The premier event in the Powell community will celebrate its 20th anniversary this month.
The Powell Festival, set June 23 and 24, began in 1997 as Powell's Golden Days. At that time, Mayor Bill Nolan, in his introduction to a commemorative booklet, wrote, "Over the last 50 years, Powell has changed from a quiet country crossroads town to one of Central Ohio's fastest-growing and most popular bedroom communities."
Gary Vest began as the village of Powell's police chief on Memorial Day 1996. He asked City Council what its plans were to celebrate the village's incorporation in 1947, and they generously told him he could head the planning for a community event.
Vest wanted folks to go beyond neighborhood identities, so in the next year, he met with many people who helped him meet his goal to form a community identity and establish Powell's Golden Days, which evolved into the Powell Festival.
Vest said he feels the experience was one of the best opportunities he has had. He recalled several women who were founding members of the Powell Liberty Historical Society, telling me they were real treasures. They provided links to the past. Donna Lawrence, in particular, provided a history of police protection. Her father, Bill Muladore, became village marshal after the incorporation.
Memories of local residents appeared in a collection called "Glimpses of the Past" for the Olentangy Valley News. Stories focused on what life was like as a teenager, how farming had changed, descriptions of the popular confectionery and hardware stores, mention of failed bond issues for building a centralized high school (as Powell did not want to lose its local school), and memories of Memorial Day parades ending at the Powell Cemetery, where Girls Scouts and 4-H members placed bouquets of peonies on veterans' graves.
An interesting incident led to incorporation. A Feb. 9, 1947, article in The Columbus Dispatch reported a "battle of the neighbors which involved residents opposed to plans for the Powell Speedway and businessmen who saw it as a source of revenue and growth for the village. The Powell Community Booster Club was formed to lead the drive for incorporation."
Many who opposed the track at the old Powell Fairgrounds were appeased when the learned there would be a "big-time" track.
On Feb. 17, 1947, Powell officially became incorporated, following unanimous support from the Delaware County commissioners when they were presented with a petition signed by 134 electors (of 306 village inhabitants). The village, which was laid out in 1876, was about to "launch a new golden era," with the promise of streetlights, firefighting equipment and flourishing businesses, according to The Dispatch.
In the year following incorporation, the little community gathered in front of Powell Methodist Church to celebrate, with Gov. Thomas Herbert switching on the streetlights. He "lauded residents for recent advancements" before the streets were closed off for a street dance.
The Golden Days event had music and food as it does today, and was tied in with an arts festival at Murphy's Party Barn and Picnic Grounds on Powell Road. Other activities were located at North Park, now Adventure Park. Civic groups, businesses, government leaders and volunteers joined in a united commitment.
The first year or two, the event was held on Father's Day weekend, but it is now regularly held on the last Friday and Saturday in June at Village Green Park.
City Manager Steve Lutz, who came to Powell as village manager shortly after Vest's arrival, shared some unusual situations from early festivals. Equipment had to be loaned by Dublin and the Columbus Zoo. More recently, the festival was up and running Saturday following a destructive windstorm Friday. Successes include the introduction of fireworks in the fourth or fifth year and the blossoming of business support.
Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell Liberty Historical Society.