Festival History

Festival Photos

The Fall
  Foliage Festival

Warner's Salute to the Season Ranks High on New Hampshire's 
Calendar of Autumn Events

For more than a hundred years, visitors and vacationers have been consistently attracted to the little town of Warner, in central New Hampshire, to enjoy its special beauty, charm and ideal scenic surroundings.

Nestled in the wooded valley of the Warner River and featuring a splendid landscape dominated by nearby Mt. Kearsarge rising to a lofty height of almost 3,000 feet, Warner has long been a mecca for people who love the out-of-doors.
Little wonder then, that the community's well-deserved reputation for hosting country fairs and festivals has spread far beyond its borders, inspiring visitors to come back each year for more. And this is in no small measure due to the renowned Fall Foliage Festival, which next year, 2011, celebrates its 64th anniversary.
Warner, being originally an agricultural town, has been identified with fairs ever since the days of the old Merrimack County Fair when such men as Governor Isaac Hill used to address the farmers. Those were the days when the earliest grafted fruit was in its prime and exhibited in the Baptist meetinghouse together with the mammoth vegetables and ladies' handiwork.
That sort of fair went by, but in 1871 the first street fair in Warner was inaugurated by Stephen Pate and it was popular enough to be repeated again the following year.
Then, in 1873, a big fair was held at River Bow Park. a beautiful tract of about twelve acres on the bend of the Warner River, laid out from land of N. G. Ordway for that purpose. He even erected buildings and stalls, and also made a track for horse-trotting.
As all the communities surrounding Kearsarge Mountain participated in the fair, an operating company named The Kearsarge Agricultural and Mechanical Association was formed. One memorable year, a sight was witnessed on the fairgrounds not likely ever to be seen again; 428 yoke of magnificent oxen and steers were hitched together in line and driven around the half-mile track. Another year there was a huge barbecue, with the largest turnout in these parts since the one at Hillsborough during Franklin Pierce's campaign for the presidency.
Owing to unfortunate circumstances, interest for a time declined. But in 1895, a new era was started when annual fairs at River Bow Park were reintroduced under the auspices of the Merrimack County Grange Fair Association. Even the passenger trains to Warner made special stops at the Park entrance on fair days, and these yearly events were successfully carried on well into the 20th century.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, Warner was the ski center of southern New Hampshire. "Snow trains" from Boston brought skiers to Warner to try their luck on Breakneck Hill, a steep slope on the south side of town. Fourteen inns grew up around the area to accommodate the winter tourists. The whole town came out the night two trains arrived carrying the entire John Hancock Life Insurance Co. of Boston. The 19-car entourage included the company president, his employees and a separate staff of policemen and nurses. About 1500 turkey dinners were consumed that night, along with gallons of "Warner River coffee."
Later, although large numbers of people still came to Warner, especially to ski in the winter and to fish in the spring, there seemed to be a lull in activity between summer and fall. To keep Warner humming the year round, John P. H. Chandler, Jr., got together with two other local gentlemen - the late Richard K. Townsend and the late Thomas J. McGiII and decided to hold an annual celebration in the autumn, called the Warner Fall Foliage Festival. The first one was held in 1947, then a year was skipped, but it was resumed in 1949. Since then, the Festival has grown and prospered, until today it is the biggest event in town and known far and near.
The event takes place annually on Columbus Day weekend in October when the forests blaze forth in myriad shades of red and gold. It is particularly the maple trees that produce this riot of color, and there is an abundance of maples throughout the Warner countryside.
At the Festival, old friends meet again each year to share in the excitement of the parade, listen to the bands, and savor barbecued chickens and lobsters. Woodsmen contests and Oxen pulling are other activities usually on the schedule. The Town Hall is filled with Arts and Crafts exhibits produced by many talented local artists.
One might wonder what happens to the money spent by the influx of large crowds of visitors to Warner. First of all, the Fall Foliage Festival Inc. is a nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to civic improvement. If you stroll around Warner, you'll see a modern Fire Station built with Festival funds and the efforts of the firemen themselves. Another year's receipts went for landscaping the school grounds and providing a recreation area for youngsters. And on other occasions, Festival funds have purchased a police radio, new chairs for the Town Hall, a memorial plaque on the fire Station, a new rope at the former Ski Tow, street signs, town hall improvements and other civic projects. Of course, to achieve these profits a great deal of volunteer work is done by practically every resident of the community, each helping in different ways.
As summer ripens into fall and the New Hampshire countryside readies itself for the gathering beauty of autumn's brilliant hues, the little town of Warner will once again prepare for its autumn Fall Foliage Festival - this year, 2011, its 64th.

Click Here to visit the Festival's own Web site

Click Here for previous Festival's Photo Index

By Frederick A. Brofos
(updated by Dick Cutting)