Blast from the past historical feature: What ever happened to Harvest Days?

Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society brings us different historical tidbits from Western Springs. In this edition, we look at the demise of a popular Western Springs festival that gave neighbors just a little too much trouble, eventually forcing its cancellation.

Harvest Days started out in 1980 as an end-of-summer three-day festival featuring musical groups, carnival rides, an antique car show, square dancing, hayrides, a family bicycle race… and the always crowd-pleasing dunk tank. Sponsors included the Western Springs Rotary Club, the Western Springs Business Association and the village’s Recreation Department.

By all accounts, the festival was a big success, prompting the Rotary Club and Business Association to begin making plans for a five-day event the following year. In addition to the previous year’s activities, the 1981 festival would include the selection of a Harvest Days Queen, Blythe Steele.

Unfortunately, the 1981 festival was plagued by rain on two of its five days. But, hot air balloon demonstrations and an arts-and-crafts show still helped draw good crowds.

As plans were being drawn up for the 1982 fall festival, the Western Springs Park District held a public meeting on the subject. At it, residents living near Spring Rock Park voiced complaints about the prior year’s carnival rides, which had been set up across the street from homes on Central Avenue. As a result, the Board decided that the carnival should be moved further west. The Board also indicated that no work could be performed at the festival between midnight and 8 a.m. Finally, the Board required the Harvest Days Committee to provide insurance covering any potential damage to the Park grounds. 

While these new stipulations almost prompted the cancellation of the 1982 event, the Committee was able to address the Park Board concerns and the festival was held in its new location in Spring Rock Park. 

In 1983, the festival events included a kick-off parade for the first time. Unfortunately, rain dampened the Festival, closing down the carnival for 25 percent of its scheduled hours. But, the event returned in 1984, bigger and better. In addition to the parade, carnival rides, and musical groups, the festival introduced a “petting zoo,” a skydiving demonstration, and rides in a tethered hot-air-balloon.  

In 1985, the Festival included a concert sponsored by Sears, as well as an appearance by ABC-TV’s Joel Daly and his country-western band. Even Garfield Goose was booked for that year. 

While the popular event was scheduled to take place again during the Village’s 1986 Centennial Celebration, no one could have anticipated its demise. For a variety of reasons, a “liability insurance crisis” arose throughout the United States, which affected a diverse range of organizations. Many could no longer offer their services due to the prohibitive cost or unavailability of liability coverage.

Without its previously affordable liability insurance, the Harvest Days Committee was forced to cancel its 1986 event just weeks before the scheduled start. So ended the Harvest Days tradition in Spring Rock Park.  

Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. To view prior stories, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.

This content was submitted by a member of the community. We’d like to hear from you, too! To share stories, photos, video or events for our calendar, please email Community News Manager Michael Cronin at michael@aggrego.com or use the online submission tool.

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