The WV Three Rivers Festival: 10 things to know before you go


The end of May in Marion County means more than just hotter temperatures and another day off work. For those wanting to celebrate the summer season, it means pepperoni rolls, pageants and Palatine Park as the 37th annual West Virginia Three Rivers Festival kicks off May 26th.

The Three Rivers Festival brings people from all over together to celebrate good music, good food, and good fun in a family-friendly festival and carnival, but it also celebrates much of the history of Marion County and the surrounding region.

So before you pack up the family and head out to enjoy the rides, food and games, here are ten things you ought to know about where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going.

Raging Rivers
RiverOne of the first things you’ll notice about Marion County is that there isn’t a lack of waterways. Around here, we don’t only provide a place to fish and frolic, we actually grow rivers!

That’s because two out of the three rivers in our festival name, the Tygart Valley River and the West Fork River, meet up at their mouths right here in Marion to make the mighty Monongahela River.

The Tygart Valley River has a lot of history attached to its flow, as the valley was first settled in 1753. After visiting our festival, you can experience its mighty roar for yourself with some whitewater rafting or canoeing.

The West Fork River is locally known for fishing, kayaking, and family fun on the rail trails that run beside its banks. Spend some time walking off our festival food with your favorite people.

After witnessing the birth of the Monongahela in Fairmont, take a relaxing boat ride and relish the view on the waters the Native Americans called “falling banks.”

No boat? No problem! Wood’s Boat House can provide a pontoon rental for your adventure needs.

You may even catch a glimpse of one of the legendary monsters said to swim within these shores!

Palatine Pride
Monday-is-like-the-MonongahelaRiver.-With-a-little-help-you-can-get-over-it-Monday-FairmontWV-WVOur Three Rivers Festival has moved around quite a bit due to the ever-growing infrastructure in Marion County, but it always finds a way back to Palatine Park.

Once owned by the City of Fairmont and now managed by Marion County Parks and Recreation, Palatine has been the sight of some of Marion’s most memorable events through the years, including the Johnnie Johnson Festival, Easter Egg Hunts, and Veterans Day activities before the opening of Veteran’s Square.

Before its claim to fame for family fun, however, Palatine used to be the sight of a city that surpassed even Fairmont in its population and industry. After being incorporated in 1867, the city of Palatine thrived as an industry center for the North Central region until 1889, when Fairmont, West Fairmont and Palatine united to form a single city.

Now this previous industry hub is a pleasant park for your favorite past times and the gracious host of our festival activities since 2003.

Coal County Legacy
Lumps of coalWest Virginia and coal have come together since the days before our country was created, and around here, we don’t forget that heritage.

Peter Salley, a friend and neighbor of Thomas Jefferson, first discovered our coal supply around 1742. By 1810, people in Wheeling had figured out they could beat the cold with a little bit of coal to heat their houses, and in the decades following, coal became king in West Virginia industry, even before its statehood in 1863.

Our Three Rivers Festival used to be called the Three Rivers Coal Festival, thanks to the help from mine owners who would let employees come to explain mining equipment at the festival and who would give monetary contributions.

While we may not call it coal anymore, we still honor that legacy at our festival and in our town.

While you’re in the neighborhood and seeking a little peace after the crowded craze, stop over at Coal County Minigolf and take swing at a golf ball or the mining museum on display there!

Julia Pierpont Day

Julia Pierpont

Julia and Francis H. Pierpont at Woodlawn Cemetery

Memorial Day is coming up and while the our festival ends on the 28th, we don’t want you to miss meeting the founder of this special holiday honoring those who serve!

Julia Augusta Robertson Pierpont, part of the Fairmont family, was the wife of Gov. Francis H. Pierpont, governor of the Restored Government of Virginia and credited as the “Father of West Virginia.”

While he may be the father of our state, his wife is the mother of Memorial Day, as she and a Miss Woosley were some of the first to decorate the graves of fallen Union soldiers in Richmond, Virginia. Julia is credited with keeping this tradition going as an annual celebration.

We don’t forget her contributions to this holiday, and our Marion County Historical Society has a special celebration planned on May 28th.

Join in the history of a wonderful woman as you partake in the Julia Pierpont Celebration at the historic M.E. Church and then head on over to Woodlawn Cemetery to decorate her grave, along with others who served.

