PRINCETON — Princeton’s biggest party, the 48th annual Homestead Festival, kicks off Friday.
This year’s theme, Journey Home, encapsulates the spirit of the city’s favorite event, which brings together Princeton residents past and present.
The festival, which began as a tribute to famed abolitionist and Princeton resident Owen Lovejoy, over the years has become a symbol of Princeton’s commitment to being a small town big on celebrating its family culture.
According to the Homestead site’s written history, the festival’s humble beginnings originated in 1971 when the Illinois State Historical Society held its annual spring tour in Princeton on May 14-15. The Bureau County Historical Society hosted the event.
By 1972 the restoration of the Lovejoy Homestead was complete and Princeton’s mayor appointed the Lovejoy Homestead Board of Trustees to administer funds and oversee the running of the home. The committee considered a dedication ceremony along with the possibility of a festival and parade.
The inaugural event was combined with the annual Bureau County Pork Producers’ pork barbecue. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the Festival acts as an unofficial Homecoming weekend for Princeton with many PHS classes planning class reunions. The highlight for many is the Homestead Parade which in recent years has featured the Jesse White Tumblers and The famed South Shore Drill Team from Chicago.
The original festival featured an ice cream social, square dancing and ballroom dancing along with a parade, local arts show, musical entertainment and an antique auto display. Many of those events still are featured in modern Homestead festivals, though square dancing and ballroom dancing have fallen out of favor.
Steering committee couples, who spend an entire year coordinating the festival happenings, have their share of fond memories as well.
“Our best memories are watching all the people that enjoy the Homestead Weekend together,” Tim Smith said of himself and wife Aggie. “What we are looking most forward to this year is the back to back concert nights on Thursday and Friday nights. This will be a great opportunity to bring many people together again for fun and entertainment.”
“It is hard to choose one memory,” Laura Favia said. “I love the energy Homestead Festival weekend brings. From the smiles on the faces of all the children, seeing old high school buddies connect after years apart to the reminiscing of our teenage years when we walk through the car show. All set to music all weekend. And then the moment of anticipation, ‘Is this the year I am going to win the 50/50?’ I guess if I have to answer your question my favorite memory of Homestead is every Homestead, Friday through Sunday.”
“My favorite memory was the smile on all the kids’ faces when they saw the huge eagle balloon coming down Main Street last year,” Phil Favia said.
With a packed schedule, the weekend is sure to provide plenty of new memories.