In 1988 the PA Apple Cheese Festival started out as an idea formulated by the local think tank of Canton (breakfast meetings held at a local restaurant). Representatives attended these meetings from local businesses, civic organizations, local government, citizen’s groups, churches as well as the Main Street manager. Organizers wanted to build the greater Canton area up with some kind of activity that would promote the agricultural, historical and cultural history of the area while generating economic development. At the time, there were three large apple orchards operating in the area and the Canton/Bradford County area had a strong farming history but the area had become a little economically depressed. The organizers were looking for something to spur some growth as well as represent the community’s background in agriculture.
Through much discussion, a festival was conceived that tied into the agricultural background of the area and promoted the many talented local crafters. The festival would also create a venue for local civic and non-profit organizations to do fund-raising. With a three-year $3,000 step grant from the Endless Mountain Visitor’s Bureau, the Apple Cheese Festival was born. It would be held on the first weekend of October.
For the first ten years, the festival was held at the Canton Fireman’s Field located south of Canton on Rt. 14. Those first years were challenging. Electricity and layout were restricted but workable for a beginning festival. That first year everyone felt blessed with the 1,500 to 2,000 people that attended. From this point on, all parts of the festival grew. Word spread, vendors inquired, people found us, and things happened because of the drive of the founding group, the dedicated volunteers from the community, and the festival’s desire to treat vendors, artists, and festival goers as if they were all family. This has paid off for the PA Apple ‘n Cheese Festival over the years and still continues to be the mission of the committee who head up the festival.
There have been ups and downs. The electricity and field space at the Fireman’s Field was limited and as the festival grew, so did the problems with the above. The committee had to do some very creative thinking to keep things flowing. Attendance grew to 12 to 14,000 people in a few years despite some adverse weather conditions. The festival has been held through rain, sleet, snow, floods, and even beautiful autumn weather. The committee learned a lot about grounds upkeep and sponging (water control/re-direction)!
Many different attractions were added to the festival program. Continuous free entertainment was held on two on-site stages. A Fine Arts and Photography Show was started at the Fireman’s Field. This added another area to promote the many talented people of our area. The show was first held in the middle aisle of a large metal building surrounded by the vendors and then moved to a separate building where the entries multiplied. Today, the Fine Arts and Photography show is fast becoming one of Northeast Pennsylvania’s premier events. The quality works of amateurs and professionals exhibiting in the show is fantastic. Each year over 2000 visitors view the Fine Arts and Photography Show.
During these years, the festival was renamed through the help of Representative Matthew Baker and Senator Roger Madigan. The festival was designated as the Pennsylvania Apple’n Cheese Festival, the only one in the state to be so designated.
It soon became apparent that the festival needed more space and due to the proposed FEMA buyout of the Fireman’s Field due to flooding problems, PA Apple ‘n Cheese started looking for another site within the area. After looking at eighteen properties, some in the county, some out, the perfect site was located in East Canton off Rt. 414; the Manley-Bohlayer farm.
In 1999, Pennsylvania Apple ‘n Cheese incorporated going back to the Rekindle the Spirit name (former name of the Main Street project) so that it would be better able to serve the local community and also enable it to apply for grants pertinent to the site. Along with this process, the site was eligible to be designated as a Pennsylvania Heritage Region park. Applications were made and received which helped toward the purchase of the historic Manley-Bohlayer farm. The farm is being developed as a site that reflects the activities of a late 1800’s- early 1900’s working family farm. All of this continues to serve the original conception of promoting and preserving the agricultural, historical, and cultural history of the area.
The first PA Apple’n Cheese Festival at the Manley-Bohlayer site was held in 2000 with an attendance of nearly 20,000 people for the two-day event. There were also some bugs to be worked out (traffic control and electricity) which have been addressed aggressively, and the festival continues to reap the benefits of the move to the new site. The farm is located in a rich farming valley and the 12 acre layout of the property lets the flow of the Festival happen naturally.
The Fine Arts and Photography Show now takes place in the historic farmhouse. The show’s former chairperson went above and beyond to make this show into the quality event it has become. With the help of her family, members of local fine arts councils, volunteers and the Troy Fine Arts Council, Mrs. Agnes Salmon developed the show into one of the area’s most professional art and photography exhibits. Unfortunately she has passed on, but the festival committee is dedicated to continuing the legacy she started.
Free entertainment continues during both days of the festival. An attempt is made to bring entertainment in that is not a standard, introducing new genre to expose and interest festival goers.
A children’s area has been added with a children’s garden, live animals, pumpkin decorating stations, painting and last year’s hay maze. Entertaining clowns roam the site and have balloon creations or other items for the children. Pony rides are often available for children.
The food court holds many delights for the palate. You name it, and you can probably find it. Many local non-profit organizations prepare tantalizing treats including the famous apple dumplings from the East Canton Methodist Church. The Apple Dumpling Gang has been featured on local news stations as they prepare the thousands of dumplings each year. Sample delicious cheeses, apples and wines which are all available for sale. Over 40 food vendors are present each year.
There continue to be onsite demonstrations such as woodcarving, glassblowing and blacksmithing in the blacksmith shop. Quilting and quilts are displayed along with the many other crafts of the area. Watching apples being pressed into cider on a vintage 1865 cider press is a highlight as well as smelling the apple butter being cooked in a copper kettle over the open fire. The Hoagland one room school house holds a treasury of local school history and the 1897 East Canton Community Hall invites all visitors to view items donated by local families. Holding true to the original desire of promoting the fine artisans of the area, all crafts sold at the festival are juried items, hand made by the individuals sponsoring the booths, unless otherwise grand-fathered by the festival.
The Manley-Bohlayer site offers plenty of free onsite parking and the improved traffic handling makes entering and leaving an easy experience. The lovely shaded gardens and yard of the historic house offer a tranquil spot to sit and just enjoy the sights and sounds.
The festival’s committee, which is 100% volunteer, is dedicated to continuing this quality event and making improvements each year. 2013 will be the 24th annual Pennsylvania Apple ‘n Cheese Festival.
The two-day festival, held annually the first full weekend in October, is a true whole family activity. Families enjoy the peaceful rural setting and calm pace of the area. Set in the beautiful endless mountains of rural Pennsylvania, just traveling to the PA Apple n’ Cheese Festival and viewing the scenery is part of the enjoyment.