By Karen Price
Fall is underway in Pennsylvania, if not officially.
Labor Day has come and gone, the kids are back to school and before long we’ll begin to see cooling temperatures and the emergence of brilliant reds, yellows and oranges on the leaves of the trees. Across the state, small towns and communities often take advantage of the weather and the natural beauty around them to host fall festivals, including many of our PA Heart & Soul communities.
For them, these festivals offer a chance to gather stories and learn what their neighbors love about where they live, which is central to the Heart & Soul process. Often the festivals themselves are such important pieces of the community fabric that residents include them among what they value and want to preserve. Whether celebrating a town’s agricultural history, the arts and humanities or simply the chance to gather, the festivals showcase each town’s unique character.
At PA Humanities, we’ve put together a list of some of the festivals happening in our Heart & Soul communities. They’re a great excuse to hop in the car, do some leaf peeping, explore a new region or town and get to know more about our fellow Pennsylvanians and the state we call home.
Why not plan your weekend getaway today?
Embodying the spirit of the old Nationality Days Festival, the Ambridge Fall Festival of Churches celebrates the diverse faith community in the town that sits 16 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. This year’s event will take place from noon to 6 p.m. on Sept. 24 at P.J. Caul Memorial Park, and according to the Facebook event page, “Ambridge will spend the day returning to our ethnic roots and enjoy a variety of food from our Ambridge churches.” The day includes a parade beginning at 11 a.m. and an opening ceremony to follow, live music, and free children’s entertainment that will include face painting, pumpkin painting, a petting zoo and pony rides.
You can find the Facebook page here.
Fall is always a popular time of the year in Cameron County, located in the northern part of the state, thanks to the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities and stunning fall foliage. Held in Sinnemahoning State Park surrounded by gorgeous color is the First Fork Festival, which celebrates the history and culture of the First Fork Sinnemahoning Valley by inviting local authors, artists and artisans to showcase their talents. This year’s lineup includes music, local history and interactive programs and live demonstrations, as well as craftspeople, food and drink vendors. It will be held on Saturday, Oct. 8 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Find more information here.
Carbondale sits 15 miles northeast of Scranton, and one of their big gatherings is the Greater Carbondale YMCA’s Fall Festival, set for Sunday, Sept. 25 from 1 to 5 p.m. The day will include a free concert from country recording artist Dani-elle from 1 to 3 p.m., and visitors will have the chance to find a new furry friend thanks to Laura’s Hope Rescue. There will be pony rides, bounce houses and fall-themed games for the kids, as well as free swimming from 1 to 4 p.m. The kids won’t want to miss the crowd-pleasing Donut-on-a-String contest at 3 p.m., and you’ll be able to paint and take home a pumpkin for $5. For $10, grab a container and fill it with cookies to take home on the Cookie Walk.
Here’s a link to their website.
For more than 100 years, Dillsburg has celebrated its agricultural heritage and history with the annual Farmers Fair. This year’s celebration is the 107th edition and it will be held Oct. 10-15 in this York County town southwest of Harrisburg. Although there are events throughout the week, Friday features special events for kids, including a children’s parade, and then the big day is Saturday. The closing day of the fair includes an antique car and tractor show, an arts & crafts fair where visitors can find beautiful hand-crafted items for sale as well and an Old Tyme Market with farmers and food artisans selling homemade goods and products made from agricultural and/or natural materials. Antique and vintage dealers will also be on hand. The big closing event is the Fantastic Parade, starting at 7:30 p.m., with categories including farm life, patriotic and historic groups, church groups, seasonal or humorous groups, costumed groups and youth organizations.
Find more information on their website.
About a dozen miles northwest of Dillsburg is Carlisle, which hosts Cumberland County’s premier arts show in the fall. The Annual Harvest of the Arts will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 24 in the historic downtown district. This is the 40th year for the festival, and they expect more than 100 artists and craft exhibitors plus food vendors, children’s activities and live entertainment. A host of Plein Air painters will also be scattered throughout the festival so that visitors can watch art take shape in real time. The day also includes the Meeting of the Marques: Artistry on Wheels Motor Show, now in its 31st year, featuring European sports and luxury cars and celebrating “the automobile’s cultural impact upon society as rolling sculpture, not merely a transportation tool.”
Find more at the website.
Meadville, located just under 40 miles south of Erie, hosts the Crawford County Fair at the end of August. While that might be the biggest fair in the area – not to mention the biggest agricultural fair in the state – Meadville does host an annual Halloween parade that’s said to be the biggest nighttime parade in Pennsylvania. This year is the 55th such parade and it will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29. The theme is “Under the Big Top” and in recent years the parade has had anywhere from 95 to 119 participating organizations. Earlier in the month the nearby town of Franklin hosts Applefest, which will be held Oct. 7-9. You’ll find over 350 food and craft vendors, free entertainment, activities for kids, a 5K race and hundreds of antique cars and trucks on display. If it’s strictly fall foliage you’re after, the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad offers rides through Oil Creek State Park Oct. 1-16
Mount Holly Springs
One of the big celebrations of fall in Mt. Holly Springs, 25 miles north of Gettysburg, is Holly Festival Day, now in its 45th year. This year’s event will be held on Sept. 17 and includes food vendors, crafts, flea market vendors, children’s games, a raffle, a local DJ playing music and a classic/antique car show hosted by the Cumberland Valley Classic Car Club. The event is rain or shine from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit the borough’s website here.
Upper Chichester, not far from the border with Delaware on the eastern side of the state, has held its fall Community Day for the past 20 years. This year the date is Sunday, Oct. 16 from 1 to 7 p.m. at Furey Road Park and the schedule includes rides, games, face painting, live music, bounce houses, food and fireworks at the end of the night.
Find more information here.
Williamsport is hopping during August when it hosts the Little League World Series, but there are a few more low-key celebrations in the fall that bring visitors to this north central Pennsylvania town. Balloonfest comes to the Lycoming County Fairgrounds Sept. 10-11 this year and the schedule includes everything from air show performances to BMX shows to magic and puppet shows and, of course, hot air balloons. Tickets are available for the festival as well as for balloon rides here.
One of the big fall festivals in Wyoming County, northwest of Scranton, celebrates not the season but rather a bridge with Nicholson Bridge Day. The Nicholson Bridge, also known as the Tunkhannock Viaduct, is 107 years old and when it was constructed was the largest concrete structure in the world. It’s an impressive 2,375 feet long and sits 240 feet above the creek below, and is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Every year the community comes out to celebrate the bridge with live entertainment, food and close to 100 vendors selling art and handcrafted items, antiques, jewelry and other goods. This year’s celebration takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 11. Visit their Facebook page for more information here.
Youngsville – Youngsville hosts the Wild Wind Folk Art and Craft Festival at the Warren County Fairgrounds on Sept. 10 and 11. The festival started 42 years ago and is always a big local draw thanks not only to the beautiful works on display from talented craftspeople but also the food. Here is their website.