KINGWOOD — It is the time of the year in Preston County when the smell of buckwheat cakes and fresh whole-hog sausage is in the air.
The time-honored tradition of the Preston County Buckwheat Festival starts the last Thursday in September every year. The enchanting smell of buckwheat cakes and sausage drifts through the air, making stomachs rumble with anticipation of forks digging into those fresh, steaming cakes and fresh sausage patties.
For 78 years, the Buckwheat Festival has been a staple in the county, and the four-day celebration brings people from all over Preston and neighboring counties, as well as out-of-staters.
Many have likened the festival to a huge reunion, as throughout the county, families come together from far and near, Preston schools celebrate reunions and friends get together.
This year, the theme of the festival is “A Treasure Trove of Sights and Sounds,” paying tribute to the festival through its logo.
“The festival is just a treasure trove of things,” General Chairman David Brown said. “The theme was easy to come up with.”
Brown’s family, as well as many others, have been volunteers for years during the festival. And volunteers are what make the festival such a success.
Everything done at the festival is done by volunteers. From making the buckwheat cakes and fresh whole-hog sausage to parking cars, it’s all volunteers.
One thing the festival cannot control is the weather. If Mother Nature is feeling kind, the perfect weather is in the mid-70s to 80s with low humidity and blue skies. Otherwise, the Buckwheat Festival has been known to see soaking rains and, on rare occasion, snow.
The rule of thumb during the festival is to plan for the unexpected. Bring your sunglasses, rain ponchos, flip-flops and mud boots — and occasionally scarves and mittens.
The history of the Buckwheat Festival dates back to 1938, when local farmers decided to have an end-of-harvest homecoming where they could relax, have fun and enjoy some friendly competition.
But the history of raising buckwheat in Preston County began late in the Great Depression when the economic recovery was slow and tiresome.
Local farmers grew buckwheat, mainly for animal feed, as an “insurance crop” because of its short growing season and good quality. It was thought the grain might spur agricultural economic growth.
The first Buckwheat Festival was held Oct. 13-15, 1938, and included all-day horse-trading and a farmer’s auction. Early festival activities were located on the east lawn of the courthouse, and attendees enjoyed sack races, hog calling for women, husband calling, nail driving for women, eating contests, tug- of-wars and rolling-pin throwing.
Just like today’s festival, buckwheat and other agricultural crops were exhibited; a king and queen were selected; and a banquet of buckwheat cakes and sausage was served during the event.
Nowadays, the cakes and sausage can be found throughout the county at fire departments, churches and restaurants, as well as at the festival grounds.
Students begin arriving on Tuesday with the livestock they have raised over the past year to be judged and eventually sold at auction. Residents enter their baked goods, canned goods, crafts, photos and farm goods into exhibits in Memorial North that showcase the bounty of the county.
Buckwheat cakes and sausage are still served to this day during the four-day festival, and the event takes place on the Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department grounds just a mere two blocks from where it all began.
The event is hosted by the Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department and is reigned over by the festival royalty that is chosen in April. This year, Queen Ceres LXXVIII is Madeline Sophia Warnick of Kingwood and King Buckwheat LXXVII is Hunter Wade Thomas of Bruceton Mills.
The festival has been held every year since 1938 except during the World War II years of 1943, 1944 and 1945.
While the official start date of the festival is the last Thursday in September, visitors can enjoy an evening of buckwheat cakes with sausage and carnival rides on Wednesday beginning at 4 p.m. in the Kingwood Community Building.
A new event taking place on Wednesdays is the Buckwheat Cake Eating Contest. Contestants vie to see which one can eat a stack of piping hot buckwheat cakes the fastest.
A full array of activities begins on Thursday and pays homage to the firefighters. Buckwheat cake dinners start being served at 9 a.m. and continue until 10 p.m. At noon, the carnival, exhibit buildings and the craft hall are opened to the public.
The Grand Fireman’s Parade begins at 7:30 p.m., and features marching bands, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles from West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
On Friday at noon, the annual coronation of King Buckwheat and Queen Ceres is at noon followed by the School Day Parade at 2 p.m. A lamb dressing contest is always a favorite of the crowds with many people arriving early to get those prized seats in the stands.
Saturday has always been Farmers Day with a parade at noon, but not before the AG Olympics for youth and adults begin at 7:45 a.m. After the parade, visitors can take the rest of the day to walk through the grounds to see the livestock, exhibits and craft hall.
Sunday brings the fair to a close with a car show in the parking lot outside the Craig Civic Center, as well as Irish Road Bowling.
But Sunday isn’t the end of the festival for the planners. They take a mere month off before starting to plan for the next festival. And while some details will change for the 79th Annual Buckwheat Festival, one thing will remain the same — mark your calendars for the last Thursday through Sunday of September and join Preston County for the annual Buckwheat Festival.