HEADLINE: Community celebrates Arrow Rock’s 50th Heritage Festival

CUTLINE 1: R. Gordon Tompkins spins sheep's wool on a point at Arrow Rock's 50th Heritage Festival on Saturday in Boonville. He has been spinning at Renaissance festivals and heritage festivals for 35 years.

CUTLINE 2: Deborah Knight stands next to her booth of art dolls, where she explained how her dolls were made and why she enjoyed the hobby at Arrow Rock's 50th Heritage Festival.

By Hannah Wilson

Boonville Daily News

Despite the bite of a brisk October wind and the slate sky threatening rain, people came out in droves to celebrate Arrow Rock’s 50th Heritage Festival.

The small Missouri town with a population of 52 people suddenly increased 10-fold as people streamed in from Boonville, Columbia, Harrisville, St. James and other communities to experience 18th century Arrow Rock. People from as far as Hallsville and St. James brought their families to come explore the town, learn more about its history, and to experience the historic ambience and friendliness that makes Arrow Rock’s Heritage Festival a tradition that stands the test of time.

This annual family-friendly 18th century festival is sponsored by The Friends of Arrow Rock, Experience Arrow Rock, the Village of Arrow Rock and Missouri State Parks. Organizer Dan Auman said an average of 3,000-5,000 people attend the festival to enjoy old-time crafts, more than 70 vendors selling everything from popcorn to turkey legs, and gun battle reenactments.

Arrow Rock is one of 23 Missouri towns on the historical registrar and has an Architectural Review Board to ensure any new building or renovations maintain the community’s historical qualities. As one walks through the streets, it could be easy to forget about the 21st century, surrounded by historical buildings, people in old-fashioned attire and the smell of roasted meat.

Deborah Knight of Glasgow has attended the Arrow Rock Heritage Festival for the past five years to sell her hand-crafted dolls and meet new people. She said doll making became popular as a hobby with the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

She enjoys meeting friendly faces and other vendors that share her passion for crafts. As people rushed around Knight’s stall, she explained how her dolls were made, why she enjoyed the hobby and why she loved the Arrow Rock Heritage Festival.

“It’s a festival put on for a good cause and draws good people to it,” she said.

Gordon Tompkins has spent 35 years weaving at Renaissance festivals and heritage festivals, but this was his first year at Arrow Rock’s celebration. He moved away from larger Renaissance festivals because the atmosphere was more of a party and he feels that Arrow Rock has recaptured the authentic atmosphere. At Arrow Rock, children and parents can view the crafts on display. Parents allowed their children to talk with entertainers, inquire about the crafts and play with the other youth at the festival. Tompkins said it is a safe, child-friendly environment, and he is eager to bring his weaving back to next year’s festival.

Like Knight and Tompkins, Kirk Isenhour also loves the people he meets at the festival. He is a self-described “weekender” who is from Kansas City but has a house in Arrow Rock. Kirk is on the Lyceum Theatre board of directors and loves attending the Arrow Rock Festival because of the historic feel and hometown welcome. There were numerous things to learn and see, from learning how to spin wool from Gordon Tompkins, to learning how to weave from Laura Coats. Watching reenactments of gun battles to watching live, old-fashioned, country music.

Linda Coats quickly ducked into her booth when drops of cold rain started to fall on her 18th century dress and a homemade shawl. She has been attending the festival for five years to sell homemade woven shawls, scarfs, hats and a variety of other merchandise. Coats raises Alpacas, so finding something to do with the wool they produce naturally became an interest. She started attending the festival, because she enjoyed meeting a variety of people and teaching them about weaving. Coats said she enjoys how people at Arrow Rock want to learn as she displays the craft of weaving alpaca wool.

Troy Wilson proudly displayed his mayor’s badge as he keeps a watchful eye over the axe throwing competition. Wilson has participated in Mountain Men events for 45 years, including Indian heritage festivals and black powder rifle shoots. He has only been to Arrow Rock a handful of times but only has positive things to say about his experience. He was named mayor by the festival board because of his favorite, frequently worn top hat. He thoroughly enjoyed the title.

Wilson said this 50th heritage festival seems to be more alive than ever. He has seen more kids and has been stopped by more people than in his previous years, or in his previous participation in other similar events. He looked forward to coming back next year.