West Side Nut Club Fall Festival
Every October the Nut Club organizes and sponsors a Fall Festival. This is a week-long gala on the west side of Evansville along Franklin Street with free entertainment, carnival attractions, over 126 food booths, amateur talent competitions and on the last day, a huge parade. This event attracts over 200,000 people to the West Side and is considered to be one of the largest street festivals in the United States.
Food booths are operated by non-profit or not-for-profit groups from all over the area. This is the major fundraiser for the majority of the organizations represented.
After three successful years of holding Halloween type Festivals, a handful of West Side businessmen decided, in 1921, to form an organization that would handle the duties of putting together successful Fall Festivals and “to initiate, promote, and support any and all movements which are for the betterment of the West Side of Evansville, Indiana; also for the betterment of Evansville as a whole…”
The first West Side Nut Club Fall Festival was billed as a Halloween Night, Halloween Carnival, masked ball and even one Nut Clubber compared it to the Mardi Gras. The event was a one night affair and consisted of a parade of costumed people that started at 8 p.m. followed by a Halloween Mask Ball lasting until 11:30. The crowd was estimated at 25,000. Cost of the project was $340.98 but was considered to be worth thousands of dollars to the West Side. The Nut Club assessed each member $10 to cover the debt.
After the first Festival, The Nut Club continued with the one or two night affairs until after World War II. During most of those Festivals, the Nut Club coordinated the decorations, agricultural exhibits & parades and the Burdette Post of the American Legion sponsored street dances. Also, none of these early Festivals generated any profits for the Club.
For the first time ever, three rides (Ferris wheel, merry-go-round & mini autos) were brought to the 1940 Festival and were placed on 12th Ave. They also had an exhibit of caged animals, some concessions and circus acts.
A Patriotic Festival was held in 1942. A Navy recruiting station was placed in the First Federal Bank and pictures of servicemen displayed in the merchants windows. This was the first year that the rides were placed in the Library Park.
The Festivals were halted during the war years of 1943, 44 and 45. In 1946, the Festival was started again and was the first time that the Festival had activities from Monday through Saturday. This was also the first year for the Festival Book.
1947 was the Silver Anniversary Festival. This year they crowned Doris Buckman as the first Fall Festival Queen. After these 25 years, the Nut Club finally made a profit of $340.69!
During the 1950s the Festival started growing quite rapidly. Non-profit organizations are first mentioned as having booths on Franklin St. The Amateur Hour started in 1950. Big name entertainers were brought in during the ’55, ’56 & ’57 Festivals. Miller Amusement was contracted and brought in more and bigger rides in 1958.
1971 was the Golden Anniversary Festival and was the first time the Nut Club netted $20,000.
With new technologies and a larger Nut Club roster, the Festivals keep getting bigger and better. A lot of new activities have been offered over the recent years; some have lasted and some have not. Some of the activities and the year started are listed below:
1970 Tug of War, 1973 Band competition, 1975 Cheerleader competition, 1984 Road Race, 1985 Lighthouse Parade and 1990 Special Kids Day, 1999 Sunday Family Matinee.
The Nut Club has grown from that handful of West Side businessmen in 1921 to 300 active members, over 100 Honorable Life members and three Honorary members. “From Small Acorns, Large Oaks Grow” is their motto.
Since the humble days of the ’20 and ‘30’s, the West Side Nut Club is now able to fund projects and make donations throughout the city.
Normally, the Fall Festival commences on a Sunday and runs all week. Each day there are several music and dance performances by local bands and youth. Saturday, the last day of the festival, is marked by a parade.
The main attraction of the festival is the food, with offerings of fair standards like corn dogs and corn fritters to the more unusual such as chocolate-covered grasshoppers, brain sandwiches, and alligator stew. In addition to the rides are many different games with various prizes.
However, the Nut Club website indicates it attracts over 200,000 people each year.