Laura Dean Bennett
Due to Covid-19, there was no Little Levels Heritage Fair this year, but Ruth Taylor and friends of the festival are busy planning for a triumphant return in 2021.
For more than 20 years, the LLHF has attracted the people of Pocahontas County and visitors from far and wide.
The Pocahontas County Horse Show held in Hillsboro in 1915 was the inspiration to recreate a fair to celebrate Little Levels’ heritage.
It’s always been held the last weekend of June in picturesque Hillsboro.
The date was selected to coincide with the birth date of Little Levels’ most famous daughter – Pearl S. Buck.
Born on June 26, 1892, in the Stulting family home in Hillsboro, Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker Buck was a Pulitzer prize winning author who became the first American woman to receive a Nobel Prize for literature in 1938.
The festival is known for featuring some of the best live old-time music – Richard Hefner and the Black Mountain Blue Grass Boys, Homer Hunter and Friends, The Viney Mountain Boys, the Bing Brothers featuring Jake Krack, Bill Hefner and Family, Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters and Uncle Gary and the Front Porch Pickers which keep everyone’s feet tapping.
Just what you’d expect at a festival like this – there were beautiful crafts, traditional games lots of delicious food and even a fireman’s parade of antique cars and tractors, floats and horses.
But this year, the last weekend of June came and went with no Little Levels Heritage Fair, and we were the poorer for it.
It took a world-wide pandemic, Covid-19, to cancel it – but cancel, it did.
Well-known Hillsboro resident, Ruth Taylor, was President and Director of the Little Levels Heritage Festival until 2017, when she turned over the reins to Rev. Andrew Price, minister of Oak Grove Presbyterian Church.
Ruthana Beazley is Vice President and Jacob Hyer is Secretary/Treasurer.
“I started the fair back in 1998,” Taylor said.
“My cousin was CEO of the State Fair of West Virginia and gave me a photo of the old Hillsboro Horse Show from 1915 and it gave me an idea.
“The Hillsboro Horse Show was first held in 1913, and my grandparents had stock in that association.
“Louise McNeel, Opal Moore, Wilda Chappell and I were working on the Pearl Buck Birthday Celebration when I mentioned that I thought we should recreate the fair,” Taylor remembered.
“Louise immediately said ‘let’s do it!’
“Wilda and Opal agreed, as long as we didn’t have a bunch of night meetings.
“Johnny Hill became involved as long as we stuck to the history and heritage of the area.
“And we all agreed that there should be no commercial entities.
“Some of the first officers were Don and Sharon Sharp, Elaine Diller, and Jim and Mary Johnson.
“Our mission was to promote the history, heritage, music, arts and crafts of the local area and serve as a fundraiser for local non-profits.
“And that’s never changed,” Taylor added.
The festival had a theme each year. Past themes showcased agriculture, forestry, music, black history, genealogy, early settlements and veterans.
“That first year, we chose an education theme to celebrate Hillsboro having the first four year high school in Pocahontas County in 1912 and the fact that Rev. Joseph Brown established the first combination male/female Academy west of the Alleghenies here in 1840,” Taylor explained.
1998 also marked an impressive anniversary – at 125 years old, Hillsboro was celebrated as being the oldest incorporated town in Pocahontas County.
It started out as Academy, Virginia, but, through the years, has been known as both Academy and Hillsboro, Virginia and West Virginia.
“We’ve created a book of the Old Home Places of the Little Levels, signs for the town, worked with the Methodist Church and Pocahontas County Historic Landmarks association to help restore the Pleasant Green Church and supported the efforts of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace,” Taylor proudly stated.
The 2020 theme was to have been “Agriculture Then and Now.”
“We plan to use all of this year’s plans for the 2021 fair,” Taylor said.
“Jim and Mary Johnson will be next year’s Parade Marshals and we will be honoring Sherman Beard at Vespers,” she added.
The traditional Vespers service wraps up the festival on Sunday evening.
It takes a lot of work to get a festival like this off the ground.
“We have a terrific board,” Taylor said.
“Our current board members are Andy Rice, Jake Hyer, Ruthana McNeel Beezley, Abigail McNeel, Susan Grant, Sandy and Larry Simmons, Gail Sears, Devan and Dustin Simmons, Doris Ann Starks, Ken Beezley, Cheryl Simmons, Trevor Swan, and me and my husband, Bob Taylor,” she said.
“And I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten to mention. I hope they will forgive me.
“Believe me, we appreciate them all!” she added.
A relatively new activity, the pie baking contest, which was started in 2017, was Ruthana Beazley’s idea, and it was an instant hit.
“We had great participation both years and, not surprisingly, no problem securing volunteer judges,” Taylor laughed.
Connie Rose is the current reigning champion, winning first place in the pie contest in both of its first two years.
And she’s looking to extend her bragging rights all the way from Hillsboro to Huntersville.
The pie Rose baked for last year’s Huntersville Traditions Day pie auction – a beautiful apple pie she called “The Challenge Pie” fetched a whopping $300.
Just to show you how exciting things can get at a pie auction, Rose’s Challenge Pie was actually won by accident.
Freda Jackson, who, having already purchased two pies, wasn’t even intending to bid on the Challenge Pie.
The bid was up to $280 when Jackson raised her hand.
She was waving at a family member.
Let that be a lesson to everyone attending auctions.
“But that apple pie was delicious and the pie auction benefits Huntersville Traditions Day, so it was all for a good cause,” Jackson said, smiling.
“And really, my granddaughter, Casey, paid for it.”
With the pie, came the challenge.
As the Challenge Pie was sold, Rose issued her challenge to the bakers of Huntersville.
“Connie challenged a Huntersville cook to take first prize from her at our next Little Levels Heritage Fair pie contest,” Taylor explained.
With this year’s festival being cancelled, it looks like pie bakers have another year to plan their entries.
“I’ve suggested that we divide the fruit and cream pies into separate categories for prize money and have a grand prize for the winners,” Taylor continued.
“Being familiar with Tracy Walker’s beautiful pottery, I had her make three pie plates, one for Connie, for having won two years in a row, and one each for the grand prize winners of the next two fairs,” Taylor said.
Fairs are important for a community.
Of course, they are lots of fun.
But they also encourage pride, and they make a positive economic impact.
The Little Levels Heritage Fair is about bringing the community together.
“It’s about appreciating our heritage,” Taylor stated.
“The Little Levels Heritage Fair will always be a place and time that our people can feel at home.
“It will always be a place to come home to,” she added.
“Our committee is open to everyone.
“Anyone willing to participate is invited to join.
“They’ll be given a voice and a vote.
“We need more members on our team and new ideas are always welcome,” Taylor concluded.
Anyone interested in getting involved should call Ruth Taylor at 304-653-8563.
Laura Dean Bennett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org