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The Laurel Festival at Winsted, Connecticut

The Laurel Festival is an annual event held in mid-June at Winsted, Connecticut that lasts for three days culminating with the crowning of a laurel queen at the end of a parade down Main Street that is held in the Down East Park. The event started more then 75 years ago when the first laurel queen was crowned on top of Platt Hill in Winchester on land owned by Corny Johnson, a local farmer.

This is an annual event that takes place in late June when the Mountain Laurel,Connecticut’s state flower is in bloom.  It has been held every year for the past 78 years except for a period during World War II.  The contest itself starts on a Friday Night and continues through Sunday unlike many contests of this nature is not a beauty contest but rather is based on scholastic or scholarship pageant.

The number of contestants in the Laurel Festival averages around 16 with the top three receiving scholarships with the winner receiving a $1,000 scholarship, the second receives $800 and the third receives $500.   

Originally the Laurel Festival was started by Frank DeMars, a local businessman who also petitioned the state legislature to name Winsted theLaurelCitythat has been its nickname since the 1930s.  The Laurel Queen was originally a girl from the local grade schools that had achieved a high scholastic standing.  Later it became a pageant with many high school girls vying for the title although scholastic standing of the girls carried much weight.

 

Although it is now held in Winsted for many years the Laurel Festival was held on top of Platt Hill on land owned by Corny Johnson a local farmer.  After World War II the festival was moved to Winsted.  The festival has become a local tradition in Winsted that is looked forward too by the townsfolk.  There are a series of events held throughout the weekend including a grand ball and culminates in a parade Sunday afternoon.  It literally becomes a case of counting the days until the festival recounted one of the contestants recently.

The girls are sponsored by local businesses, service clubs and fraternal orders who have turned out in droves to be supportive of the contestants.  The highlight of the festival is the parade that is held on Sunday afternoon after which the winner is announced in the Down East Park.  The parade begins at the west end ofMain Streetin theWest EndPark.  Each of the girls has her own float interspersed by marching bands and other groups.

Once the parade reaches theEast EndParkthe Laurel Queen will be crowned that starts a busy year that starts a week later when she makes an appearance at the Winchester Grange’s yearly Strawberry Festival.  Her duties then go on to making appearances at other town events throughout the year.

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