Fall Foliage Parade
North Adams, MA
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Parade kick-off at 1:00 PM
Starts on Curran Memorial Highway and runs down Main Street then ends on Ashland Street.
When Frank Casuscelli, the driving force behind the North Adams American Legion Drum & Bugle Corps, received word that the Chamber of Commerce wanted to organize a celebration, he immediately contacted the rest of the members of the New York Drum and Bugle Corps Alliance, and made arrangements for a street parade and drum corps competition to be held in the City during the fall of 1947. Eighty dollars in prize money was offered and ten units responded to the call. Thus, the first Fall Foliage Festival was born, and with it a history of community spirit and growth that has evolved into one of the finest civic celebrations in the United States.
The Fall Festival’s first-year success did not continue, however, and in 1948 without any available funding, the Chamber was only able to arrange a parade, which featured about 50 new trucks supplied by area dealers. It was obvious that more support was needed and the next year it was decided that the Festival would be combined with the 50th Anniversary celebration of the North Adams Elks. Over 25 area Elks groups marched in the Parade that fall, each with a band, and the parade drew hundreds of appreciative spectators. But the Festival still had a long road ahead.
During those early years, the fall promotion was a part of the Chamber’s retail division program. Although many local retail businessmen worked hard to promote the project, it lacked the sound financial support needed to attract quality musical units for a major parade. In 1950, a thousand dollars was raised, and a parade and competition was staged in October, including attractively decorated floats.
The Festival continued, although it wasn’t until 1956, with Donald Deans as the Chamber of Commerce president, that the celebration began to take its present form. With Francis H. Hayden and Read Barrows as Co-Chairman, a full week of activities was planned and such popular events as the Queen Contest and Fashion Show were initiated. Member Corps of the New York State Drum and Bugle Corps Alliance were on hand for the big parade and competition. Support for the Festival was broadened to include other than just retail merchants, and for the first time, the event ended in the black with money to build the next year’s event.
Another turning point in the Festival’s history came in 1958 when Harry S. Orr, a man who was later tabbed ” Mr. Fall Foliage Festival,” entered the scene. An old master at staging civic celebrations and circus events, Orr had just retired to his hometown of North Adams. The ’58 celebration was co-chaired by Milton Spencer and Rene Menard. Orr learned the Fall Foliage Festival ropes from that successful Festival year, and the ensuing years saw his hand as an experienced promoter adding polish to the already shining Fall Foliage star.
In 1959, Harry Orr and Francis E. “Bud” Hayden served as co-chairmen. Many new activities were added to the Festival’s calendar of events, including the Festival dance and “blessing of the Festival.”
More professionalism was brought to the Fashion Show and to the Queen contest to help build their reputations as quality events. But the real “Orr touch” was seen in the rules and regulations, which has made the parade one of the top attractions of its kind in the country.
The genius of Harry S. Orr cannot go unremembered and a trophy in his memory is given annually to the float judged the best theme entry.
The Festival celebrated its 10th year as a full eight-day civic celebration in 1965. Thomas R. King, a longtime Festival worker, was appointed General Chairman, with Chamber executive Arthur R. Kelts serving as administrator. The King reign saw the addition of current mainstays…the Children’s Parade and the phantom tire hunt. An air show was also added that year to kick-off the week’s activities.
New events and the expansion of existing events demanded a reorganization and decentralization effort, and 1966 saw the establishment of a co-chairman system to lead the Festival. Joe Dolan and Mrs. Edward Buckley served as General Co-Chairmen of the Festival with Tom King handling the parade directorship. An all-time high of 22 girls vied for the Queen’s title in ’66 and Saturday became Family Fun Day with a full day’s activities of appeal for all members of the family. The year also saw the start of the High School Marching Band Competition.
In 1967, a window-painting competition for the youth of the area and a teenage dance were added.
A Golf Tournament and a Main Street ping-pong drop were added in 1968.
In 1969, Harold Philips served as Festival Chairman and new events such as the balloon race, the no-rain dance, boxing exhibition, and various musical concerts were added.
Taking advantage of the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial Rink, 1970 Co-Chairmen, Mrs. Marcia Brennan and Peter Mancuso arranged for a hockey game and figure skating exhibition. The Fall Foliage Festival Queen, Miss Nancy Ryan, went on to enter the Miss Massachusetts Scholarship Pageant and won a scholarship award for her talent presentation.
In 1971, Co-Chairmen Mrs. Robert Wagner and Peter Mancuso added the 10-mile Road Race and Aqua field events. The 1972 Festival, with Mrs. Wagner and Mr. Mancuso as co-chairmen again, saw several innovations, including the Pet show, Air Show, Arts & Crafts sale held in conjunction with the Art Exhibit, and for the sports enthusiasts, the 10-mile Bicycle race. The Fall Foliage Festival Queen, Miss Dina Minardi, was among the 10 semi-finalists in the Miss Massachusetts pageant held in Attleboro and was awarded a scholarship.
In 1973, a big change took place with the addition of a large circus-type tent, which hosted many events. Under the direction of John (Jack) Leu, General Chairman, a combination arts & crafts and flea market was an overwhelming success For those who favor nostalgia, a train ride was instituted from Boston to North Adams, along with a round-trip ride through the tunnel from this City to Greenfield. Other new events saw a Skydiving exhibition for thrills, a Drury High School Band reunion, pancake and sausage breakfast in the tent, community Bingo, an automobile show, a beer festival, an old-fashioned variety show and a drawing for the Massachusetts lottery.
1980 saw the return of the Drum Corps Exhibition. After a span of more than ten years, the drum corps competition once again was presented as part of the weeklong celebration. The parade committee obtained use of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink, as plans to hold the competition outside could not be pulled together in time. Competing that year were the Citations from Burlington, the Sharpshooters from Framingham, Valley-Airs from Northbridge, the Queensmen from Woburn and the Cavaliers from Somerville. The Drury High School band co-sponsored the event and helped provide manpower and services. Another event of Columbus Day 1980 was racing at Green Mountain.
The parade and festival have changed many times throughout the years, with some new events, some lost events, and some changed events. Yet the original concept has remained solid: the advent of the fall foliage season is definitely a time for celebration.