One of Missouri's oldest such gatherings, Cassville's Old Soldiers' and Settlers' Reunion, won't be making an appearance here this year. After being among the events in Cassville 134 years, the American Legion sponsors have decided that interest in the events and availability of personnel to run the reunion are just no long available.
Actually, the reunion started 136 years ago, with only two years missed during that time, once due to World War II, and again when a carnival did not live up to its contract.
Popular for many years, the reunion first started on Talbert Dairy land adjoining Flat Creek, that is now a park and part of the R-4 campus. Later, the land was owned by the Rowley family, but when a dispute about rental existed one year, the event was hurriedly moved to a location where Able 2 Products is now located.
The year after this location, the Irwin-Easley Post 118 bought Holman land on Highway 112, and the carnival and other events were moved to this location where it has remained.
Originally organized by the Cassville Commercial Club to recognize those who had been involved in the Civil War and were pioneer residents of the area, the reunion was a real treat for families that often came from long distances, camping during their stay in or around the grounds. Original attractions were mostly of a local nature, political rallies, youthful games, local foods and the Cassville Democrat's rest tent, which was an annual unit.
Water was as important in those days as it is today and was available in a spring that ran out of the side of the hill toward the north end of the grounds.
Music came from local groups, and square dancing was often provided on a platform on the south end of the grounds.
The actual date of the first carnival on the grounds is uncertain, but it is a fact that locating some of the rides among the tall trees was no easy task. An early carnival was the Paul Scrimager Shows, which made several appearances at the reunion. There were a couple of smaller shows that played here before Hale's Shows of Tomorrow arrived on the scene at the American Legion Grounds.
Hale later went on to larger show dates and was followed by Razorback Amusement Co. out of Arkansas, who also had shows annually at the Tonitown, Ark., Grape Festival after they pulled stakes in Cassville.
At the old grounds location, people got their initial look at hot air balloon ascensions, had an opportunity for first airplane rides and parachute jumps by a young man just out of the Airborne, Doc Gurley, who was related to the Barbers.
There were many events on the grounds in later years including the Barry County 4-H Achievement Show held in the Legion Home. When the post became bingo sponsors, the spaces were no longer available for this county-wide activity.
For a few years, the National Guard provided some exhibits for the reunion. One year, those on the grounds got their first glimpse of radar when a strong thunderstorm was tracked by a Guard unit at the midway.
Various organizations and individuals had displays of one kind or another for many years, which soon was not feasible due to attendance decreases.
Irwin-Easley relied on the reunion as the main source of income to pay for the Legion Home. The one year a carnival did not act on their contract, the post hit a financial snag that was remedied by a stalwart member, J. A. (Pop) Blalack, the local Chevrolet dealer, who went to the bank and signed a new note on the building debt for the post.
That was a rough year for the post with the Ladies' Auxiliary chipping-in out of its funds to make the payment on building insurance.
During later years, the post reserved the right to park cars in their contract and to have two food stands on the grounds, independent from what the carnival might have. One was for the Ladies' Auxiliary, the other was for the Cassville Lions. Both bantered each other with their public address systems for the food business off the midway.
For years, Ma Crowe, of Cassville restaurant fame, was in charge of the Legion's food service. Wives of members volunteered for duties at the nightly performances.
Another responsibility of the Legion was to provide sanitary facilities. This was accomplished with the old outhouse type, one for men and one for women. In later years, these became obsolete and were burned the final night of the reunion, only to have to be rebuilt for the next year since no sewer lines were available on the grounds.
Permanent facilities were added at a later date in the area of Memorial Park.
Continued next week