One Saturday morning in September when I was a student at the University of Arkansas, I took a drive to Tahlequah to visit my sister. I detoured down highway 45 and the road curved around the rolling green foothills of the Ozarks past yellow and green cornfields. As I came around a curve, I spotted a crowd gathered on a hillside. Intrigued, I parked near a quaint post office. A rich, earthy sweet smell drew me to a pavilion where people dressed in pioneer clothes squeezed the juice from sugar cane and cooked it into sorghum. I’d stumbled onto the Cane Hill Harvest Festival.
Cane Hill is a tiny, unincorporated community southwest of Fayetteville. It is the site of one of the earliest settlements in Washington County and the location of Cane Hill College, the first institution of higher education in Arkansas. On November 28th, 1862, Union troops and Confederate soldiers clashed in a small battle around Cane Hill that became a precursor to the Battle of Prairie Grove.
The small community takes pride in its roles in education and the Civil War in Arkansas but also in its pioneer history. The third weekend in September, the past comes alive as Cane Hill holds its annual Harvest Festival.
Cane brakes are a natural part of the landscape of the area and the earliest settlers turned the cane into sorghum molasses, a sweet staple in pioneer life. At the festival, watch as cane still grown in Cane Hill is boiled into syrup. Local volunteers stay busy making other staples of pioneer living as well. You can watch demonstrations on how to make hominy and lye soap, spinning and weaving, lace art and woodcraft.
The festival boasts a full, two-day schedule with events for everyone beginning with an all-you-can-eat country breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Then wander the grounds of Cane Hill College and play horseshoes, visit the petting zoo and tractor show, let the kids participate in the children’s games, and peruse the arts and crafts vendors where items must be handcrafted or hand painted.
Once you’ve visited the college grounds, walk down the hill to the newly renovated A.R. Carroll Drugstore, which houses the quilt show and enter the raffle to win a quilt. The drugstore also houses the Wool and Wheel Handspinners Guild demonstrations and the Dogwood Lace Guild.
Next door to the general store is the new Cane Hill museum. Normally only open on Saturdays, the museum will be available for viewing all day Saturday and Sunday and pre-bottled sorghum will be available for purchase.
One of the highlights of the festival is a living history presentation by the Washington County Historical Society. Live music will also be part of the festival with multiple bands scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Fall is the time for festivals in Arkansas, and there are many to choose from, but Cane Hill Harvest Festival is unique in its live demonstrations and focus on pioneer living. It is family friendly and free to attend. The festival will take place on Cane Hill College’s historic grounds and the A.R. Carroll Drugstore and Cane Hill Museum on September 19th and 20th. Follow the rich scent of sorghum and enjoy stepping back into Arkansas history.
Cane Hill Harvest Festival Information
Dates: September 19th and 20th, 2015
Location: Cane Hill is 3.5 miles from the junction of Highway 62 and Highway 45 in Northwest Arkansas, west of Fayetteville and east of Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Cost: Admission and parking are free.
Don’t Miss: Sorghum demonstrations, Washington County Living History Presentation, Country Breakfast and more.
More information: www.canehill.weebly.com