History of Blossomtime
1906 – Present
As early as 1891, local area business interests took a pro active role in attracting visitors to Southwestern Michiganwith their promotion in the Chicago market. With the Graham and Morton Steamship Company offering specialrates, 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 BentonHarbor was the first to urge his parishioners to drive through the orchards and view the fruit blossoms. Cady termedthem “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 fruit 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.
Also 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 2013, 23 communities held preliminary contests and Katlynn Kennedy, Miss Spirit from the community of Buchanan was crowned the 81st Miss Blossomtime. Jalen Holmes of Saint Joseph was named the 17th Mr. Blossomtime.
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 aboard 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 20-member board of directors, a full time Executive Director, a part time Office Manager/Administrative Assistant, and a part-time Special Projects Coordinator.Executive Directors of record include; Leo Isaac (1969-1970), Phyllis Dowsett (1971 -1984), Carol Weller (1984-1992), Gretchen Gilmore (1992-2004), Mary Jane Johnson (2005), and currently Sabrina LaSota (2008-). This salaried position requires year-round, full-time work. Joyce Vance, Parade Coordinator has supported the Festival for over 20 years and Jamie Brock, Special Projects Coordinator has been on board for 8 years. In 2001 they added a non-profit corporation called the Blossomtime Scholarship Fund which will award over $12,000 in scholarships this year.
Held always 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 51st consecutive appearance leading the Parade in 2014. Participants and spectators come from all over the Midwest. The Parade now hosts 250,000 spectators annually. It is telecast live regionally and 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 “108th Celebration” 1906-2014 with a fun filled week of wholesome family entertainment. Hope you get to join with us in celebrating our beautiful Southwestern Michigan.