Chilly winds early, but otherwise ‘perfect’ day for festival
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Attendance at the Williams Station Day celebration, held last Saturday, October 27, along Pensacola Avenue didn’t set any attendance records. But, with the competition it faced from other area events, the fact that it almost did has organizers declaring the six-hour festival a huge success.
“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard estimates that we had 8,000 or 9,000 people here,” said Emily Wilson, executive director of Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event each year. “I’ve been told there are usually 10,000 folks, so to have this many people here with three other big events going on in the area — one in Elberta, one in Grove Hill and one in Brewton — it was really great.”
Atmore’s annual heritage festival, Williams Station Day had to compete for guests this year with the Elberta Sausage Festival, Pioneer Day in Grove Hill and Habitat for Humanity’s Zombie Walk fundraiser in Brewton.
Most of this year’s attendees who also attended last year’s festival remembered the rain and the chilly temperatures that followed it during the outdoor celebration. This year, the festival was blessed with clear skies and only an occasional cloud, at least during the late morning and afternoon hours.
“The weather was absolutely perfect,” Wilson said. “It was a Chamber of Commerce day. Maybe a little cool early, but a beautiful day.”
Many of the earliest arrivals wore thick coats or heavy sweaters and scarves to ward off the chilly winds that buffeted the festival area, blowing papers from booths and creating a staccato flapping of the Williams Station Day flags and banners.
“It feels a lot better now than it did when we first got here,” said Henry Dalton, who lives “between Freemanville and Poarch” with his wife and their two children, around noon. “It was pure cold this morning, especially for the kids, with all that wind. I’m glad it finally started laying low.”
As noon approached, crowds began to line up at the food vendors, where a range of items from standard carnival food, like Polish sausage and funnel cakes, to more exotic fare, like alligator meat, crab cakes and fried candy bars, could be purchased.
Arts and crafts of all sorts were available from many of the 107 vendors who set up shop at Williams Station Day, as were numerous snack items. Politicians, including both candidates for sheriff and the duo seeking the District 66 seat in the Alabama House, campaigned from underneath and outside tents.
One of the highlights of this year’s WSD celebration came during the opening ceremonies, when Atmore Mayor Jim Staff — who renamed the city for the day in honor of the whistle stop founded by William Larkin Williams in 1866 — presented one of the town founder’s direct descendants with the key to the city.
William Goff of Grand Bay, a first cousin of Williams (four times removed), accepted the ceremonial key before a gathering that included his daughters P.J. Anderson and Cindy Dubroc, as well as six other relatives — Maci Bosarge, Carolyn Massey, Lael Bosarge, Sybil Raye Anderson, Chip Anderson and Sheena Anderson.
“We are proud to have you here,” Staff said to Goff and his family. “This is great; this is history.”
Afternoon attendees enjoyed the country-rock music of Shane Harrell Band and the bluegrass of Silver Creek, which also drew a steady crowd of toe-tappers to the Fiddlers Tent, where they performed before and after their stage set. Young baton twirlers also drew a crowd.
Another highlight came when Sherry Sullivan announced the winners of the juried art voting, done by an anonymous team of judges from out of town, as well as the student art and student photography contests.
Jim Gay’s pottery creations were selected Best in Show, earning him $500 and a blue ribbon, while Brooks Barrow Studio took first prize and $300 with bowls made from Alabama marble. Three merit winners — Dale Ellis, Alex Alvarez and Andrea Guy — took home $100 each, as did Dianne Harrison, who won the Judges Award.
Alana Shelley won the student art contest, while Pia Gorme was the winner in the student photography competition.
The Chamber director and her assistant, Brandon Beachy, are already working on next year’s Williams Station Day celebration, each filled with enthusiasm over the success of their initial venture.
“We’re learning, based on feedback,” Wilson said. “Next year, maybe we’ll have it last until at least 4 p.m. (this year’s festivities ended at 3 p.m.). But, for this year being a transitional and formative year for us, I thought it went really, really well, a lot better than we thought it would be.”