MCCLURE — The 130th McClure Bean Soup Festival & Fair is happening now and will continue through Saturday. The roots of the event, which has been dubbed a living memorial to all veterans of all wars, began as a public celebration held by the Veterans of the Civil War of McClure, in 1891. Since that first celebration, bean soup has brought tens of thousands of visitors to McClure.
The festival is named for the soup that was a staple for Civil War soldiers. Today, volunteers keep things authentic by taking shifts stirring the soup in 35-gallon iron kettles over a battery of furnaces that are wood-fired.
According to fair President Sandra Fisher, the bean soup — which is “made by an old Civil War recipe” — remains a strong tradition for fairgoers each year, including her.
“My grandparents lived in McClure and everyone — aunts, uncles and cousins — would go to Grandma and Pap’s,” she said. “We would all walk to the Bean Soup Festival. You could say that it was a family tradition.”
Adam Ewig, the festival and fair vendor coordinator, said he has been involved with the organization for the last five years, and served in the vendor coordinator role for the past three. He also grew up in McClure and always looked forward to attending the festival, and in particular always looked forward to the parade, where creativity blossomed. “It is a draw to our quiet little hamlet,” he said, “and when this event seems to come to life.”
But he agreed the event’s namesake is what keeps it all connected to its roots.
“Although times and faces have changed, the Bean Soup is an event steeped in history,” he said, adding that the bean soup is an “acquired taste to some,” and he didn’t try it himself until a dozen or so years ago. “Since then,” he said, “Bean Soup week isn’t complete until I’ve had a few bowls at least.”
The festival became an official Pennsylvania State Fair in 2008, adding plenty of agricultural showcases to its offerings.
“I am always anxious to see our entries at the Exhibit Hall,” Fisher said, adding that she was also looking forward to the homemade ice cream contest this week, which she said is “starting to be like a Family Feud – friends and family talk about it all year.”
The festival and fair in general is a beloved celebration for many reasons.
“I believe this event is a ‘homecoming’ for a lot of people in McClure and the surrounding communities,” Fisher said. “I am looking forward to seeing old friends and family and also enjoying a hot bowl of bean soup!”
The bean soup is served daily beginning at noon. Concessions open at 4 p.m. each day. There is no admission fee and parking is available for a nominal fee.
For the remainder of this week, visitors can enjoy the Civil War Tent, a chainsaw carver, amusement rides (BOGO wristbands available Thursday), exhibits, concessions, and more.
Today, being Veteran’s Day at the fair, free bowls of Bean Soup will be given to the first 200 veterans. Friday is Youth Day and Saturday is Homecoming Day. On Saturday, an 11th generation descendent of Abraham Lincoln will give speeches at 4 and 6:30 p.m.
There is also free entertainment each evening. Today, the stage will feature Hawkshaw Hawkins Jr. with Make Mine Country at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.; on Friday, Best Friends Girl will perform at 7 and 9 p.m.; and on Saturday, the Ole 97 Johnny Cash & June Carter Tribute Band is scheduled for 7 and 9 p.m.
Volunteers and coordinators were able to keep the festival going last year, in spite of COVID, which Ewig said “brought some big challenges.”
“Our board worked hard to meet and exceed the guidelines set by the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control to provide as safe an event as possible,” he said. “But it proved that when we all work together great things are possible.”
Precautions will continue to be taken this year. Masks are not required. Fisher said they have left the decision to the individual, based on their personal comfort level and health concerns.
For more information, visit mcclurebeansoupfair.com or McClure Bean Soup Festival & Fair on Facebook.