Dust, dirt, spiders, mosquitoes – and a pair of couches full of mice.
Those are a few of the things Stephanie Fothergill and her family were cleaning up late Tuesday afternoon in preparation for next week’s Wise County Old Settlers Reunion.
After sitting dormant for a year, campers have to undergo the rigors of cleaning out their cabins, which come in all shapes and sizes.
“It’s a lot of dirt work,” Fothergill said. “It’s a lot to clean up. It’s overwhelming at first.”
Reunion runs the final week in July every year at Joe Wheeler Park, off Farm Road 51 South in Decatur. It begins with the campers dinner Sunday night. Entertainment featuring pageants, washer tournaments, dancing and music will be held under the pavilion every night Monday through Saturday. A carnival will also run Monday through Saturday.
Parking is $5 every night. Visitors can enter by Farm Road 51 or Old Reunion Road. Those just dropping someone off and not parking are advised to enter by Old Reunion Road.
Carnival ride bracelets are $15 Monday through Wednesday and $20 Thursday through Saturday.
It will be the 122nd Reunion at the location.
“I don’t think it’s something you can explain to people,” Fothergill said. “You just have to show them.”
She was decorating the family cabin, the Hayes-Cox cabin, in a Hawaiian theme. Every year campers spruce up their cabins to a different style or theme. The cabins are judged and winners are announced Sunday night. After that follows a week of outside dining, playing games such as washers and dominoes, soaking up live music and conversation and visiting old family and friends.
Family members return home from all over the county to visit at Reunion.
“My favorite part is spending time with the family,” Fothergill said.
Her grandfather built a cabin at that site more than 50 years ago. They rebuilt a much larger cabin on the same site about 10 years ago. This year they’re adding beds for all the relatives who’ll be sleeping out among the oaks and stars next week.
“We’ll have a lot of people here,” she said. “We might get four generations of our family out here at once.”
What started in the 1860s as a reunion of ex-Confederate soldiers has undergone much change in 140 years.
“The first time I came here was in a wagon,” said Richard Ivy, a resident of Wise County for 73 years. “It was the only time I came to the city all year.”
He recalls going to sleep beneath the oaks at night and waking up in the morning to find fiddlers still playing music and all the grown folks still up. He said the difference between the Reunion then and now is “like daylight and dark.”
“There were no cabins at all,” he said. “People just slept beneath the old trees.”
Nowadays, 136 cabins stand throughout the post-oak grove. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simple wood or metal sheds with a screen mesh. Others look like two-story luxury gazebos, equipped with refrigerators and swamp coolers.
The name of the event has changed almost as much as fashion trends since its beginning. It was first called the Ex-Confederate Reunion. In 1883, it was changed to the Old Soldiers and Settlers Reunion. The Reunion has been held at its present site since 1891.
In 1943 Calvin Newton Workman, the last Confederate soldier died, and it was renamed to the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion.
The Reunion used to change locations every year. There are records of early Reunions held in Chico, Greenwood and other communities around the county.
“It has to be one of the oldest reunions in Texas,” said Rosalie Gregg, chair of the Wise County Historical Commission. “It’s not like anything you can describe. You have to see it for yourself.”
During early Reunions, residents reenacted Civil War battles and politicians gave fiery speeches. The battle reenactments began to slow down after 1908. That was the year Grady Helm had his arm amputated after a cannon backfired. The cannon was never used again at Reunion.
Despite the name changes, different forms of entertainment, the addition of cabins and coolers and the exchange of horse-drawn wagons for Fords and Chevys, the reason for Reunion remains: sharing good times and food with friends and family.
“I’ve been coming out here since I was born,” Fothergill said. “It’s tradition.”
Schedule of events:
- Monday: 7 p.m. Little Mister and Miss Pageant
- Tuesday: 7 p.m. Fourth annual “Put yo money where yo mouth is” washer tournament. Participants enter at 6 p.m.
- Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. The Hinkles followed by “Texas Praise”
- Thursday: 9 p.m. Super Estrellaz
- Friday: 9 p.m. Dakota Burns, 11 p.m. William Clark Green
- Saturday: 9 p.m. Jake Hooker and The Outsiders