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Ripe for the picking
Midwestern apple festivals herald the arrival of fall with parades, music, crafts and nearly every dish you can imagine prepared with the delicious, juicy fruit

A younger visitor enjoying his autumn adventure to the orchards . / ©Eckert Orchards photos
By Kathie Sutin
Published: Sep/Oct 2000

Few things herald the advent of fall the way the apple does. Apple turnovers, apple crisp, caramel apples, warm applesauce, cold cider, bobbing for apples–ways to enjoy the apple are almost endless. Apples are about as American as, well, apple pie.

Is it any wonder then that the good old apple is the fruit exalted in festivals around the Midwest each September and October?

While there are bushels of apple festivals around the Midwest, here are a few close-to-home opportunities to sample the sweet, crisp taste of autumn.

Applefest in Appletown

Years ago, so many apples were shipped from Clarksville, rivermen dubbed the place "Appletown." Apples were such big business in this historic Mississippi River town that a large shed was built to cull and sort the fruit before shipping.

But things change, and as apples became less a part of the local economy, the shed was donated to the Raintree Art Theatre Guild. Now the chamber of commerce rents a portion of it for Applefest, a festival held yearly on the second weekend in October. In its 22nd year, this year’s festival will be held Oct. 14–15.

"It’s our biggest event of the year," said Judy Colbert of the Clarksville Chamber of
Apples were such big business in Clarksville, Mo., that the town was once called "Appletown." One of the highlights of its annual two-day Applefest is a parade through the center of town. /Main Street Clarksville photo
Commerce. The event draws approximately 3,000 visitors on Saturday and 2,000 on Sunday.

Among the events, a parade on Saturday features six bands from around the area. A juried craft show with at least 60 vendors and a quilt show are held both days in the shed, while other crafts and food are sold outdoors.

If you want to spend Applefest weekend in historic Clarksville, plan early as the festival draws many visitors, and several class reunions are held during the event. The Clarksville Inn and the town’s two bed and breakfasts–the Carroll Inn and the Daniel Douglas House–offer lodging options.

The festival offers plenty of food, but in town you’ll also find the Pine Point Restaurant. You can also get sandwiches at the Doug-Out Bar and Grill.

While you’re at Applefest, enjoy a glimpse of the river as Clarksville presents the first opportunity to view the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. One good place to do that is at Lock and Dam 24, where you can witness barges and other boats using the facility.

For additional information about Applefest, call Main Street Clarksville at (573) 242-3993.

It’s apple time in Murphysboro

In Murphysboro, the Apple City of southern Illinois, the 49th annual Apple Festival will be held Sept. 12–17. The fair is perhaps southern Illinois’ longest-running family festival.

With a population of nearly 10,000, Murphysboro may be a small town, but celebrating the apple is big here. The city swells with the influx of approximately 46,000 visitors to the festival each September. The event is so enormous, volunteers work on it year-round, said Kim Hails, executive director of the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce.

Activities include contests for decorating windows, baking apple pies and making apple butter; a gospel sing; and stage shows throughout the week. Festival Funland–with rides, games and attractions–is said to be second in size only to the midway of the DuQuoin, Ill., State Fair. Funland opens Wednesday and continues through the weekend.

The Apple Festival boasts two parades. The Kiwanians’ Children’s Pet and Hobby Parade is held Friday, and the Grand Parade, with 150 units including 30 high school and junior high bands, is Saturday. Bands from surrounding states and as far away as Maryland compete in the Drums at Appletime, a band competition that’s part of the festivities.

Other events include the crowning of Miss Apple Festival Queen and the Apple Prince and Princess, the Appletime Arts & Crafts Fair, Poker Run Car Rally and the Appletime Grand Car Show.

There’s also a chance to work off festival calories. The Appletime Pro-Am Golf Classic is held Friday, and the Appletime 10-K Roadrun and 5-K Fitness Walk are on Saturday.
There’s more down-home fun at the App-L-Ympics on Sunday. Events include cider drinking, seed popping and an apple core throwing, as well as the National Apple Peeling Contest.

With scores of bands coming to compete, lodging reservations are a must. The Apple Tree Inn and the Super 8 Motel are in town, and camping is available at nearby Murphysboro State Park and at Lake Kinkaid. Other accommodations can be found in Carbondale, about seven miles away.

Murphysboro has a number of restaurants including the new Mungo Jerry’s Fat Cat Café, a coffeehouse offering specialty sandwiches and entertainment; Martha & Mary’s, a teahouse and restaurant specializing in homemade goodies; and 17th Street Bar and Grill, which draws visitors from around the country with its award-winning barbecue.

For additional information call the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-406-8774, or visit the Web site

AppleJack: A Crackerjack Festival

It’s fitting that one of the Midwest’s largest apple festivals is held in Nebraska City, Neb., birthplace of Arbor Day. When Julius Sterling Morton and his wife, Caroline, moved there in 1854, they were enthusiastic tree planters initiating several orchards. Morton encouraged the planting of trees and orchards, and through his efforts, the state established a tree-planting day. Later, Arbor Day came to be celebrated not only in Nebraska but also in every state in the union and in 12 other countries. Today, Arbor Lodge State Park, an arboretum and living museum, commemorates Morton’s deeds.

So, when this town of 6,700 throws an apple festival, it’s a major event. The first was held in 1936 as a celebration of the area’s apple harvest. Through the years, the event grew despite discontinuing during the war years. Today, some 40,000 visitors from several states jam the town each September for AppleJack Festival. In its 32nd year, the festival will be held Sept. 16–17.

Events include a parade and marching band competition on Saturday and Apple Jam Fest, an afternoon of free hands-on activities, including seed spitting and apple peeling contests and apple bobbing for children.

Adults can pay $1 either day and have their old treasures appraised at the Antique Appraisal. The event was first held last year and proved to be such a success that it will be back this year, a spokesperson for the local chamber of commerce said.

Throughout the weekend there will be living history demonstrations, and visitors can browse at four craft shows at the festival.

Lodging options include several hotels and motels in the area, the Lied Conference Center and two bed-and-breakfast inns (Whispering Pines and Sparrows’ Nest). Restaurants in town offer a wide array of dining choices.

For a visitors guide, call 1-800-514-9113, or visit online at

In addition to the festivals, Midwesterners hungry for fall can head to their area orchards to purchase apples that have been gathered, or pick their own as this apple enthusiast did at Eckert Orchards. / ©Eckert Orchards photo
Eckert’s Country Store & Farms

For residents of southern Illinois and St. Louis, fall means picking apples at Eckert’s. Generations of families visit Eckert’s orchards in Belleville, Millstadt and Grafton each fall to pick their own. And there’s no better way to spend a fall weekend than at Eckert’s Country Store in Belleville, where fun always happens at weekly festivals there.

The apple-picking season kicks off Aug. 26 with the early Jonathan crop and continues for about six weeks. Apple bike rides are slated for Sept. 17 in Millstadt and Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in Grafton. Every weekend in September there’s an apple-related festival with food, country music, pie-making and eating contests and apple bobbing. Activities vary at each location. For more information, call (618) 233-0513, (314) 645-6612 or 1-800-745-0513. Visit Eckert’s Web site at

No matter what state you’re in, you’re sure to find an apple-related event. There’s no better symbol of fall–unless it’s the pumpkin. But then, a pumpkin a day won’t keep the doctor away.

Kathie Sutin is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

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