Perhaps no one project in the history of Maxwell has involved more interest, more planning and more people than the Old Settlers Picnic. It came into existence at the turn of the last century as an outgrowth of the reunions held by soldiers of the Civil War and members of the Grand Army of the Republic, a national organization. They had formed a company here and held reunions, camping overnight and sometimes for several days, in the grove at the West edge of town. In 1885 at the 6th reunion of the G.A.R. about 3,000 people were reported present. In 1887, forty-one veterans were recorded and living in Maxwell, among them Micah French, an 1812 veteran.
The town of Maxwell incorporated in 1883. It was given by the firm of Baldwin and Maxwell in 1892 five acres to be used as a city park. In August 1901 a small group of people convened in the Old Opera House in the interest of the reunions held in the park. The result of the meeting was to mark the end of the G.A.R. reunions in the park and beginning of the “Old Settlers and Homecoming Picnic” On Sept. 5th plans were made and Oct 2nd the first of these picnics was held. However, the inclement weather changed plans and the event was moved to the Old Opera House, basket dinner and all! The Maxwell Coronet Band and the Glee Club furnished music for the program.
Since that first picnic, with few exceptions, the events have been held in early August. Events have come and gone with the times. Political speeches often enlivened the past events along with political debates. Sheaf tying contests, wrestling matches. The carousel that was once powered by a blind horse was soon replaced by Mead Tomlinson’s steam powered rig and a music box gave way to the calliope. The year of the 50th Anniversary there was on open-air circus and an elephant marched in the parade. Today of course things have been updated drastically. The tractor pulls are now ran by the South Story Pullers and are held on Saturday. There is a rodeo that is held by the Maxwell Rodeo Committee in adjacent to the Old Settlers event. They have held events hosting 250 cowboys on Friday and Saturday night. Their facilities are located west of the park.
Much of the planning is done with the children in mind and they look forward to ”Old Settlers” hoarding their money, which disappears too quickly on the rides and food stands. Old Settlers is where many of them get their first cotton candy or first view the dazzle of fireworks. A carnival is hired and brought in for the weekend arriving on Wednesday and running Friday through Saturday the weekend of the Old Settlers Picnic. Our planning of the picnic is year-round as we hold monthly meetings discussing ideas and failures. However, our week begins on Sunday before with the start of set-up. Our responsibilities include putting up fencing, setting out garbage cans, hanging signage, and locating vendor spots. Along with these are hundreds of other tasks that need to take place in order to have a successful event. The scheduled events begin on Thursday night with an outdoor movie hosted by The Community Historical Society. On Friday we host a volleyball tournament, tug-o-war, kids pedal tractor pull, carnival opens, and the band starts at 9:30pm. These, along with many other events, keep the community busy. Saturday, we still kick off the day with a parade that starts at the school and runs down Main Street. The committee has hosted many events over the years including: arm wrestling, mud pig wrestling, talent contests, pedal pull, kids activities, softball tournament, Old Timers game, kids ball game, and another band is also featured every year on Saturday night. On Sunday the community churches hold a worship service in the morning followed by a luncheon at the church stand. A car show has been hosted over the years and the committee concludes the weekend with the raffle drawing.
It is impossible to separate Old Settlers from the City Park. Changes to the park have continued through the generations as in 1959 when the shelter house was built to house a kitchen and a dining room. With a few additions and updating this structure is still there today and still serves as a food stand ran by all the community churches. A dance floor was built in 1938. On Sunday mornings following the Old Settlers Picnic, this is where our combined church services are held. The bandstand is used as a platform, which was originally built in 1892. It has been continually updated and transformed. Stay tuned as we make updates to the bandstand- thanks to a grant provided by the Story County Community Foundation. This will be a great update for all the events that take place during the Old Settlers weekend and all year long.