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HISTORY OF THE HOPE WATERMELON FESTIVAL

Watermelons have long been a calling card for the City of Hope. The Festival itself dates back to the mid-1920's when the city's Chamber of Commerce staged a one-day Festival each year. The early Watermelon Festivals bear little resemblance to the recent ones. During the 1920's-era festivals, citizens served ice-cold watermelon to passengers on the many trains which stopped in Hope. The festival also featured a "Watermelon Queen" pageant and a large parade. These early festivals brought upwards of 20,000 people in a day to Hope. The end to the first festivals came about 1931 when the city, suffering from the effects of the depression, could no longer accommodate the crowds.

 

Hope celebrated its centennial in 1975. The event was a rousing success and local residents started thinking about another celebration. Local promoter and newspaper man C.M. "Pod" Rogers organized a new Watermelon Festival in 1977. The success of this first reorganized festival led to the event gaining annual status. Since the 1970's, the festival has continued to grow, attracting approximately 50,000 visitors to Hope over a four-day period.

 

The modern day Hope Watermelon festival features numerous activities including Arts & Crafts, food, entertainment and other family-oriented activities. Nearly 300 Arts and Crafts booths will be set up at the festival grounds.

 

The Arts and Crafts come from a 6 state area. The festival also features dozens of food booths, serving everything from burgers and corn dogs to pork rinds and "chicken-on-a-stick".

 

Local civic clubs also hold dinners featuring such down-home fare as locally grown smoked chicken and golden fried catfish. The Watermelon Festival features a variety of musical talent each year. What else can you do at the festival? You can participate in a 5K race, take in a dog show, enter the "Watermelon Idol" talent contest or play "hillbilly horseshoes".

 

The Watermelon Olympics will also be held, pitting local teams against each other in such events as the melon-toss. There's also an antique car show, an antique engine show featuring old steam engines, and a volleyball tournament. The festival also features a number of melon-oriented events such as the seed-spitting contest and the Watermelon eating contest And what of the famous Hope melons? Those attending will be able to see some of the bigger specimens of the year, some tipping the scales at close to 200 pounds. Ice-cold watermelon will be sold by the slice for $1.25 each day and numerous melon growers will have whole melons on sale at the festival for visitors to take home.

 


World Champion Melon Grower
Ivan Bright

Just because the Watermelon Festival ended in 1930 didn't mean an end to the actual growing of the melons in Hempstead County, Arkansas. A local farmer named O.D. Middlebrooks of the Patmos Community near Hope produced a 195 pound melon in 1935. The record stood for 44 years until Ivan and Lloyd Bright produced a 200 pound melon in 1979. The Bright family grew a second world's record watermelon in 1985. The melon weighed in at 260 pounds and held the world's record (according to Guinness) for several years until a 262 pound melon grown in Tennessee took top honors.

2005 brought a severe drought which caused southwest Arkansas farmers much grief. One notable exception was the watermelon farmers.  The drought meant sweeter melons for the producers of table melons.  The drought also allowed Lloyd Bright to better control the moisture he delivered to his melons.  This allowed for a larger than usual crop of giant melons.  Word got out in late summer Bright might have another record.  Immediately following the Watermelon Festival of 2005, Bright alerted the Chamber of Commerce of the possibility of an exceptional melon in his patch.  On Labor Day week-end, a group of family, friends, and media met in the Bright patch to pick that melon.  It was taken to the Farm Store in Hope and weighed on certified scales.  The entire process was documented and the melon was certified at 268.8 pounds.  In spring 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records certified Lloyd Bright's 268.8 pound melon as the world's largest.
 

     

View several pictures from the Hope Watermelon Festival in the 1920's at giantwatermelons.com. 

 

 

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Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce

200 South Main  •  P.O. 250  •  Hope, Arkansas 71802

(870) 777-3640  •  Fax (870) 722-6154
Email: hopemelonfest@yahoo.com
Mark Keith, Director