There are few things better than spending a sunny summer day in small town USA, and there are few places that embody that Norman Rockwell ideal better than Buckhannon, West Virginia. Check out this guide to fair weather fun in one of the Mountain State’s most charming destinations.
The strawberries come to town
Around these parts, the arrival of summer has nothing to do with Memorial Day or the last day of school. Residents of Upshur County know the days of swimming pools and backyard barbecues are just around the corner when the West Virginia Strawberry Festival takes over downtown Buckhannon.
The festival started more than 75 years ago as a one-day event to celebrate local strawberry growers. Now, it’s the biggest event of the year for the city of Buckhannon.
This festival is usually one week in the middle of May. There’s always something going on festival week: a carnival with plenty of activities for kids, a band competition, and a classic car show, to name a few. There are pistol matches and Irish road bowling, a sport imported from the Emerald Isle by locals from the nearby town of Ireland. West Virginia Wesleyan College hosts an annual Arts and Crafts Show. The photography exhibit at the senior center brings together the work of local professionals, hobbyists, and students alike.
The festival also includes five parades throughout the week, each offering something different. There’s the ever-popular Horse and Carriage Parade, which features vintage wagons and carriages as well as local riding groups. The Fireman’s Parade showcases bright lights, shiny engines, and an occasional siren to keep the kids giggling. Speaking of engines, check out the Antique Car Parade for some rumbling horsepower. Enjoy the pageantry of the Junior Royalty Parade, or catch a little bit of everything at the annual Grand Feature Parade.
Of course, you haven’t really been to the Strawberry Festival unless you’ve munched on some strawberries. There’s no shortage. Local restaurants roll out a variety of specials inspired by the festival, from chocolate-covered strawberries and strawberry salads to unexpected creations such as chilled strawberry soup. And, there’s a bounty of strawberry shortcake.
Start the weekend off right
The final night of the Strawberry Festival is always a little bittersweet, but the fun doesn’t end there. The party returns to downtown Buckhannon each week June through September with Festival Fridays at Jawbone Park.
The musical offerings run the gamut of local, regional, and national bands in a variety of genres: bluegrass, country, Christian music, oldies, and classic rock. Even better, it’s free to enter, making this a great way for the whole family to kick off a weekend. Just be sure to bring enough lawn chairs or blankets for everyone.
The entertainment begins each week at 5 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. If you want to grab dinner before the show begins, it’s a short walk to Main Street’s bevy of dining options. Many regulars prefer to picnic, and there are plenty of options at the park itself. Local restaurants and bakeries often set up shop at the park, providing both savory entrées and sweet treats.
If you need to get up and stretch your legs, local artists and crafters set up booths at Festival Fridays to sell their wares. Farmers have gotten in on the act, too, offering fresh produce to concertgoers.
The weekly concerts have become such a favorite event among locals, it’s not uncommon to see happy reunions of friends. But even if you don’t know anyone in Buckhannon, spend one Friday evening on the grass listening to good music as the sun sinks behind the mountains—chances are, you’ll make new friends in no time.
In late July, Fridays get even more festive as the Blast from the Past Car Show rolls into town. This two-day, free show is organized by the Buckhannon-based West Virginia Classic Wheels Car Club, but dozens of classic car collectors come from all over the state to show off their lovingly restored rides.
The family-friendly event has plenty of activities for everybody, including inflatables for the kids, arts and crafts vendors, and old-time rock and roll on the Jawbone Park stage.
A bargain hunter’s paradise
People have strong feelings about West Virginia’s Largest Yard Sale, held August 4–5 across Upshur and Lewis counties. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it sport.
It’s all a matter of perspective, really. Where some people see a weekend spent among the crowds, others see a 750-square-mile bargain hunter’s paradise. I heard of one person coming all the way from Florida—U-Haul and all—to take advantage of the deals.
The key to success is a little planning. The visitor center releases maps around July, listing easy directions to each official yard sale as well as a short description of what you’ll find there: antiques, tools, toys, women’s clothing, etc.
Keep in mind, the maps list only the yard sales that have registered with the Convention and Visitors Bureau—many more unregistered sales pop up all over the counties. Two-hundred yard sales may be on the map, but there may be 500 yard sales in actuality.
When the weekend of the sale finally arrives, come prepared. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Traffic is often bumper-to-bumper, so it’s a good idea to find a centrally located parking spot and walk to nearby yard sales. Since the weather is usually hot and sunny, bring extra water, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Also bring plenty of cash, especially in small denominations—sellers will love you for it. And don’t forget shopping bags. Many vendors will offer plastic bags, but the reusable kind are even better.
It’s not all about the deals, however. West Virginia’s Largest Yard Sale gives visitors a great excuse to meet locals and get an intimate look at the parts of Upshur and Lewis counties that you just don’t see from the interstate.
A year-round destination
The worst part about summer is that, inevitably, it has to end. But that doesn’t mean the fun is over in Upshur County. The area offers plenty of activities all year. Check out Buckhannon’s historic downtown for dining options including CJ Maggie’s and the 3/4 Cafe, or spend the night at A Governor’s Inn bed and breakfast. Explore nearby Civil War history sites or catch a show at the Lascaux Micro-Theatre, which shows international and independent films you won’t find at the local cineplex. No matter what time of year you plan your visit, there’s plenty to keep you busy during a weekend in Upshur County, West Virginia!