Syrup Festival in Henderson draws thousands for vendors, entertainment and lore
By Ken Hedler
Nov. 12, 2017 at 12:15 a.m.
HENDERSON — Terry and Brandy Adkinson arrived Saturday afternoon at the annual Heritage Syrup Festival for one purpose. After achieving it, they headed back to their car on East Main Street just minutes later.
"I came to buy a ring," said Terry Adkinson, a public works employee for the city of Center.
The stainless steel ring he purchased is identical to one his wife bought a few years ago from the same vendor at the festival.
He showed his ring, which has his last name and the date of their marriage: Sept. 11, 1995.
Unlike most who came to the festival, the Adkinsons did not stick around to wander among other vendors, classic cars, live entertainment or the main event: a demonstration of the old-fashioned way of making syrup from sugar cane. Adkinson said he cut the visit short because he feels uncomfortable in crowds.
And the festival, in its 29th year, certainly had crowds.
"We've got at least 30,000 (people here) today," said Doug Gage, volunteer coordinator for the event for about five years.
Attendance has been growing every year, said City Manager Tim Kelty, on his fourth year at the job. "There are more classic cars, more booths for people," he said.
The city deployed its drone to take aerial photos of the crowds.
Kelty showed a guest book at the information booth that contained the names of attendees from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Louisiana, Tennessee and as far away as Arizona.
"The weather has been absolutely perfect," Kelty said. "I'm very proud to be part of the Henderson festival."
He and Gage were among a number of civic leaders who manned the canopied booth at the East and North Main streets.
"We've got a good group of volunteers," Gage said.
Henderson resident Wayne Richards said he was attending the festival for the first time while his wife, Tiffany, said, "I have been here a lot of times."
Sitting at a table eating brisket nachos, Wayne Richards said, "I enjoy the classic cars. They are pretty good to look at, just the way they look."
Local vendors selling products such as soap made from goat milk appealed to Coryn Dowell, a Kilgore resident who arrived with several family members.
"I bought some blue cornbread mix and some grits," she said. "And we came to see all the classic cars. I am part of a Jeep club, and we have members here."
The grounds of the Depot Museum on High Street featured demonstrations of Native American drumming and syrup making.
Outside a teepee, a little boy used a drumstick to beat a powwow drum.
The drum was getting a second life. The Longview High School marching band threw it out in 1976, said Tim Hill of the Boy Scouts of America Order of the Arrow in Longview.
Elsewhere on the grounds, volunteers loaded long sugar cane sticks into a grinder while a mule walked in a circle inside a small corral, smashing the sticks as the grinder turned.
Juice came out of the grinder and went into a barrel, said Lauren Johnson, one of volunteer sugar cane crushers.
The process continued with the juice being drained into a nearby copper pan.
"They boil the sugar cane juice, and it makes a syrup," said Johnson, who lives in Carthage.
The juice is boiled for about an hour to remove the water, according to Mike Clark, whose role was fire builder.
Meanwhile, Melissa Kuykendall and her grandmother, Lisa Cook, scooped fibrous material out of the pan. The syrup went on sale for $12.
Watching sugar cane being pressed is a draw for children, said Dustin Patterson, a biochemistry professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, who arrived at the museum grounds with his wife, Angie, and three small children.
"We come every year to see the antique tractors," Patterson said. "We like to watch what people are selling. We take the kids on the merry-go-round."
His oldest child, Trinity, 7, said she enjoys "spending time with my family, being together. I like all the (face) paintings."
A face painter painted a puppy on her cheek.
Festivalgoer Felipe Galvan, a furniture store supervisor who lives in Henderson, said he has been attending for 15 years.
He said he likes the "food, the hospitality, everything.... Everybody gets together."