By Christine Bryant
Thousands will soon descend upon Westgate Park, eager to peruse classic cars, listen to local bands and of course, eat beans.
This year’s Historic Hilltop Bean Dinner will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 28, and will feature food, entertainment, vendors, crafts and the big attraction – bean soup and corn bread.
For two local residents, who are working behind-the-scenes to finalize last-minute preparations, the bean dinner is much more.
Rich Riley and Darrell Drone have long called the westside of Columbus home. They are both 1973 graduates of West High School, and both have homes and businesses in the Hilltop – Riley’s Style Quarters Barbershop on West Broad Street and Drone’s Blueberry Hill on Sullivant Avenue.
As co-chairs of this year’s bean dinner, Riley and Drone say this event is vital to the community and serves as a source of pride – both for those who live here and those who have moved on.
“It means a lot to the community because we have a lot of people who don’t live on the Hilltop anymore, but were raised on the Hilltop, and it gives them a chance to come back every year to the neighborhood,” Riley said.
The event also serves as a reminder and celebration of the neighborhood’s history, he said. While residents may be aware of the area’s Camp Chase origins, Riley says the bean dinner’s roots are also connected to this historical period.
Camp Chase served as a training camp for Ohio soldiers and later became a prisoner-of-war camp. As many as 150,000 Union soldiers and 25,000 Confederate prisoners passed through its gates during the Civil War, and the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery now sits just southeast of Westgate Park.
“That’s the reason we call it the bean dinner because their mainstay of dinner was beans,” Riley said.
To pay tribute to the historical aspect of the bean dinner, Dick Hoffman of the Hilltop Historical Society said the organization will have its annual display of Camp Chase and other Hilltop history at the bean dinner.
“We will have Steve Lewis, who will have a Civil War camp and be dressed in period uniform of the Civil War,” Hoffman said. “He does excellent educational presentations for the kids. I am calling this history central.”
Between 8,000 and 12,000 visitors are expected to go through Westgate Park during the 7-hour event – a challenge for organizers who say preparation is the key to success.
“We prepare two tons of beans,” Drone said. “It’s a good event for the community, and is a family festival for all westsiders.”
Returning this year is the classic car show, and Riley expects nearly 250 cars to participate.
Entertainment includes Joe Mohler, who sings 50s, 60s and 70s genre music, and will perform from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., followed by MoJo Theory from 2 to 5 p.m.
Hilltop business owners also will have the opportunity to show off their products and meet residents – something Riley says is essential to having a healthy business community.
“This is the biggest event the Hilltop Business Association puts on every year,” he said. “In turn, we try to help the businesses on the Hilltop. We’re an advocate for businesses here, and the bean dinner is something we can push out there so people can see what we do and how we do it.”
There is no cost to attend the Hilltop Bean Dinner, though food tickets for participating vendors are sold in dollar increments. A portion of those proceeds go to the Hilltop Business Association, a nonprofit organization.
Westgate Park is located at 455 S. Westgate Ave., Columbus.