Being here, in this beautiful downtown with its laughing, smiling people, feels like home. It feels like being nostalgic for a time and a place many of us never lived in… it feels like the realization of the American dream.
One could easily get lost and spend the whole day doing any one of the Mineola Iron Horse Heritage Festival’s many activities. From the pie-baking and watermelon-eating contests to the street dance and Texas hunting exhibition truck, this festival taking place on the weekend of September 23-24 will be the perfect end to summer.
Spread over two days, this annual festival celebrates Mineola’s historic, sometimes zany but certainly larger-than-life railroad heritage. The interesting beginnings of the town took place in 1873, when officials of the town were faced with a decision.
Both the International-Great Northern Railroad and Texas & Pacific railroad wanted full claim to the town, but only one could have it. Which one would best benefit the rapidly-growing town, and how to make this potentially costly choice?
A train race.
Although specific details about the race itself vary in local legend, what’s sure is that the International-Great Northern Railroad won the race with 15 minutes to spare – by the skin on their proverbial teeth.
As the winners, officials of the I-GN got to re-name the town, so an I-GN official named the town Mineola after Minnie Patten and, probably, a woman named Ola. The community of Mineola owes not only its name but its very foundations to the railroads that over nearly 150 years have brought uncounted business, people, animals, and services to the friendly city.
The Mineola of today is very aware – and grateful – for their railroad heritage. Thus, in true Southern style, this history is annually celebrated in a big, blow-out event featuring all kinds of entertainment for all kinds of people.
The event will start at 5 pm on the evening of September 23, when everyone who wants to help preserve the beauty of downtown Mineola can come partake of the Mineola Landmark Commission’s fundraiser meal. Tickets to the all-American meal, which will consist of hotdogs, chips, and ice cream floats, cost only $10 (less than the average cost of a movie ticket).
While the meal will take place on a Friday night, the Landmark Commission has set it from 5-7:30 pm so that all attendees can still make it to Texas’ beloved Friday night football games. Make your night perfect – eat together as a community first, then cheer on and support the community afterwards!
Saturday the 24, not to be outdone by its Friday-night brother, will be jam-packed with idyllic events for the whole community. In fact, 2022’s festival will hold beloved and annual events alongside brand-new acts expected to be a crowd favorite.
One popular event with a $100 cash prize, the pie-baking contest, will take place Saturday afternoon. So, too, will the Weenie Dog race, a hilariously exciting event taking place at 4 pm.
Also at this year’s Iron Horse Heritage Festival, an active mural painting will be done by Flint & Steel (and any passersby who want to paint); this group, which aims to “foster growth” and “advance educational, recreational, and artistic opportunities” for Mineola’s youth, will also be doing a mobile skate park demonstration.
And, for the first time in Iron Horse Festival history, Texas Parks and Wildlife will be bringing their “Operation Game Thief Wall of Shame” exhibit. This mobile trailer will display confiscated and illegally-gained game, pelts, and other “trophies” alongside the fines, fees, and/or jail time their hunter had to pay. The fascinating and eye-opening exhibit is intended, according to the Operation Game Thief website, to “[s]pread the Operation Game Thief message on how to make a difference in the fight against Texas poachers.”
This is just the beginning of all the Iron Horse Heritage Festival has to offer in beautiful downtown Mineola. In addition to food and merchandise vendors, all-day live music, and a beer and adult beverage garden, the festival will also feature a car show, a cornhole tournament, and the ever-popular watermelon-eating contest, which has no entry fee but does come with a prize for the winner in each division.
And finally, in 2022 the festival is ramping up the fun to a whole new level.
This year, the Iron Horse Festival, which annually sees about 4,000 attendees, will be featuring a “street dance.”
Starring chart-topping Texas Country artist Rich O’Toole and his band, the street dance will begin around 8 pm with country dance music for all.
“More than anything, I want to do as Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Steve Earle have done: create great American songwriter rock,” O’Toole says.
And he’s well on his way: according to his website, richotoole.com, by age 37, O’Toole has compiled 23 top ten songs and three #1’s on the Texas Music Chart, has sold over 125,000 albums, and has acquired over 15 million Spotify streams over the span of his career.
With all these events plus many more unfolding over the event’s two-day span, it’s easy to see that the Iron Horse Heritage Festival is both for community and by community. At this two-day festival, over 4,000 people actually take the time to enjoy life and each other.
Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, arms hilariously held behind their backs, watermelon juice dripping down chins as each tries to eat more than the other in less time.
Being clapped on the back or hugged as their homemade pie is announced to be prize-winning.
Jumping up and down, cheering at the top of their lungs for a tiny Weenie dog.
Singing and dancing in a crowd as jiving country music blares through the streets.
“We’re excited to have so many great activities for residents and visitors to the Mineola area,” said Mary Boone, Mineola Chamber of Commerce president. “Visitors to historic downtown Mineola always enjoy the hometown hospitality and the additional opportunity to visit the many unique shops in town.”
And what an opportunity!
For more information, please visit the Mineola Chamber of Commerce website for more information.