History of Blossomtime
1906 – Present
Host communities: Benton Harbor and St. Joseph
As early as 1891 local area business interests took a proactive role in attracting visitors to Southwestern Michigan with their promotion in the Chicago market. With the Graham and Morton Steamship Company offering special rates, hundreds of visitors made the lake crossing by boat to enjoy the orchard tours.
Influenced by a growing agricultural industry, in 1906 Rev. W. J. Cady of the First Congregational Church in Benton Harbor was the first to urge his parishioners to drive through the orchards and view the fruit blossoms. Cady termed them “symbols of life renewed” and his sermon is credited with the birth of the Blossomtime Festival.
The Southwest corner of Michigan has long been regarded as a premier fruit growing region by consumers, manufacturers and chefs. The rich sandy loam soil, moderate spring temperature from the close proximity to Lake Michigan and the tempering effect on summer by the lake contribute to produce fruits and vegetables of exceptional cosmetic appearance and superior taste. The area has long been known for flavorful peaches, sweet Niagara grapes, a wide variety of apples, melons, vine ripened tomatoes and tart cherries. This diversity continues to expand into even more vegetable crops along with a recent surge in specialty wine grapes with local wineries producing selections for every taste.
In 1923, a local fruit processor, Fred L. Granger, and the Reverend Joshua O. Randall conceived the idea of a floral parade to promote the expanding local business. They secured assistance from the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and the Exchange Club. Initially, the publicity consisted of the circulation of a decorated truck around Chicago’s “Loop” inviting people to come to Southwest Michigan. The first Grand Floral Parade was held on a Wednesday afternoon. The second parade was held on May 14, 1924. It included 30 floats, two marching bands and hundreds of private automobiles, which made a tour of the new “Blossom lanes” of Southwest Michigan.
In 1924, Catherine Burrell of Benton Harbor was chosen by newspaper ballots to reign as the first Blossomtime Queen. In subsequent years communities began to hold their own contests selecting queens to represent them in a collective pageant for the title of Miss Blossomtime. In 2015, 22 communities held preliminary contests and Kalaybra Gonderzick of Benton Harbor was named the 83rd Miss Blossomtime. Calvin Williamson of Hartford was named the 19th Mr. Blossomtime. The 2016 Miss and Mr. Blossomtime Pageants will be held March 13th and 14th.
The Festival temporarily ceased in 1943 with the advent of World War II. In 1951 the St. Joseph and Benton Harbor Chamber of Commerce created Blossomtime, Inc., a non-profit organization of some 75 members governed by a Board of Directors. The first post-war parade in 1952 attracted approximately 105,000 spectators who viewed 56 units. The Festival today is a volunteer organization governed by a 21-member Board of Directors, a part time Parade Coordinator, a part time bookkeeper, and two full time employees. In 2001 they added a non-profit corporation called the Blossomtime Scholarship Fund which will award over $18,000.00 in scholarships this year. Held on the first Saturday in May, the Grand Floral Parade now lasts some two hours and boasts of over 125 units including floats, bands, clowns, costumed characters, antique cars and tractors and many other special units including the famed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Motorcycle Drill Team celebrating their 53rd consecutive appearance leading the Parade. Participants and spectators come from all over the Midwest. The Parade now hosts 200,000 spectators annually. It is telecast regionally by WSBT Television from Mishawaka, Indiana, is broadcast by WSJM radio of Benton Harbor, and receives coverage by many newspapers and magazines.
The Blossomtime Festival is the oldest and largest multi-community Festival in the state of Michigan. This year marks its “110th Celebration” 1906-2016 with a fun filled week of wholesome family entertainment. Hope you get to join with us in celebrating our beautiful Southwestern Michigan.