Just a short drive from Allen County, the Wabash Founder’s Festival closes out summer with family-friendly fun on Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on East Market Street and at Paradise Spring Historical Park, in downtown Wabash.
This year’s festival includes more than 30 vendors and craftspeople, a “Bounce Zone” for kids, food trucks from around the region with both savory and sweet options, a kickball tournament at Paradise Spring Historical Park, “Kid Zone” activities, a pet parade, artists creating pieces live, and much more.
“And, of course, the culminating event is the parade at 3 p.m. featuring our 2023 Little Miss & Mister Founders Festival at the lead,” says Teresa Galley, executive director of the Wabash County Museum.
For many years, Wabash had a festival called “Canal Days.” Unfortunately, that festival lost steam and eventually ended in the 1990s, Galley explains.
“People were nostalgic for that event and talked for years about bringing it back,” she says.
In 2018, that finally happened when a downtown Wabash group, including the Wabash County Museum, got together to plan a new festival to celebrate the rich history of the community and provide a family-focused event with a parade.
The first Founder’s Festival took place in 2018, and the event ensued again in 2019. However, plans had to be cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Luckily, the Wabash County Museum officially took over the execution of the festival in 2022.
“With Paradise Spring Historical Park just one block away from the museum, we have the perfect location to tie our vendors and food truck rows right into the park where the Park Board runs a small reenactment to commemorate the treaty signing that had such a big impact on the founding of our town,” Galley says.
The museum staff has been working on the festival since February. They also receive support from Downtown Wabash Inc., the mayor and his team, the Wabash County YMCA, the Wabash Carnegie Public Library, and many sponsors and volunteers who work to make the event a reality.
“It definitely takes a village,” Galley says.
“Since it’s a fairly new festival, it has been growing and evolving every year as word spreads that it’s a great weekend to enjoy beautiful downtown Wabash with your family,” she adds. “The biggest change last year was moving the parade from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The original committee thought a morning parade would be cooler, but we felt that the parade should be the culminating event of the weekend. It was a big hit in the afternoon, attracting more than 85 entries and around 2,000 spectators. This year, our 105.9 FM will be broadcasting the parade on their website, so those who can’t make it down for the parade are still able to enjoy it.”
Another feature that Galley is excited about is the “Rest, Eat & Listen Zone” sponsored by Parkview Wabash. This area will have a tent and seating with calm music, coloring books and crayons, sensory tubs, fidgets and other items to help people find a little calm in the middle of the chaos.
Outside of Founder’s Festival, the Wabash County Museum is a big part of honoring Wabash’s history every day.
“We have 100 exhibits that celebrate everything from Wabash being the first electrically lighted city in the world to the story of Francis Slocum and so much more,” Galley says. “While being the first electrically lighted city is our ‘claim to fame,’ there have been so many other firsts from Wabash County that create so much pride. We also have an amazing downtown that includes a beautiful River Train that runs through Paradise Spring Park. The train and the downtown amenities are the result of countless people’s work to make Wabash an incredible community to live and work.”
Founder’s Festival deepens that community pride while simultaneously showing off Wabash to visitors, Galley says.
“It really is about bringing the whole community together and welcoming guests from the region to enjoy,” she says. “I love the chance to see friends and meet new people. And of course, we love the traffic it brings into the museum.”