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Bean Festival Days in Johnson County

I have written about the annual Johnson County event called the Bean Festival several times in this column, but I hope you will bear with me on another journey down memory lane as I recall some of the activities of that time in local history.
Natives of Johnson County and those who have made this area their home for many years know that Johnson County was once called “The Green Bean Capitol of the World.” Those who are more recent citizens of Johnson County might not know that. Looking around at local farmland during the summer months now, there is no indication that snap beans were ever so important as a cash crop.
The growing of green, or snap beans, here began in the mid ‘30s. It increased through the ‘30s and ‘40s. In 1947 a survey showed that around 5,000 acres were being grown in Johnson County. The bean business continued to be a major enterprise for a few more years, but a decline in the number of pickers brought an end to it as a cash crop in this area.
According to a 1949 Bean Festival program book, the first commercial green bean crop raised in Johnson County was planted by Joe T. Ray, Arthur Potter, and Arthur Nichols. Ray was acting on a hunch and government market reports of the price of beans in the large terminal markets.
As I’ve written before in this column, the activities of the last few years such as the Sunflower Festival, the Pumpkin Festival, the Rodeo and Fair sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce serve as reminders to me of the Annual Bean Festival with all of its ceremony and bustle.
I remember the parade down West Main Street and up North Church Street ending at the fairgrounds. The Johnson County Fairgrounds were located about where Paul H. McEwen Football Stadium is now. That location was put to use as the site of the county’s annual fair during the early to mid part of the 1900s. The Johnson County High School band along with bands from a number of other area schools took part in the parade. Queen candidates rode on colorful floats in the parade. Each young lady was sponsored by a Johnson County civic club or organization.
In my mind’s eye I can see the festival as it was then: the noise, the rides and the excitement of the carnival; the horse show; the farm exhibits; and many other activities that are common to such an occasion.
The first bean festival here was organized as an annual event in 1947. I have a copy of the program from the September 2, 1948 Bean Festival Program book. The agenda and the folks on the program were interesting to me. The longtime WJHL-Johnson City Radio announcer Eddie Cowell was master of ceremonies. I remember his mellow baritone voice as he worked at what was then an important radio station for people who lived in this area.
After the parade at 10:00 a.m., the Queen and Float Awards were given. Judges for that event were Lieutenant Governor L. Y. Ballentine, Robert Porterfield and John McKinney. Porterfield was founder and director of Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. Ballentine was Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina and McKinney was Tennessee Junior Chamber of Commerce President.
Others on the program were W. D. Dotson with welcoming remarks, Judge Joe Worley with a response, Judge D. A. Vines who introduced the speaker and Congressman John J. Jennings who gave the principal address. A parachute jump by “Wimpy” Wiseman was also a part of the event. A concert and a drawing for a new automobile were also included in the day’s activities. Fireworks concluded the festival at 10:00 p.m.