It's Bean Dinner time!
New attractions in the children's area will be one of the highlights of the annual historic Hilltop Bean Dinner to be held in Westgate Park on June 27.
The Bean Dinner, which has roots going back to the end of the Civil War, draws hundreds of people to the Westside park for the day and the Hilltop Business Association plans to be ready for them.
"We've ordered a ton of beans to be cooked," said chairman Jerry Freeman. "We don't plan on running out of beans."
To go along with the beans will be cornbread - 20 cases have been ordered. And 2,000 hot dogs and buns. If anything is left over, it will be sold, Freeman said.
Activities get under way at 10 a.m. and run until 5 p.m. Last year's event was cut short by a strong storm that passed through the area around 4 p.m.
"We would have run out of beans if it hadn't started raining," said Freeman, who added, "We won't run out of beans this year."
This is Freeman's first year as chairman. He stepped in several months ago when last year's chairman stepped down.
"No one was stepping up," he said. "Someone had to do it, so I decided to volunteer. I'm going to do my best. We're going to have a bigger and better kids' area."
Immanuel Baptist Church managed that section last year for the first time "and this year they're going to bring in a sister church to help them."
Scouts at all levels will be involved. A couple of troops are working together to set up a rope bridge that is quite popular. Older scouts, those in the Explorer unit sponsored by the Columbus Division of Fire, will be handling First Aid.
"If they need help, we've got the fire department on Sullivant Avenue which we would call if it is serious," he said. "The Explorers can handle minor burns, scrapes, sunburns."
And the younger scouts, those at the Cub Scout level, will be cleaning up when it is all over.
The HBA also needs a lot of volunteers to help get things ready and to tear down afterwards, also to help make root beer floats and do many other tasks. As many as 200 volunteers can be put to use and by early June, sponsors had only about half that number. Anyone interested in volunteering that day should contact Karen Whitman at (614) 274-1275.
Businesses and nonprofit associations will be setting up tables to greet festival goers, while vendors will be set up around the pond.
There will be a variety of music throughout the day, and a car show featuring some classic cars. Trophies will be awarded at the end of the day in various classes.
Bean Dinner history
Bean dinners date back as far as the end of the Civil War when soldiers walking home from the war would stop at farms and plantations struggling to recover after the fighting. Often the only food the owners could share was beans and corn bread.
Veterans' groups began hosting bean dinners during their reunions. And politicians soon followed suit, seeing it as a way to do some campaigning and meeting people.
By the mid 1930s, the Hilltop Businessmen's Association, which had been treating customers to a day of entertainment at Buckeye Lake, was looking for something closer to home. A bean dinner was suggested and it took off. It became so popular that for several years, it consumed three days.
But when unrest hit the schools and businesses on the Hilltop declined, so did the Bean Dinner. It also became a footnote in local history when it was cancelled in the early 1970s.
After about a decade in mothballs, it was revived, with a venue at Franklin Heights High School.
But the sponsors wanted it closer to home and talked with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks to use Westgate Park. And it's been a staple of park activity ever since.
Rumors began to surface this year that there would be no bean dinner, Freeman said.
"I kept hearing rumors that we were not going to have one this year," he said. "I don't know why people wouldn't think we couldn't pull it off."
This year, a mural is being painted in the park and festival goers will be able to see it and watch the progress, Freeman said.
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