing Company plant were held during the Festival.
Each year a theme is chosen for the Festival, and the parades, window displays, and whatever events that are appropriate incorporate the theme. Following is a list of themes that, in themselves, reflect the nature of the celebration. There is no record of themes for the 1941 and 1942 festivals.
1957 – A 5,000,000 Industry Deserves a Celebration 1958 – Logan Gives a Party 1959 – Logan County – Its Barns Jammed with Harvest Pauses to Pay Tribute 1960 – Russellville, Long an Education, Cultural Center 1961 – Remembrance of Civil War (This was the first genuine theme that was applied to Festival activities.) 1962 – 170th Birthday of Kentucky as a State, Logan as a County 1963 – Logan – Mother of 28 Kentucky Counties (The original Logan County covered most of western Kentucky and was later divided into 28 counties.) 1964 – Agriculture and Industry – A Balanced Economy 1965 – “Old Kentucky Home” Homecoming (for distinguished citizens who were natives and had become prominent in their professions.) 1966 – Our Heritage – And Its Guardian, Rev. Edward Coffman (Rev. Coffman was the county historian and author of The Story of Logan County published in 1962, as well as author of other historical writings.) 1967 – 175th Anniversary of Logan County and Kentucky 1968 – Pathways to Freedom 1969 – Rediscovering Logan and Kentucky 1970 – Legends of Logan County (The first reenactment of the robbery of the Old Southern Bank of Kentucky by the Jesse James gang was held this year.) 1971 – College Days (Russellville was home to two colleges, Bethel for men and Logan for Women. They closed in the 1930s because of the Great Depression.) 1972 – People of Logan County – Past and Present 1973 – 175th Anniversary of Russellville (This year, an adult queen, Mrs. Kenny Chapman, was elected instead of the queen’s being chosen from high school candidates. A time capsule was buried and there were many special events throughout this year as well as at Festival time.) 1974 – A Time for Us – 1974 1975 – Loganland: Agriculture and Industry Hand in Hand 1976 – Spirit of ’76 (The national celebration was carried through locally.) 1977 – A 21-Gun Salute, to the Tobacco Festival 1978 – Logan’s Legendary Leaders 1979 – Celebration of Rural Living 1980 – Pride in America 1981 – A Time for Us 1982 – Logan County Traditions 1983 – Yesteryear in Tobacco Country 1984 – This Land Is Your Land (A secondary theme was “Clean the Scene”) 1985 – Home for the Harvest (The Festival days have become a time of homecoming for friends, family, and former residents.) 1986 – An Old Fashioned County Fair 1987 – Logan County-Expanding Our Horizons 1988 – Share in the Spirit of Logan 1989 – Logan United – Poised for Progress 1990 – Where Dreams Do Come True 1991 – Open the Doors to Tomorrow 1992 – Celebrate Logan County 1792 – 1992 1993 – Kentucky: Year of the Craft (A statewide emphasis in 1993 was used as the Festival theme.) 1994 – A Family Reunion 1995 – Reaching for the Stars, Realizing Your Dreams 1996 – 40 Years and Counting: Celebrating Kentucky’s Farmers 1997 – Experience the Magic: Through the Eyes of a Child 1998 – The Legacy Continues 1999 – Creating a Vision for the Future 2000 – Celebrating the Past…Anticipating the Future 2001 – Hometown Proud 2002 – Creating Tomorrow’s Heritage…Today 2003 – Letting Freedom Ring 2004 - All Roads Lead Home| 2005 - United For Tomorrow 2006 - The Big 5-0, A Golden Jubilee 2007 - Rockin' On 2008 - Breakin' New Ground
Little Johnny Phillip Morris attended twelve Tobacco Festivals and pleased the crowd with his “Call for Phil-lip Morris” advertising chant.
In 1981, a Festival logo was adopted and flag was made by two Art Guild members.
To mark the changes in the tobacco industry, a tobacco-stripping machine was demonstrated in 1982.
Each year, the local newspaper, the News-Democrat & Leader, publishes a tabloid “Tobacco Festival Paper.” It not only gives a detailed schedule of events and credits those persons and groups responsible for the Festival, but also includes feature articles about people, places, and happenings of significance in the county’s interesting history.
Festival Gets a New Name…Same Hometown Feel In 2001, the Chamber Board of Directors voted to give the Tobacco Festival a new name…the Logan County Tobacco & Heritage Festival. This change was made in hopes of bringing forth and showcasing what the Festival has evolved into, yet keeping the historic nature alive and well. The name change took effect beginning with the 2002 Festival.
Logan County has changed in many ways over the past 45 years and so has the Festival. Today, it is not only a celebration of tobacco and the rich agriculture that have such strong roots in Logan County. It is also a homecoming – a time for friends and family to come together, share special moments, and create memories. In short, the Festival means something different and something special to each of the 20,000+ people who attend and participate in activities throughout the entire week. And that’s exactly the way it should be.
The festival is a perfect example of how the Chamber continues to support its motto of “Promoting Preservation and Progress in Logan County, Kentucky.”
A complete collection of the Tobacco Festival papers is on file for the public’s reading and research at Logan County Public Library, 201 West Sixth Street, Russellville, Kentucky.
History (1941-2001) compiled by Evelyn Richardson, Member Logan County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors