Crafts at the Appalachian Festival
Crafts at the Appalachian Festival

What has become one of Cincinnati's most popular annual festivals -- The Appalachian Festival-- began 45 years ago in the basement of Cincinnati's Music Hall as a quaint crafts' exhibition developed by the Cincinnati Junior League.

Today, the Appalachian Festival draws nearly 50,000 people over the three-day event to Coney Island on the shores of the Ohio River.

"Of course, when we first set out, we hoped that the Appalachian Festival would become a Greater Cincinnati tradition and institution," says Sally Brush, one of the Junior League organizers of the first Festival, "but, truthfully, we never dreamed it would reach the size and scope that it is today."

Ms. Brush was one of three Cincinnatians who, in 1969, first proposed the crafts' exhibition idea to a national Junior League conference on Appalachian culture. The goal was to create an event in Cincinnati that would raise awareness of the Appalachian culture, and to have the event ultimately managed by the Appalachian community itself. And, indeed, the Junior League would help establish the Appalachian Community Development Council (ACDA), the organization that took over management of the event in 1975.

The first Junior League Appalachian crafts' exhibition in 1971 was a success -- for months prior to the event organizers had searched the mountain hollows of Appalachia to track down authentic artists and crafters. They also traveled to Nashville to persuade country star Roy Acuff to appear as the headline performer at the first Festival.

"Back then, it was a real challenge to convince authentic mountain crafters to come to Cincinnati for this new Appalachian event," says Diane Smart, who was chairperson for the first and third Junior League Appalachian events. "But after the success of the first year, getting crafters was no problem. We always had more requests for space than space available."

Music of the Appalachian Festival
Music of the Appalachian Festival

As the event grew in popularity, so too did the need for more space to accommodate visitors. From the basement of Music Hall the event would move over the next two decades to a more spacious Music Hall ballroom, then to the Cincinnati Gardens, the Greater Cincinnati Convention Center and, in the mid-80s, to its present site at Coney Island.

Today, the Appalachian Festival is bigger and better than ever... with more than 130 crafters, dozens of entertainers on three stages, cultural and educational programs and a new mountain life exhibit area.

The Appalachian Festival is sponsored by the Appalachian Community Development Association, a nonprofit organization promoting awareness of and appreciation for Appalachian culture. Proceeds go toward grants to organizations involved in Appalachian life.

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