The History of the Frankfort Fall Festival
What is Fall Fest?
Each year during Labor Day weekend, over 250,000 visitors gather to the charming Village of Frankfort to enjoy the Frankfort Fall Festival.
The festival welcomes over 300 artisans from all over the United States to exhibit their elite products and services. ADMISSION IS FREE and there is something for everyone from carnival rides to main stage entertainment, to walking tacos and funnel cakes, Frankfort Fall Fest has it ALL!
If you grew up or live in the 60423 zip code, you most likely think the last holiday of the Summer is called “Fall Festival”, and not Labor Day, and you would be correct. How did this come to be? This history of the award winning Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival, might help to answer that question and demonstrate how deeply it is rooted in the lives of the citizens of Frankfort and surrounding areas.
Prelude to the Fest
Dating back to 1935, when the Volunteer Fire Department hosted a Community Picnic at the Frankfort Grove near what is now Alsip Nursery on LaGrange Road. This was held in order to raise funds for the Fire Department in absence of taxing authority to secure funds for its operations. This event was not called “Fall Festival” but likely sparked the later development of a full blown community event.
The first time “Fall Festival” appeared was in 1950 when the community banded together to purchase a 20 acre park. They called this event The Frankfort 1890’s Fall Festival. The Community Picnic was moved in 1954 to Frankfort Park and the American Legion Post held a carnival and food fest to raise funds for a new building.
The Frankfort Chamber of Commerce was formed
In 1958 the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce was formed. They hosted a two day Town and Country Jamboree held in early October. Later on August 26th 1961, an outdoor German festival also sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce was named The Sauerkraut Day Jamboree or Sauerkraut Day. The title varies in the newspaper ads posted by the area merchants who donated prizes for the day. The Volunteer Fire Department staged competitions of horseshoe toss, tug-of-war, and water fights. St. Peter’s Church served up German cuisine of sauerkraut and frankfurters for the modest price of 25 cents. Hamburgers and soda was served in an adjacent tent by the Swimming pool committee while a German band from Joliet played theme appropriate music. The event was held in a vacant lot on Kansas street next to what was known as “Old Frankfort Tavern”.
The Sauerkraut and Wiener Day fundraiser was organized
Two years later, on August 31, 1963 the Sauerkraut and Wiener Day fundraiser was organized by the Frankfort Lions Club. Numerous civic groups provided the elements which put the “fun” in the fundraiser. The Babe Ruth League baseball game was held at the park, while game booths were managed by the Frankfort American Legion. The Lions club provided the dunk tank, and the Library Committee provided entertainment. The VFW American legion poured the beer. The evening was graced with a concert produced by the Lincoln Way High School and Frankfort Grade School bands. Dancing and merriment followed. This Event was last held on September 2, 1967…. end of prelude and beginning of something New.
The Big Event
1968 is the year that first marks the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival. The Village was celebrating Illinois Sesquicentennial on that Labor Day which fueled extensive community participation in this combined effort. The Lions Club held it’s Sauerkraut and Wiener Day dinner. The Park Committee sold the sweets. Softball games featured Pony League vs. Little League, accompanied by greased pig contest, sack races, and relay races. An orchestra played at the Veterans Building while attendees danced, some in the 1890’s costumes. Lincoln -Way Rocket club demonstrated their model rocket launch. The now familiar outdoor Artisans lined Kansas street selling handcrafted items. The Frankfort School gym hosted a Church service on Sunday, and The Frankfort Women’s club served lunch at the Veterans Memorial Building. Music played throughout the evening provided by Lincoln-Way High School, Barbershop quartets, and of course German Bands.
While the name “Fall Festival” sometimes included the words “Gay 90’s” and “Sauerkraut Day” over the intitial years, the enduring name “Frankfort Fall Festival” became its trademark and is still used today. It was and has always been a community wide event focused on bringing people together and funding civic projects throughout the years.
Fall Fest gained momentum in crowd size and popularity. In the mid-70s crowd size was estimated at 40,000 and more than doubled this number in the early 1980’s. By 2004 the crowd size peaked at an estimated 300,000. The popularity of the event was not limited to fair patrons. The exhibitors grew in number as well. In the late 70’s, 400 exhibitors competed in the jury process for one of the 120 booths available. The number of applications increased as did the available space for booths. In 2004 there were 300 crafters hailing from 36 states and Canada.
Honored with the Governor’s Hometown Award
In 1989 the Chamber of Commerce’s Frankfort Fall Festival was honored with the Governor’s Hometown Award. The State of Illinois awards this honor to community projects that improve the Villages quality of life. Based on the Volunteerism that supports the project, the judges evaluate all aspects of the event and compare groups from all over the state. This was a proud and humbling recognition of the hard work and dedication of the Frankfort community.
Top 200 Festivals in the county
In 1997 Frankfort Fall Festival was recognized in the Top 200 Festivals in the county. By 2004 the Fall Fest broke into the top 100 festivals in the country. We have been in the Best of Festivals ever since that time, weighing in at #3 in 2019. In 2021 the Sunshine artist named Frankfort’s Fall Festival #5 in the top 100 festivals of the decade in the USA. Glowing praise indeed!
in 2020 for the first time in 52 years that Fall Fest was not be held.
in 2020 for the first time in 52 years that Fall Fest was not be held. Covid-19 has caused numerous closures of large events. Out of respect for what Fall Fest has meant to this community and hope for it’s continuation in the future, the Historical society created an exhibition detailing the history and workings of the Fest. A complete Timeline of the events that shaped the current Fall Festival was posted at this exhibit at the Frankfort Area Historical Society Museum. Those who came to visit saw the display of stories, memorabilia , and pictures and LEGO display depicting the elements of “Building an Award Winning Festival”
in 2020 for the first time in 52 years that Fall Fest was not be held.
Fall Fest returned in 2021 with all the elements of prior festivals. The vendors, the carnival, the parade and beer garden complete with a food court were all in place. Currently plans are moving forward for Fall Fest 2022 which promises to be of award winning status.
An event the size of Fall Fest requires hours of preparation and cooperation by the Village, Fire and Police Departments, also, the Downtown businesses, Schools, Library, Park District, Historic Society, Civic groups and a massive Volunteer base. This gives evidence to the fact that if your zip code is 60423, you are at most, one degree of separation from the Fall Fest. This event is a community exercise in cooperation and participation. Most likely why you tend to think of “Labor Day” weekend as “Fall Fest”
Photos from past Fall Fest
More Resources about Fall Fest