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After 32 years, the Polly Crockett and Tennessee History Festival is no more due to limited financial return, but Cowan is stepping out on its own — without the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce — to continue having an annual fall celebration.
Although the process is in its infant stages, a name has been given — Fall Heritage Festival — to the new three-day event, to be held the third week in September, the same time as the Polly Crockett Festival has gone on in Cowan.
Mayor Joyce Brown explained her thoughts about the new venture.
“We’ve had the festival over here for nine years, and I’d like to see us continue having something for our community,” she said Friday. “I would like it to be something that will pull our community together.
“We want to move forward. We just don’t want to go backward.”
Cowan community leaders have been meeting to get the festival replacement process moving ahead and agreed to the event’s name Thursday and appointed Mark Ledbetter, who is president of the Cowan Railroad Museum, as Fall Heritage Festival Committee chairman.
Ledbetter said he is excited about Cowan’s effort to continue having a fall attraction, geared toward wholesome family entertainment.
He said plans are to tie the festival in with the museum to serve as an historical attraction.
“We’re hoping this will bring the community together and attract things to the community that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” Ledbetter said.
He said the Railroad Museum is one of two such entities recognized by the state, and it’s the only one of its kind in the area. He added that Cowan has harbored a theme of being “nestled in the foothills of the Cumberland,” and working with those two themes together should serve as a stellar attraction to bolster the Heritage Festival.
Ledbetter said with the Civil War’s sesquicentennial at hand, historic events could be themed around based it, and other historic organizations could showcase what they are all about.
He said although the Chamber has moved away from its event in Cowan, the community had held the “Fall in Love with Cowan Festival” before Polly Crocket had made its way there.
Ledbetter said plans are to have the new festival continue with arts and crafts, music and child-oriented activities and have them done in Cowan’s own special way.
“We’re going to take all of the effort we have and put it toward something that we can do and have it be successful,” he said.
Ledbetter said the entire process is in its infant stages, and the committee is seeking additional input.
Its next meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Cowan City Hall.
The Chamber had announced earlier this month that it was not going to continue with the Polly Crockett festival. Its Board of Directors had agreed the cost to put on the show was not amortized in its financial return.
Judy Taylor, Chamber executive director, said the Polly Crockett Festival, has taken about seven months to organize and has consumed considerable Chamber manpower every year it is held.
She had said the annual September event only netted between $4,000 and $5,000 this past year, and it would need at least an $8,000 profit for the board to consider continuing with it.
Ledbetter said he greatly appreciates what the Chamber has done during the last decade to promote Cowan, and he can understand the organization’s financial concerns about the event. However, he said the new festival won’t be serving in the same fundraising capacity as the Chamber’s event, from which the proceeds were geared to help the Chamber’s overall mission to promote industry and the business climate.
Ledbetter said the Heritage Festival will still be promoting the region, but generating the funds the Chamber had desired won’t be as paramount to Cowan.
Taylor had said the crafts element had declined in recent years at the Crockett Festival, and rain occurred the last time the event was held and reduced attendance, leading to decreased revenue.
“With the declining amount of original crafters and increased time to plan and implement the festival, our Board of Directors voted unanimously to bring a close to the event,” she said.
Taylor said that although the festival has come to an end, it had its strong points.
“Everybody in the world was good to us,” she said, referring to how the festival was received. “But this was a real big manpower event, and the board decided our time would be better spent with industry.”
Taylor said the Chamber has a busy agenda anyway in attempting to recruit industry and working toward improving the local business climate. She added that the Polly Crockett Festival, with the extensive time required to put it on, was a drain on the organization’s resources. Taylor said the festival has had a stellar history — from the 12 years it was held in Decherd to being moved to the former Franklin County High School campus before its transition to Cowan nine years ago.
She said it was a bittersweet move to end the festival, but the Board of Directors is charged with doing what’s in the Chamber’s best interest, and doing something different emerged at the forefront.
Taylor extended a thank you to those who have helped make past festivals so memorable.
“So many gave so much for so long and once again, I want to thank each individual sponsor, visitor or participant for your contribution and loyalty to the Polly Crockett and Tennessee History Festival for the past 32 years,” Taylor said. “The festival has inspired so many individuals in Franklin County to volunteer their time — quality artisans, delicious food vendors serving unique specialties, which have all been a tremendous part of the success of the festival in the past.”