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Swift revisits the Johnson County Bean Festival

By:  Jack Swift

Johnson County Historian

In my memory I sometimes return to the time that many call the good old days. One of my most recent returns to that period called to mind the time when the green bean was king. It was then that Johnson County was dubbed “The Green Bean Capital of the world.” Many acres of land in Johnson County were dedicated to growing beans. Picking (harvesting) them enabled a person to pick up a bit of cash during the summer months when there were few opportunities for employment elsewhere.
Picking beans was a hot, labor-intensive job. Stooping all day in the hot sun was definitely not a fun thing to do. If my memory is correct, the growing of beans in Johnson County saw its doom, when machines were invented to harvest them but couldn’t be used on the steep fields that made up much of the county’s crop. Moreover, using machines to pick the beans prevented second or third pickings due to the vines being destroyed in the process. Even though the quality of the beans usually declined with each successive picking, the farmer could usually sell the beans at a reduced price.

During the time of so many beans being grown in Johnson County, a Bean Festival was held each fall to celebrate the importance of the bean crop in the economy of the county. The festival included a 4-H Fair and a horse show.  Just before beginning this column, I was looking through the Bean Festival program for 1955, which was held on Friday September 2 of that year. I noted that it had pictures of several farm scenes. Some of the scenes were of bean pickers in a field of beans.

According to the Program Book, the Mountain City Community Club organized the festival as an annual event in 1947. There were several distinguished guests including then Commissioners of Agriculture from three states: North Carolina (L. Y. Ballentine), Virginia (Park C. Brinkley), and Tennessee (Buford Ellington).

Music was aptly provided by the Langston High School Band, the Cloudland High School Band and the Jonesboro High School Band. Note the spelling of Jonesborough as it used to be.
Anyway, it was an exciting time in Johnson County and Mountain City when the Bean Festival rolled around each year. Town was filled with people and vehicles. As the old saying goes: “you couldn’t stir them with a stick.” Of course there were many more activities than was mentioned in this column. A queen judging contest, float awards, public speaking, a carnival to name a few more.