Blue Ribbon Memories

Peanut Festival

photos courtesy of Jennifer Walker-James

Blue Ribbon Memories

| published November 13, 2015 |

By Jennifer Walker-James,
Thursday Review features writer


Nothing tickles the colorfully rustic roots of Americana quite like the visions of a good ole county fair. Ever since Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition (also called The Chicago World’s Fair) became the catalyst for the development of the traveling carnival in 1893, fairs bearing various themes of celebration have dotted the map in cities in towns across the United States. Some celebrate heritage and music while others commemorate agriculture or produce.

For example, in Litchfield, Minnesota, there’s the Peanut Butter and Milk Festival. In Illinois, there’s the Morton Pumpkin Festival. Poteet, Texas hosts the Strawberry Festival while Fairborn, Ohio is home of the Sweet Corn Festival. In tiny Climax, Georgia, folks celebrate each November at the Swine Time Festival, which includes—among other things—hog calling contests, pig racing, a greased pig chase, syrup tasting, and even a Best Dressed Pig Pageant.

Peanut Festival And then there is Dothan, Alabama, which attracts tens of thousands each year to the National Peanut Festival. As laughable as this week of festivities may sound to outsiders, there’s a lot to be said about the tiny legume around the huge celebration is organized.

For nearly half a century following the Civil War, cotton remained the South’s most lucrative crop. While reeling under the impact of First World War, many parts of the South took an additional blow when the infestation of the boll weevil nearly decimated cotton crops across the region. The ramifications of the loss of what was the most important cash crop dealt a staggering blow to an already-suffering economy.

Thanks to the groundbreaking research and prolific efforts of George Washington Carver, the peanut was introduced and soon proved to be a thriving commodity for farms throughout Georgia, the panhandle of Florida, and much of Alabama. And it is because of this shell-cased wonder that local economy has sustained and propelled the growth of cities and townships in the tri-state area known as the Wiregrass—an area which includes agricultural towns like Donalsonville, Georgia and Campbellton, Florida. To commemorate the peanut’s success in helping to turn around the post-cotton economy, in 1938 the city of Dothan—working with several surrounding communities formed—crated an annual festival in honor of the peanut.

Peanut Festival And who better to serve as the guest speaker at its inaugural opening on November 10th 1938 than George Washington Carver himself?

Excluding the duration of World War II, the National Peanut Festival has lit up the Dothan sky every fall since its inception. After being held at the Houston County Farm Center for nearly sixty years, a site it eventually outgrew, the festival found a new home on U.S. Highway 231 south of Dothan.

Entertaining over 150,000 fairgoers annually, this staple of southern culture rests on over 200 acres of farmland with over 38,000 square feet of indoor accommodations for craft exhibits and livestock shows. And the festival itself as much a part of the local heritage as church and SEC football. Typically held the first week in November, local attendees plan and save for all year for the spectacle.

Peanut Festival The Peanut Festival also features concerts headlining notable artists of various musical backgrounds. Celebrity acts such as the Marshal Tucker Band, Lady Antebellum, Garth Brooks, The Pointer Sisters, and Charlie Daniels have all made appearances at the National Peanut Festival in past years. There are also pageants, rides, petting zoos, a wide variety of contests, food vendors, and a seemingly endless supply of peanuts. As a lifelong resident of the Wiregrass area, this writer can assure you there’s nothing like the mouth-watering ecstasy of biting into the shell of a juicy, hot boiled peanut and tasting its salty perfection within! Pure edible divinity in a nutshell, I tell ya! And even if peanuts are not your thing, there are literally hundreds of other foods to try—much of it the sort of stuff that tastes best when eaten outdoors surrounded by carnival rides and music.

As of this writing, the 2015 celebration is currently underway. The ten day event culminates with a huge downtown parade which begins on Saturday morning, November 14 (tomorrow, if you are reading this article live tonight!). The Peanut Festival itself then opens again at noon on Saturday. That means if you live within a six or seven hour drive of Dothan (that covers a lot of states) you can still make it to the Peanut Capital of the World, as the city is known, in time to catch the entire experience. Consider it a worthy road trip to sample one of the South’s nuttiest treasures.

For more information, be sure to visit their official site at!

[Thursday Review will have more about regional events and local festivities from around the country added to our website soon.]

Related Thursday Review articles:

A Treasury of Vintage and Classic Wheels; Earl Perkins;Thursday Review; July 1, 2015.

The Hamburger: A Family Affair; Michael Sigler;Thursday Review; July 4, 2014.