LAURINBURG — For the 29th year, the John Blue Cotton Festival will offer a weekend outdoors with a window to the lifestyle of rural 19th-century North Carolina.
“We’re trying to have people appreciate the old things and think about how things have changed, and for the young people to participate in all of it and see it, touch it, and understand it if they can,” said festival board member Rebecca Blue.
The festival is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on the grounds of the John Blue House. Tickets are $4 per day for adults and children 6 and older. It is free for children 5 and younger.
Chief among the festival’s attractions are the working cotton gin, grist mill, and other antique farming implements on the John Blue grounds, 13040 X-Way Road, Laurinburg.
“What the gin does upstairs is it’s crushing the little seed in the cotton so that it can be combed and get that seed out, and that frees up the cotton to be processed,” Blue said.
The gin will be operated at 30 minute intervals throughout the day by a team of working mules from Sanford.
“The neat thing that people need to understand is that these mules are the engines that make the cotton gin work,” said Blue. “This is the way cotton gins really were; they were run by animals, either oxen or a big heavy mule.”
The John Blue House itself, constructed in 1891 and recently renovated, will be open for tours both days of the festival.
“We have taken out the old carpet that had been in there,” said Blue. “It was not period, so the guys have redone the original floors. It’s heart of pine, and it’s real pretty.”
The house’s kitchen has also been restored to more accurately resemble a working 1890s kitchen. Tours of the home are $2 for those aged 6 and older.
The festival’s admission cost covers a number of free activities for children, including pony rides, a petting zoo, wagon rides, and a kiddie barrel ride. At noon on Sunday, a kid’s haystack diving competition will be held for children aged 3 to 6 and 7 to 12, with the first to find a hidden stash of money the winner in each age group.
Both the Steve Langley Group and Appalachian Blue musical acts will perform around the grounds on both days.
More than 90 vendors will sell their wares at this year’s festival, with food offerings from cupcakes to collard sandwiches and craft booths selling exclusively handmade goods.
A tobacco barn donated earlier this year will be a John Blue Festival first, giving viewers a glimpse of how tobacco was raised and cured during North Carolina’s heyday as a tobacco growing state.
“That was an early crop that Scotland County had, like a lot of counties in the South,” said Blue. “They raised tobacco, they raised cotton, and they raised corn. We want to show them how we worked with the tobacco and then they can go over to where the mules are to see what they do with the cotton that is brought in from the big field.”
On stage, the Scottish Twirlers square dance troupe will perform from 10:30-11 a.m. on Saturday, with beach music performers the Craig Woolard Group taking over from 12-2:30 p.m. Jimmy Blue will perform music from genres from classic rock to country beginning at 2:30 p.m., with Appalachian Blue taking the stage at 3:30 p.m.
Before the gates open on Sunday, an “olde timey” church service will be held for the festival’s volunteers and vendors, officiated by Pastor C.F. McDowell of First Baptist Church and the First Baptist Church choir. Local dance academies will perform on stage from noon to 4 p.m.
For those who wish to absorb even more local history than the festival offers, the Scotland County Museum is located directly across X-Way Road. Museum offerings include old cars, a gallery of local sporting stars, and the second fire truck that Scotland County ever had, the first having been melted down to make military equipment during World War I.