While the popular Strawberry Festival held each year on the grounds of the Historic Warrior Run Church is a fundraising event to keep the region’s rich colonial history alive, it too has a long history of its own.

The 39th chapter of the festival is this Sunday. It all began in 1980 when local residents wanted to raise support for historical research and preservation of the area’s Revolutionary War Era culture. Today, the proceeds continue to be used for preservation and restoration efforts for the church as well as the nearby Hower-Slote House.

Longtime volunteers come together each year the day before the festival to churn homemade ice cream and prepare a variety of strawberry desserts including shortcake, angel food cake, and pies.

Strawberries are purchased from local growers.

The festival, chaired by heritage society board member Wayne Greiner, will also offer hamburgers, hot dogs, and its world-renown ham barbecue, as well as a car show by the American Antique Car Club on the church grounds, a Chinese auction on the church’s porch, and a hymn sing with the old hymnals in the church at 1:30 p.m., led by Randy Watts and accompanied by Mike Yohn on the antique Reed pump organ made in Turbotville.

It’s not hard to imagine how such a festival has lasted for so many years.

“I think people just love bringing their lawn chairs and sitting in the grove,” said Jane Koch, president of the Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society. They enjoy meeting new people and connecting with old friends.

“It’s just an old, hometown event,” she said. “You’re not rushed. You can just relax and enjoy the event.”

Heritage society member Betsy Watts said in good weather, people come and stay for hours. 

“People just sit around and chat,” she said. “It’s a really fun day.”

In fact, the event has become such a tradition that many people still come, she said, even when it’s cold and rainy (like last year).

Available for purchase at this year’s event will be regional historical books from Wennawoods Publishing, and those attending the festival can take tours of the historic church and the adjacent cemetery, which contains graves of a number of people who had lived during the local Revolutionary War battle of Fort Freeland.

According to Watts, the church began as a Presbyterian church in the 1700s in a building along the river in Watsontown. That building, as well as another built on the current grounds, were both destroyed by fire. The current structure was built in 1835 and the inside is still as it looked at that time.

Koch said the heritage society officially acquired the Historic Warrior Run Church from the state last year, so funds are especially appreciated now so they can continue to maintain the building as well as the grounds. This year, she said proceeds from the festival will likely be used to replace an aged mower used to maintain the grounds, and for the construction of a new sidewalk from the church to the service building.

But aside from monetary donations, Koch said there continues to be a need for new volunteers – a new generation to keep history alive.

Concerning the church, she said, “It’s such an important piece of history in Northumberland County.”

“We’re lucky we still have it,” she added.

The main goal of the heritage society, which also runs the award-winning Heritage Days in October each year, is education, Koch said.

Throughout the year, individuals and groups are encouraged to schedule a tour. The church can also be rented for weddings, and is the site of four services a year – a sunrise service for Easter, one during the Sunday of Heritage Days, a Candlelight service the second Saturday of December, and a service during the annual Strawberry Festival.