People at the Van Wert Peony Festival in the 1950s
Ohio Life

1932: Van Wert Launches its Peony Festival

In 1932, the city held the first installment of this event, which was revived in the 1950s following a 14-year hiatus and continues today.

Known as the “peony capital of the world” during the early years of the 20th century, Van Wert was renowned for the flowering blooms that filled the fields surrounding the city, but it wasn’t until 1932 that the community’s signature Van Wert Peony Festival was born.

First hosted in the northwest Ohio city on June 7 and 8, 1932, the celebration was organized by the Van Wert Garden Club. The festival took the form of a classic hometown extravaganza, complete with both a daytime and evening parade, dancing and a musical performance.

The festival became an annual tradition, until the outbreak of World War II caused it to be canceled in 1941. It took 14 years for the Van Wert Peony Festival to finally make its return in June 1955. Claire Miller, reporting for The Lima News, wrote in the newspaper’s June 9, 1955, edition that the celebration was back, and in a big way.

“Dancing high school bands, fleecy floats adorned with beautiful girls, martial drill teams, strutting drum and bugle corps, gaily bedecked automobiles, and finally, the dazzling spectacle of Queen Jubilee XI’s Coronation.”

An estimated 100,000 visitors attended that year. Even a curveball from Mother Nature that meant there were few peonies during the 1955 celebration could not dampen the spirit of the revitalized festival.

“Early blooming this year left the community with a minimum of peonies ... but didn’t seem to deter from the beauty or the gayety of the event,” Miller noted, adding that several girls on floats carried bouquets of the flowers.

While the festival endured periods of postponement over the years, it was resurrected again in 1992. These days it has grown to include other attractions, but the classic events such as the Grand Parade, crowning of the festival queen and garden tours remain. 

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