Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Fincastle Festival

On Saturday, I woke up in a mood so foul I am sure that birds fled the area around the house out of fear of my blackness.

The reasons for my poor state of mind shall remain unmentioned, but suffice it to say that it would take a great deal of sunshine indeed to lighten the dark scowl from my face. And no amount of cold cream was going to ease the lines in my eyes and forehead.

I was in this poor frame of mind when I ventured to Fincastle to see what they are now calling "Heritage Days." I went in hopes the blue skies might cure me.

For over 30 years, up until about 2003, I suppose, Historic Fincastle Inc., (HFI) a preservation group, put on a festival. The Fincastle Festival was actually one of the first festivals around, and it was a big deal indeed. Thousands of people attended. Crafters and vendors number in the hundreds. The art show was lauded up and down the east coast.

But that was long ago. The festival waned in the 1990s, in part because neighboring localities began putting on their own affairs. Salem had the audacity to launch her festival on the exact same weekend, which cut into Fincastle's festival attendance significantly. Salem, after all, is much closer for folks in Roanoke. So to Salem they went.

The Fincastle Festival was holding its own in 1998 and 1999, when I was president of HFI. The organization was struggling at that time. Its membership was failing, as organizations sometimes do, and most of the volunteers were older and tired.

Money raised from the Fincastle Festival went to historic restoration projects around the town. Funds saved many of the quaint buildings in Fincastle, including the Early Cabin, which HFI now operates as a kind of town museum, the Hayth Hotel complex, which a friend now owns and operates as rental apartments, the Blacksmith Shop at Wysong Park (and the park itself, both of which were restored primarily by the Wysong family with assistance from HFI), the Old Jail Building, the Douglas building, located across the street from the Botetourt County Courthouse, and the Helms-Ayers House, among others.

The Douglas Building

The Early Cabin

But the organization had not done much that was noteworthy for about 10 years when I took over the helm. The group needed a project then and apparently still do. It has been a long time since I have heard anything exciting about the organization.

Anyway, the festival in 1999 was not as grand as it had been in the past and I was eager to make it a better event. We needed more volunteers to help out, so I attempted to bring in other supporters, including the Botetourt Chamber of Commerce. However, the HFI Board of Directors ultimately decided they wanted to stay in charge of the event.

Personal matters came to the forefront and after two years I left my post as president and shortly thereafter the entire organization to deal with these issues. The organization eventually went off more or less in the direction I had urged, creating a separate "festival" arm of HFI and hiring a director.

But the festival was proving burdensome and eventually they dropped it in favor of other fundraising efforts. I did not return to the organization, in part because the group changed its focus. I am not sure what they are actually raising money for these days.

In any event, on Saturday I headed to town with memories of past festivals in my brain and my mood as black as a midnight under a cloudy, rainy sky.

After walking a ways, I discovered I had left my memory card for my camera in the computer at home and I didn't have a spare. I had hoped to at least take pictures for this blog, but alas, that was not to be.

This did nothing to help my mood.

I headed up Roanoke Street and found about four artists selling their work. Around the corner on Main Street were another five or six. I think all together there were about 25 vendors scattered about the town.

Walking around Fincastle is difficult for many people. It is hilly and the HFI folks would do well to place things a little closer together next time. People don't want to walk that far for a few things, particularly with nothing in between to draw their attention to something other than the long trudge up a steep hill. I considered it my exercise for the day.

I saw a few people I knew, including a dear friend, a fellow writer, and one of my old professors at Hollins. She put an arm around me and said, "Is it true they fired you from The Fincastle Herald?"

I had to explain that I had been freelancing for the newspaper all along; it only looked like I was on staff because I wrote so much for them, and that they had cut their freelancing budget. She waved away my explanation. "It doesn't matter, you're still not writing for them, and it shows. The paper is terrible," she said.

While I was happy to hear I am missed, I was very concerned about the rumor of my being "fired" when that is not at all what happened. It would be more accurate, though still not correct, to say I was laid off. Anyway, obviously this conversation did not exactly make me feel any better as I wondered who else was thinking that I had been fired. I have a reputation to consider, after all.

I trudged around the block, apparently missing a good deal of activity around the Courthouse, and eventually headed toward my car. I ran into Mrs. Roanoke RnR in the parking lot; she has a much better synopsis of the Heritage Day event on her website, which I urge you to check out for a less bleak outlook. I told her I thought the event was sad, and in comparison to other years, it was.

She, however, enjoyed her day and I am very glad that she did. I have enjoyed reading her blog entries about the day. My foul mood had so colored my landscape that I had forgotten how charming Fincastle can be so I have been pleased to see it again through her eyes.


  1. I have family living in Fincastle but never been there.

  2. One way the town could make some bucks would be to have "ghost tours." There's big $ in that and I believe that town has got plenty of ghostly places to tour.

  3. I'm sorry you felt bad---I hope you're feeling better now. I've never been to Fincastle, but your pictures make me want to go. Nice shots...


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