The Loblolly Festival of Laurel

Once known as the “Town that Timber Built,” Laurel, Mississippi, celebrated its roots in the lumber industry Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Loblolly Festival that will take over the historic downtown area. In this fall celebration, guests are treated to some of the finest carnival foods around, live music, arts and crafts, and so much for the entire family, as the city pays tribute to the lumber industry that helped to establish the city many years ago. Traditionally held on the first Saturday in October, the Loblolly Festival continues to grow each year, and admission is free to this family fun event.

The strong and beautiful pine tree is at the heart of the city’s heritage. It was in 1891 that the Gardiner brothers made the trek from Iowa to set down roots in Jones County. They bought a local sawmill operation and approximately 16,000 acres of timberland. The Eastman-Gardiner Lumber Company was born and became the livelihood of Laurel and Jones County. As the lumber company continued to grow, Catherine Marshall Gardiner sought to bring her own contribution to Laurel, devoting herself to the mission of creating an enchanting homeland among the yellow pine capital of the world and the area was hence dubbed “The City Beautiful.”

Garnering attention from around the world, creator and innovator, John Lindsey saw the need for assistance in the ever-growing lumber industry and created the 8-wheeled Lindsey Log Wagon which was patented and became an integral part of hauling lumber. His creation brought even more attention to this corner of the world. The history of Laurel is impressive as the city produced over 1,000,000 board feet of lumber per day and helped to boost Mississippi to third in the country for its lumber production by 1908. The city continued to grow as more industries were established around the lumber production in this piney woods town. Laurel owes it roots and livelihood to the yellow Loblolly pine, and the Loblolly Festival is held to honor the heritage that truly helped to develop “The City Beautiful.”

The mascot or face of the Loblolly Festival might be quite familiar. As he walks down the crowded brick streets, enjoying the sights and taking pictures with adoring fans, Ben Napier embodies the true spirit of the Loblolly Festival. Bringing to the mind a recreation of Paul Bunyan, Napier, adorned in a red plaid flannel shirt, work pants and boots, suspenders, and woolen cap upon his bearded head, Napier looks as if he could swing the ax he carries to bring down a few pine trees himself. Big Ben, the Loblolly Lumberjack, enjoys meeting all that come to celebrate the hometown of the HGTV’s Hometown hosts Erin and Ben Napier.

Guests to the festival are treated to food vendors selling festival foods such as funnel cakes, corndogs, chicken on a stick, and so many other delectable delights, arts and crafts booths, several stages of live music, play areas for the children and fun for everyone. Talented craftsmen will break out the chainsaw, amazing everyone as he creates exquisite works of art.

Mallorie Rasberry, who often is seen with her best friend and college roommate, Erin on the very popular HGTV production, said that this year’s festival offered even more fun for the whole family, and guests were not be disappointed by the hospitality they were greeted with in this charming, historic sawmill town.

“It’s our biggest festival of the year! And it’s free!” Rasberry said. “You can expect to find some amazing food as we have the most food vendors scheduled that we’ve ever had. There will be over 100 artisan craft booths along with over 50 of our downtown merchants and restaurants that will be open. There will a great music lineup and guests can enjoy music all day.”

“The annual Art on Masonite contest for local youths will be at Y. Dayton Scoggins will feature a carving expo,” Rasberry said. “And there will be an After Party at the Slowboat Brewery.”

The entire festival is fun for everyone, but Rasberry jokingly warns newcomers of an invasion to the downtown district—A Scarecrow Invasion.

“This week, every business owner gets creative with a scarecrow outside of their business,” she said. “It’s a friendly competition to who can have the best one. Folks love walking around and looking at them. Some of them get pretty extravagant.”

The Scarecrow Harvest has become one of the most popular events to welcome in the Autumn season. Downtown Laurel comes to life with colorful, unique life-size or even larger than life scarecrow creations. All are invited to come be part of the fun and show some of their creativity by designing their very own imaginative and unique scarecrows. Scarecrows of the past have recreated the images of music legends, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Some have paid tribute to the Mighty Laurel Golden Tornadoes Football team and Cheerleading squad. And some can even be a little spooky, such as the headless horseman, werewolves, and other goblins that line the historic streets. The scarecrows remain on display until Friday, Nov. 1. The Scarecrow Harvest is hosted by the Laurel Main Street, and the creations will be judged while the top 3 winners are announced at the festival.

For more information, check out the official website at the Laurel Main Street website.


Written by Judy Smith

Judy Smith has been a freelance writer and photographer for several magazines and publications around the South, including Social South Magazine, Our Mississippi Magazine, DeSoto Magazine, Deep South Magazine, Country Roads Magazine, among others. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Paralegal Studies, Master’s of Science in Mass Communications, and PhD in Communications at the University of Southern Mississippi. And Judy Smith is proud to forever be a Mississippi Girl.


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