Old Mission Orchard in Bloom

Old Mission Orchard

Old Mission Orchard, photo by Heather Higham

The cherry blossoms are out on northwest Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula. A little over 100 years ago, this annual occurrence gave birth to Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival. The Cherry Festival’s history page shares that sometime around 1910, cherry growers in the Grand Traverse area began to hold informal “blessing of the blossoms” ceremonies each year at blossom time in May. The TC Record-Eagle picks up the story:

Something had to be done to attract tourists to the Grand Traverse area, local resident and community leader Jay P. Smith declared in 1925.

Henry Ford had introduced a new automobile that allowed people to travel long distances with ease, and Hannah, Lay & Co. spurred a growing business atmosphere here, but tourism still lagged. So Smith created the Blessing of the Blossoms festival.

For one day in May area residents and visitors traveled out to the Old Mission Peninsula to view fields of cherry blossoms from the vantage point of two towers, then flocked to a downtown parade that moved east on Front Street from Elmwood Avenue to Railroad Avenue.

“This was kind of a big deal,” said Gary Kaberle, a former National Cherry Festival president. “People really liked this.”

But Smith and his committee quickly realized that a May festival meant children weren’t out of school and tourists were less likely to have time off work, so they moved the festival to July to coincide with the cherry harvest.

You can read on for more about the evolution of the Cherry Festival and if you want to attend, the dates are July 4-11, 2015 and you can get all the details at cherryfestival.org.

Heather writes that she was looking into an orchard from the edges, surrounded by flowers and bees when she took this picture. View her photo bigger on Flickr, see more in her Old Mission Peninsula slideshow and definitely follow her at Snap Happy Gal Photography on Facebook.

PS: If you want to learn about the early days of the Old Mission Peninsula, check out Rev. Peter Dougherty House on Old Mission having one heck of a yard sale from May 2007 on Michigan in Pictures.

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