PHOTOS — How the Pecan Festival got its start

Published 12:34 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

What is now the premier event for the City of Groves started in 1969 as a one-day celebration in the parking lot of a bank.

And to see it grow into something that spans across two weeks has been amazing, said Brad Corley, who chaired the festival in its earlier days.

“There’s been so many activities over the years that would take place in conjunction with the festival, you couldn’t schedule all that in one weekend,” Corley said. “So we started developing activities over the weekends.”

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But why pecans?

It pays tribute to a 385-acre tract of pecan trees that ultimately helped shape the City of Groves.

MORE COVERAGE: Plenty to get excited about. 52nd Groves Pecan Festival nears kicks off.

According to a guide published by the City in 1994, the city’s first settler came in 1886. But it was in the early 1900s when a developer called on a nursery to plant 6,000 pecan trees, making it the largest pecan grove in Texas. Asa D. Groves and his brother James used the beauty of the trees to begin creating streets and selling lots to populate a city that now houses more than 16,000 people.

And those residents now wait each year for the annual festival, which unfortunately was canceled last year due to COVID.

It wasn’t the first time the event was closed. In 2005, Hurricane Rita hit when the festival was to take place. By the time the storm had passed, Southeast Texas was little more than toppled trees, downed power lines and houses damaged by Category 3-strength winds.

It was that year, Corley said, that organizers decided to have Rita Fest instead. Shortly after the storm, they cleaned up Lions Park where the festival resides and created a community event where children could play outside without danger of stepping on tree limbs or power lines.

In 2007, Hurricane Ike didn’t stop the festival, but it certainly changed it. Neighboring Bridge City suffered catastrophic flooding. That year, the event paid homage to Bridge City residents, and all children from Bridge City had free access to the carnival rides.

“It’s been going on for 50-plus years now, and it’s a mainstay,” Corley said.

Some of the events that have come, gone or stayed include: pageants, an ugly beard contest, an anything goes contest, a Twister contest, a cooking with pecans contest, bike races, fun runs, tennis tournaments, softball tournaments and parasailing.

This year’s pageant drew 67 applicants.

And funds from the festival go back into the community, Corley said. They support local schools, various scholarships, FFA programs and other community events.

The 77th legislative session designated the event as the Texas Pecan Festival. And even though it’s still referred to by its original name, it has now become truly a one-of-a-kind event.