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HISTORY LIVES: Mercer Folk Fest


The first iteration of the Mercer Museum Folk Fest was held April 27, 1974, and called “Museum Family Day.”

The concept began earlier that year when the Bicentennial Committee of the Bucks County Historical Society was formed to raise money and awareness for the museum. Its mission was to create a quality family event that would bring the museum’s collection of 18th and 19th century tools and artifacts to life through actual demonstration.

The first festival was attended by 3,500 people. A family could attend for $3. Half of the startup money was given by Helen Spruance, a devoted supporter of the BCHS (for whom the museum library was named). Twenty-four craftspeople displayed and demonstrated their talents. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were offered as refreshments.

The BCHS Women’s Committee began a 25-year tradition of making an heirloom quilt which was raffled off at the end of the day. Two years later, the Folk Fest became a two-day event and a Mother’s Day weekend tradition.

Over the next 36 years the Folk Fest continued to grow. By the 1990s there were over 100 exhibitors who had to submit samples of their work for review prior to acceptance by the event.

Once there, they provided demonstrations of daily living crafts such as basket making, chair caning, cabinet making, bookbinding, broom making, wool dyeing, spinning, weaving, glass blowing, butter making, candle dipping, and rug braiding. Farmers demonstrated sheep shearing and goat herding. There were exhibits by masters of stenciling, scherenschnitte, theorem and fraktur painting. Craftsmen worked with pewter, tin, copper, silver and iron.

For the children, there were jugglers, musicians, storytellers, puppet shows, maypole dancing and horse-drawn hayrides.

Traditional foods of the period, such as Brunswick stew, were prepared over an open hearth accompanied by contemporary food offerings such as shoofly pie, lemon sticks, funnel cakes and birch beer.

The artisans dressed in period costumes; and re-enactors from the Sixth Pennsylvania Regiment, which served in the Revolutionary War, were encamped on the lawn.

The final Mercer Folk Fest took place in 2009 on May 9 and Mother’s Day, May 10. All the mothers who attended were given a flower.

Impacted by construction of the new exhibit wing of the museum and logistical challenges associated with organizing an event of this kind, the Folk Fest had run its course.

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