According to local residents, a strawberry festival was a tradition in Delaplane around the turn of the century to celebrate the arrival of summer. In 1976 when villagers were looking for a way to celebrate the Bicentennial, they decided to reinstitute the tradition and they held the first Delaplane Strawberry Festival of modern times in front of the coutntry store. They blocked off the old county road, brought in a four piece country band for entertainment, an auctioneer, and they also planned children's games on the wide green floodplain along Goose Creek. An old-time steam engine was due to come through on an excursion from Front Royal.
A late spring freeze ruined the local strawberry crop, the weather was rainy, and the steam engine was late, but the 1976 festival was a success! What few berries they were able to pick and clean were scooped onto ice cream sundaes by the ladies. The men, in bright red aprons, sold raffle tickets and ran the children's games, and the folks that stopped by kept dancing in the rain!
The festival continued for several years until it was a victim of its own success. Local strawberries were never numerous, even in the best of times, and the numbers needed to supply the festival soon surpassed what the villagers could pick locally. As word spread of the event, the crowds began to overwhelm the village and its little intersection on Route 17. So sadly, with no reliable source of berries and nowhere else to park except the side of a busy road, it was decided that they would have to discontinue the festival.
In 1994 several ladies of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Mary Scott, Kitty Lee Pritchett and Betty Ann Trible, decided to resurrect the Delaplane Strawberry Festival to offset a slight deficit in the church's annual budget. For traditions's sake, they kept the name - Delaplane Strawberry Festival, and the country fair feel of the day. They chose Sky Meadows State Park just up the road as the new venue and a holiday weekend to draw in visitors. Most importantly, they located a reliable source of strawberries from California for the hundreds of flats needed to solve the local berry supply problem. Today nearly 10,000 people visit the two-day festival which has become one of the premier events in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Why does such a small church take on such a huge task?
Service is a major part of life at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, and we are known in the Virginia Diocese as the "can do" church. Our largest outreach ministry of the year is, without a doubt, the Delaplane Strawberry Festival. Yet, despite the enormity of such an undertaking for a church of our size, we do it for many reasons.
The festival brings us together as a congregation and supports our goals as a faith community to celebrate God's grace in the world, invite others to be a friend of Christ and restore people to unity with God. It draws the local and regional community together to enjoy the diverse gifts that God has bestowed on his people, including arts and crafts, food, music, children's games, and the unique beauty of Sky Meadows State Park. Whether we serve or receive, the festival brings all of us closer to God and we are blessed by the experience.
Proceeds from the festival are used to support the ministries and outreach programs of Emmanuel Episcoal Church and grants to numerous local, national and international non-profit organizations.