History comes alive each year in downtown Henderson during the Heritage Syrup Festival, which claims the title of the only folklife festival in East Texas.
This year marks the 31st anniversary of the event, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in historic downtown Henderson and the Depot Museum.
Suzanne Cross, tourism coordinator for the city of Henderson, said the festival draws about 15,000 people to town annually. So much of that has to do with the fall weather accompanying the festival, she said.
“The heat is gone and people want to get out when it’s cool,” she said. “The summer heat was intense, and November has always cooperated with the festival. At this time of year, people want to go to festivals and eat a bunch of fair food and see antique cars, shop, and they like to ride the hayride to the Depot.”
The festival is divided into two parts. The Depot Museum is centered on 5 acres which feature syrup making, folk artists, antique tractors, bluegrass music, storytelling, fun and food. Hayride shuttles provide rustic transportation between both locations. Downtown features more than 300 shopping vendors, antique and classic cars, musical entertainment, cloggers, square dancers, a children’s section, food and retail businesses mixed throughout the festival area.
Cross said a crawfish cooker is a new addition this year for food offerings. Among the folk artists, one woman is offering hand-painted tote bags with pictures of bluebirds sitting on a piece of wood.
“They are pretty,” Cross said. “This is a folk art festival so we have a blacksmith and a broom maker, a silversmith and a basket making spinning wheel — that’s all folk art.”
Cross said people who want to know about syrup-making can go to the Depot Museum to see how the mules make the syrup by crushing sugar cane bamboo stalks. The juice runs down a PVC pipe into a cooker and that is how the syrup is made.
“In the fall here in the south families would gather and it would be a production all weekend-long for making syrup for several families, and it would be a big, big deal,” she said.
Vickie Armstrong, director of the Depot Museum, said the mule keeper is named Sidney LaVasseur and he oversees Easter and Bunny, the mules.
“The whole purpose of the syrup festival is to keep history alive and to give the children a visual of something that is educational,” Armstrong said. “A lot of children don’t know where it comes from and thinks it comes from the grocery store. Another thing about the festival is that it is a social thing. It is a time to be educated, to have fun, see old friends and meet new friends.”