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Pepper Jelly Festival a part of ‘Year of the Small Town’

The Town of Thomaston is putting the final touches on its annual Pepper Jelly Festival, which is set to kick off Friday at 9 a.m. with a 5K run.

The festivities are one of the town’s largest annual attractions, bringing in nearly 1,500 visitors to the Rural Heritage Center on Ala. Highway 25.

The festival will be hosted by Larry Grant, a longtime deejay at WIN 98.5 FM.

“We will have Alabama-grown flowers and herbs from Bearden’s Nursery,” said Marengo County Probate Judge Cindy Neilson, who is on the Rural Heritage Center board.

“We’ll be selling pepper jelly, of course, and we’ll be selling T-shirts. We have a section for children’s games — which is always a big hit! We will have vendors and arts and crafts.

“We’ll have lots of food,” she said. “We’ll have good ol’ Thomaston barbecue. Hale Smith and his friends will be doing a crawfish booth, and they said that they will donate their proceeds to the Heritage Center.”

Neilson said that Michelle Jackson will be selling her famous kabobs.

“We’ll have hamburgers and hot dogs,” Neilson said. “And, we’ll have a homemade ice cream booth! The guy who sold that last year sold out really fast, so that’s always a lot of fun.”

Linden mayor Mitzi Gates will open the festivities with a series of patriot songs, and Camilla Tutt of Demopolis will also perform.

Ronnie Richardson will do his rendition of Elvis Presley, and Gene Etheredge’s band will keep the music going.

“Kathryn Tucker Windham will be there for her story-telling,” Neilson said. “The Gee’s Bend quilters will be there to demonstrate and sell their lap quilts. They are also going to perform for us.

“The Taylor United Christian Community Association (TUCCA) Praise Team will perform and will also show their quilts. The last round-up will be the 47 Riverview Band.”

Neilson said there will be a demonstration of lost art.

“Charlie Lucas will be there,” she said. “He is ‘the Tin Man.’ He’s from Selma. Estelle Jackson will be there with her white oak baskets. Martha Wheeler will be there with her quilts, too.”

The Pepper Jelly Festival goes back a number of years. In its earlier times, it was Rural Fun Day, and it was held in August, but the stifling heat motivated its organizers to move it back to April.

“It all started out 30-some years ago as Rural Fun Day,” Thomaston mayor Jeff Laduron said. “They held a contest for the people to come up with a slogan and my mama won it.”

Several years ago, the name of the festival changed to highlight one of the staples of the Rural Heritage Center, Pepper Jelly.

The pepper jelly was developed by Auburn University and is produced at the Thomaston facility as a way to finically support the operation.

“It gave the gift shop something to sell year-round,” event organizer Kathryn Friday said. “And people buy it, year-round. It’s really very popular.”

Also, as part of Alabama’s Year of the Small Town, Laduron will unveil a plaque Saturday which will later be installed at the walking trail.

The gift shop will be open, selling a wide variety of things, including paintings and other gift items.

For a fun time this weekend, take a trip to Thomaston, where Ala. Highways 28 and 25 meet and good friends and neighbors come together.