35th Annual Pioneer Day

Old Fort's Pioneer Day Festival

A 5K run, a classic car show, a health & wellness fair, and a street dance are all activities being held in conjunction with Mountain Gateway Museum’s 35th Annual Pioneer Day festival on Saturday, April 27, in Old Fort. Begun in 1984 to celebrate and help preserve the history, heritage, and traditional lifestyle of people in western North Carolina’s mountains, Pioneer Day features Southern Appalachian crafts, live bands, food trucks, vintage farm tools and equipment, Civil War re-enactors, special exhibits, authors, animals, children’s games, and much more.


The family fun-filled festival will kick off at 10 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. on the museum’s grounds at the intersection of Catawba Avenue and Water Street, just a quarter-mile off Interstate 40 at Exit 73 in Old Fort.Festival admission is free, and parking will be available in the lot at the end of Water Street.

The day’s activities will get under way at 7 a.m. with registration for the 4th Annual Super Leader 5K race at Old Fort Elementary School, 128 Mauney Ave. However, online registration will be available until 8 p.m. Friday, April 26. Registration costs are $10 per youth age 18 and under ($15 on race day); $15 per adult ($20 on race day); and $40 for a family of four ($60 on race day). All proceeds will be used to benefit the school’s Leader In Me initiative.

The race, hosted by the Old Fort Elementary’s PTO, will begin at the school at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 27, and end at the school with awards to be presented there around 9 a.m. Awards will be given to the top three finishers of the race and to the top three males and females in a variety of age groups. For more information about the Super Leader 5K, please contact Old Fort Elementary School at 828-668-7646.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 27, the Route 70 Cruisers will open their annual Mountain Thunder Benefit Car Show on Commerce Street, behind Old Fort Town Hall. An estimated 200 to 400 classic cars will be on display during the show, which will be held rain or shine, until 2 p.m.

The grand prize is a Performance GM 350 engine, and the “Cruisers Prize” is a set of four new tires with a value up to $500, provided by Baker Automotive of Marion.

All vehicles are welcome to participate in the car show. All proceeds will benefit local charities. For more information about registration fees, vendor spots, door prizes, and the 50/50 drawing, please contact Phillip Poe at 281-798-4805.

The Health & Wellness Fair is a new component of Pioneer Day this year. Organized by the Old Fort and Catawba Basin Alliance (OFCBA), it will be set up in the old textile mill parking lot on Mauney Avenue between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and will feature a variety of local health and fitness organizations.

Free blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate checks will be available to festival-goers, as will free health information and children’s activities. For more information about the health fair, contact Cathy Moore at 281-798-7869.

At 10 a.m., the Pioneer Day Festival officially will begin with the bluegrass band Wingin’ It taking the stage in Mountain Gateway Museum’s creek-side amphitheater. Possum Creek Band, another bluegrass group, will perform at 11 a.m., followed by Coy Robinson & the New Mix at 1 p.m.

The Foothills Community Band, an all-volunteer, amateur concert band based in Marion, will make its Pioneer Day debut at 2 p.m. on the amphitheater stage, and the always-popular Friendship Dulcimers will play old-time favorites on the museum’s front porch at noon.

Traditional craftspeople—some of whom are long-familiar faces at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh and the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher—will demonstrate their skills throughout the day on Saturday, April 27. Among the crafts to be seen will be spinning, weaving, dyeing, blacksmithing, woodworking, rug braiding, quilting, needlework, apple butter making, doll making, jewelry making, and others. Vendors also will have crafts for sale.

In the food court area around the museum’s outdoor fountain and gazebo, food trucks and vendors will be selling hamburgers, hotdogs, Polish sausage, barbecue, fried-fish sandwiches and fish dinners, funnel cakes, kettle corn, and a variety of other foods and beverages.
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 379 will be encamped on Mountain Gateway Museum’s grounds throughout the festival weekend to display their uniforms, weapons, and equipment, and discuss Civil War camp life.

Various community organizations—including McDowell County Public Library, Keep McDowell Beautiful, the Old Fort Extension & Community Association, and the McDowell Trails Association, among others—also will have booths set up to showcase their services and offer memberships.

Rounding out the day will be a street dance, featuring live music by the Rewind Band of Old Fort. The dance, organized by the Old Fort Community Forum, is free and will begin at 4 p.m. and end at 7 p.m. on Catawba Avenue in the block between Commerce and South Railroad streets. For more information about the street dance, please contact Kirstie Thompson at 828-442-0397 or Beth Silver at 828-442-6878.

For more information about the 2019 Pioneer Day Festival, please contact RoAnn Bishop at Mountain Gateway Museum at 828-668-9259 or at roann.bishop@ncdcr.gov.