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“Honoring the Apple”
Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival

By Cynthia Molle Oates


Queen Pomona XXXIV Laura Linton with West Virginia University ROTC cadets at 2013 parade yard party. Photograph by Barby Frankenberry.

In spring, clouds of trembling, white blossoms blanket the hills and fields of the Eastern Panhandle and perfume the chilly air. By fall those flowers are transformed into several varieties of apples that lend their tangy aroma to the refreshingly brisk atmosphere. Each October in Martinsburg, area residents eagerly celebrate this culmination of planting, tending, harvesting, and marketing the region’s leading agricultural product with the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival.

As in the past, this year’s 34th festival - one of the Eastern Panhandle’s largest and most prestigious tourist attractions - will showcase local businesses and organizations while providing wholesome entertainment at affordable prices.   Orchardists of yesteryear would hardly recognize the festival or the industry today. New apple varieties, competitions, pest control methods, planting techniques, packaging, storage, and diversification have each altered the industry.

The festival has also expanded, changed venues, and attracted more participants, supporters, and visitors than in the past. The earliest festivals were held at the Air National Guard hangars at the Martinsburg airport. Due in part to security concerns, the event has been moved to the Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds then to the historic Martinsburg Roundhouse, where it currently takes place.

The initial Apple Show and Carnival was held in 1909 and was sponsored by the Berkeley County Horticultural Society. That early event took place annually until at least 1913. A Martinsburg newspaper article from 1985 mentioned similar events held in 1935 and 1938. A one-day event was held at that time and included a parade, decorated shop windows, school exhibits, and an Apple Carnival Ball which, according to the newspaper, “columns of praise could be devoted to. It was simply the greatest affair of its kind to be held in Martinsburg.” The festival was suspended during the Great Depression and World War II years. Local business people met in July 1979 to discuss plans to restart the event, with a full-fledged revival taking place in 1980.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.