Long before the official Montgomery Fest celebrations began, Montgomery always held an annual summertime event, most often a carnival, that drew people together.
The first carnival was held on a vacant lot across from the Michaels Brothers grocery store, at the corner of Main and Webster streets. There were food booths, cotton candy, and the typical games and rides, with the ferris wheel being the main attraction. The music and the laughter could be heard throughout the village.
Later, the VFW began to host a carnival on River Street. This brought visitors to the village from far and wide and was a successful celebration, until a few out-of-town rowdies began to make trouble, and the situation became dangerous. Without enough policemen in the village to handle them, the VFW carnival had to be suspended.
Every summer the Lions Club sponsored a carp-fishing contest. It isn’t clear when it began, but Ellis Van Meter was a village trustee and friend of Joe Mendoza, president of the Lions Club. Some residents remember earlier fishing contests long before Van Meter’s time. If anyone has information about this, please let me know.
Then, in 1984, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the village, a big Sesquicentennial Celebration was held. Stu Johnson was mayor at that time. One of the many floats in the parade that year featured a live (if timid looking) lion in a cage. The celebration was a huge success and set the stage for the annual Montgomery Fest celebrations.
Each year the festival has been tweaked. What worked well in the past was replicated, and the committee learned by trial and error when some things should be changed. Good planning and hard work is always the key to a great party.
One snafu that stands out happened the year the parade committee innocently scheduled two politicians from opposite parties near each other in the line-up. A big noisy fight broke out in the parking lot where the floats were being lined up. It created quite a bit of excitement as the two traded loud verbal insults with one another, to the amusement of the crowd.
A quick call to the parade organizer brought her running, and the sequence was switched. Another lesson learned – separate them in the future! And you thought politics was bad today?
The carp fishing derby was always a big attraction. There were big prizes given for the biggest fish, and always a lot of excitement surrounding this event. For a few years in a row, the same lad always caught the biggest fish. He won several top prizes before somebody decided that there was more than fisherman’s luck at work here. The other contestants were suspicious about the size of his catch.
It was disclosed that he had been dropping corn into the same spot in the river every day leading up to the derby. He had trained the fish to look for corn in the same spot and as they grew bigger, he could just go to the spot and reel them in until he got a nice big one.
Another group of equally “clever” little boys discovered that a man who lived on River Street had a fish trap in the water behind his house. At the opportune moment, they liberated one of his biggest fish and presented it to the judges. Hopefully the dirty tricks have ended, as the fish have consistently been weighing in lighter in recent years.
Over the years, other attractions have included food booths, craft shows, the parade, a talent contest, the fishing derby, a car show, carnival rides, a corn boil, fireworks, and the biggest attraction of the afternoon, the fire department water fights. One year there was even a monstrous vehicle called the car-eating Megasaurus.
In 2010 the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a contest called Shoot for the Loot. An area man won $10,000. He was not a hotshot young basketball player, but rather a regular dad who just got lucky. He was the talk of the town!
Over the years, there have been a wide variety of bands ranging from the Sting Rays (a '50s, '60s, and '70s rock and roll band) to Billy Croft, Steve Sharp, Chase Daniels and recently Smokin' Gunz.
Last year, to commemorate the Civil War encampment, Camp Hammond, in Montgomery, a group of re-enactors camped on North River Street next to the cemetery during the festival. Visitors could see how the recruits lived while here.
Again this year, the Settler’s Cottage Museum will be open and people will be on hand to answer questions and show you the 1930 census of Montgomery mounted on a wall where you can look for your ancestors. If you find them, we’d love to hear about them and any family stories you’d like to share.