PICKENS — The streets of historic downtown Pickens were packed with people from across the Upstate all showing up on a beautiful afternoon to take part in the annual Azalea Festival.
Hundreds of booths lined Main Street with vendors selling everything from the more traditional arts and crafts, breads and jams to the slightly less conventional “rapid-fire” marshmallow guns and teapots converted to wind chimes.
At the end of the street, the usual array of carnival rides were set up with adults and kids alike waiting in line for their chance to hop on the Ferris Wheel or try their luck on the mechanical bull.
“We come every year and we always have a good time,” said Pickens native Wes Manley who was attending the event with his wife and little girl. “Our daughter isn’t really big enough for most of the rides yet but she had a good time getting her face painted.”
Closer to the courthouse, two teen-aged boys carried out a battle royale with their newly aquired marshmallow guns while nearby, a pair of leashed dachshunds happily cleaned up their stray “bullets.”
“Hey, where did you get your guns?” Shouted another boy before heading off in search of the booth that sold them.
According to the festival’s website, the Azalea Festival had its beginnings in the spring of 1983 as a small, juried show called the “Mountain Arts & Crafts Show.”
It was organized by the Pickens Civitan Club was held in the north end of Pickens.
Later, in 1983, the then current Chamber of Commerce President and Pickens Civitan Club founder, Ruth Swayngham Hinkle, had the vision to convince the Civitans to move the show to downtown and invite other non-profit groups to participate.
Hinkle told of her vision at the annual Chamber banquet, “I see many different organizations having activities on closed off streets and parking lots all over town,” she said.
By enlisting the support of the Chamber as sponsor, the first Pickens Festival was held in 1984 with the Civitan Arts and Crafts Show, the Junior Assembly providing lemonade, the Jaycees, donuts and the Chamber giving out information.
Over the next few years the event attracted many more organizations and eventually expanded to the festival we all know and love today.