Harvest time is upon us! You would never think of that as you stroll through our beautiful suburban neighborhoods or look upon a skyrocketing crane at one of the many construction sites around town, but harvest time has historically been of prime importance to Eden Prairie. Throughout most of history, Eden Prairie has been a farming town with some of the most fertile land in the state. In recent decades, the construction of highways has caused our land to be more valuable as homes and businesses than for farming, but we have always retained our connection to our farming roots (pardon the pun).
Harvest time and autumn always inspired celebrations. Early records show an autumn celebration in 1972. In that year, the festival simply featured an ice cream social with horseshoes and rides in local residents’ antique cars. It was held at Brown Farm on Riverview Drive. Residents donning sunbonnets, straw hats and derbies were treated to a guided tour of Old Shakopee Trail and Mr. Brown, the host, spoke of the old ghost town of Hennepin.
The name of the celebration has changed over the years. In 1976, the Historical Society sponsored the first Sunbonnet Day picnic on the lawn of the Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church. Only lemonade and coffee were served. Participants brought their own picnic and wore beautiful old fashioned costumes. Musicians seated on a farm wagon provided the music for the afternoon. Only a few years later the festival was moved to the Cummins-Phipps-Grill House and lastly, in 2006 to Riley Lake Park, home of the Dorenkemper House.
Over the years, the festival grew to incorporate many activities of all sorts. They included folk singing, telling of tall tales, bobbing for apples, foot races and sack races, hopscotch, square dancing, spelling bees (once between the City Council and the School Board!), historical plays, costume contests, frog and turtle races and even a contest for the best beard. For many years it was a two-day festival. Each year has always brought different ideas for having fun, some modern and some old fashioned, but there is always something for everyone.
Today, the festival is called the Fall Harvest Celebration and the city of Eden Prairie plays the largest role in making it happen with help from the Historical Society. This year, it will be held on Oct. 5 from 2–5 p.m. at Riley Lake Park. Some of this year’s features will include horse drawn carriage rides, pumpkin decorating, pottery wheel demonstrations, inflatable fun, music, Whisper the Owl, concessions for purchase and a library run Story Stroll. The Historical Society will sponsor interactive maps bringing together the Eden Prairie of old and new, old fashioned games by the Outdoor Center and a History Hunt, where you can enter a drawing to win an afghan featuring Eden Prairie’s historic sites. You will be able to tour the Dorenkemper House, where this year, we are featuring a newly acquired original Eden Prairie treasure, Louise Mitchell’s loom. This loom donated by her descendants, Karen and Steve Brown, still holds a beautiful rug Louise was working on before she passed away.
We hope to see you there for this free Eden Prairie tradition. Make it a tradition for your family!