When the April edition of Smithsonian magazine hit my mailbox last week I was excited to see the cover headline, “America’s Best Small Towns—The Greatest Little Places to Visit this Year.”
I didn’t expect Gilmer to make the list, of course, but I was curious about which towns of under 15,000 population qualified.
NUMBER ONE was rather obvious: Chautauqua, New York, has been working since 1874 to establish itself as “the sort of bucolic place where folks like to go for slow-lane vacations” but there is more to it than that.. The first Chautauqua Assembly was a training ground for Methodist Sunday School teachers but it became an institution that draws thousands of people every summer for its nine-week season and thousands more for performances of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the Opera Company and the School of Dance.
As Chautauqua was listed in the education category, Number Two,Healdsburg, California, was notable for food and living.
“Poised between Calistoga and the wild Pacific Coast, with damp morning fog and blistering afternoon sunshine, the place is so fertile anything grows. . . Four celebrated Sonoma County wine regions nearby—Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Chalk Hill–helped drive the gastronomical renaissance.”
Number Three, Wlliamsburg, Virginia, is known round the world for its role as Colonial Williamsburg, an “American shrine” which was the capital of the “oldest, biggest, wealthiest colony in the New World.” until that capital was moved to
Richmond in 1780. The original vision to rebuild Colonial Williamsburg came to the Bruton Church rector in the 1930s, William A.B. Goodwin, who brought his idea to John D. Rockefeller Jr.who brought money and commitment to “one of the most comprehensive historic preservations in the world.”
NUMBER FOUR is Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a town in the Rocky Mountains which has symphony and chamber orchestras, an opera and “a world class summer festival that brings first chairs from all over the country to perform in a smashing new concert hall at the base of a mountain.” And there’s all that light dry snow that first made it a skiing destination.
Number Five is Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where the biggest brains in marine science draw nature lovers to a former whaling center.
Number Six is Marietta, Ohio, a historic gateway to the west that “beguiles with paddle-wheelers, art walks and roast corn.”
COMING IN at Number Seven is Beaufort, South Carolina, where antebellum houses reflect the nation’s history and surviving Gullah folkways hark back to what long-ago slaves brought with them from West Africa.
Number Eight, Sedona, Arizona, was once a town devoted to the fie arts, set in some of the grandest scenery in the West. Today, Zen calligraphy, cowboy bronzes and Navaho tapestries exist in harmony.
Number Nine, Nebraska City, Nebraska is “a proud river town saluted by Lewis & Clark [that is] chockablok with unique museums.” Number Ten, Lanesboro, Minnesota, was once on its way out but has been revived; it is now known as the bed-and-breakfast capital of the state
The following two items came up during a web search for Yamboree on the WorldWide Web.
The population of this Northeast Texas town (normally around 34,000) swells to include nearly100,000 festival-goers each year. Word has spread far and wide – so far that cable’s Food Network featured the Yamboree on its program All
American Festivals. [The population figure applies to Upshur County, not Gilmer.]
Gilmer, Texas is situated quietly in the midst of deeply wooded East Texas. For most of the year, the town of 5000 is quiet, with little activity stirring among residents. However, once a year since 1935, usually the second week of October, the town comes alive with music, parades, carnival rides and exhibits honoring the famous Gilmer yams.
Nothing to argue with there, except to note that “third week of October” would be the more accurate date, and there is plenty of “activity” among our residents the year round.
All things considered, I think the Yamboree holds up well in comparison with the Smthsonian’s list of small town festivals..
A final historical note:
The East Texas Yamboree began in 1935 when several non-profit organizations in the Gilmer area organized a festival to coincide with the Texas Centennial Celebration. Per the festival’s name, this area of East Texas flourished with yams in the early twentieth century. The community takes pride in the yearly event, with volunteers sustaining most of the organizational and maintenance duties involved with the Tradition and East Texas charm keep the more than 100,000 yearly Yamboree visitors coming back again and again.