Don’t leave too soon, though, because this cemetery has many more claims to fame! See if you can discover the oldest grave in this historical place!

Battle of Fairmont
Battle of FairmontOur Festival is all about finding connections with the past, present and future. In 1997, we decided to educate the state and its citizens about the history under their streets—the history of the Battle of Fairmont.

Once, instead of the steady stream of traffic and the feet of festival goers, downtown Fairmont carried the drums of war as Confederate raiders attacked Fairmont as part of the Jones-Imboden Raid.

While vastly outnumbered by the rebel forces, the Union defenders of the town tried to prevent the pillaging that included Gov. Francis Pierpont’s personal library being dumped and burned in the streets.

This little bit of history became alive again at the 1997 festival, where reenactors strolled up and down streets and where smoke and gunpowder smells mixed with carnival sweets.

While you may not catch any Union blues at this year’s festival, you can still experience the history of this famous fight at the Marion County Museum or check out the six Civil War Trail markers throughout the county, and march to the beat of the drum at our musical events!

Carvin’ Classics
CarvingsYou won’t hear any armies fighting at the Three Rivers Festival, but you will hear the hum of the chainsaw carving crew crafting up some new hand-carved creations.

Chainsaw carving has been around since the 1950s, combining both old wood carving and modern expression in a classy and sassy new type of artwork on display at our festival.

Don’t be fooled by the rough sound of the instrument—these master carvers have to carve their way to the top to be included in a master carver guild. The masterpieces they create don’t just have to be pretty after the fact.

These carvers work under pressure from a live audience, a live audience that can include you as you witness Bear Hollow Wood Carvers on Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

Come expecting to see woodchips fly and designs that will tempt the eye as you watch a block of wood become a masterpiece in carving creativity.

Pep Roll Pizazz
Since 1927, when Giuseppe Argiro first opened People’s Bakery in The-gift-every-former-West-Virginian-will-love-pepperonirolls-wv-christmas-giftFairmont and stuck the first piece of pepperoni inside a slab of bread dough, people have been able to experience a little slice of spicy heaven with the pepperoni roll.

At first a treat for miners to take into work, now pepperoni rolls are served in gas stations, restaurants, and school cafeterias in West Virginia and around the region.

When we celebrate this tasty treat at our Festival, we don’t skimp on the celebratory feast! Your mouth will water and beg for more at our amatuer baking contest, where you can exchange tickets for samples of this staple food in Marion County.

Haven’t got enough to keep you full? You may never need to eat again after watching the Pepperoni Roll Eating Contest featuring world-record breaking contestants stuff down as many of these morsels as they can in a span of minutes.

Never fear, though, you never have to be without this newfound favorite again! People’s Bakery is now called Country Club Bakery, and over 50 years later, you can still go buy a pepperoni roll or dozen here and spread the love of our favorite food!

Pretty Pageants
PagentSince the days of the Greeks, women have lined up to find out who is the fairest of them all, and at our festival we have some fair maidens and some luscious legs!

When the famous circus master P. T. Barnum first decided to have ladies send in pictures for beauty judging in the 19th century, he probably didn’t imagine the fervour of fancy pageants he would set a precedence for two centuries later.

While some of these events have a reputation for fighting and feuding, our Three Rivers Festival pageant partakers know how to have a good time—especially our pageant guys!

This year, fundraising could turn into leg shaving as Marion County’s most eligible men hide their faces and hang up their tennis shoes in favor of heels.

All in fun and fundraising, you will have to see your favorite pageant queens compete and then take the an opportunity to vote on Mr. Luscious Legs 2016!

Can’t get enough of pageant fun? There are plenty more where that came from. Make sure to come on back for our other Marion County fair celebrations this summer because before it ends, we’ll have more queens swarming our streets than a beehive!

Crazy Carnivals

Marion County CVB Images - May 2009

Marion County CVB Images – May 2009

Speaking of circuses, let’s talk about their traveling counterpart—the carnival! You wouldn’t be at a real American festival without the chance to test your skills knocking over a milk bottle or shooting a moving target.

This tradition dates back to the late 1800s, when Chicago’s World Fair attractions became local hits for those who couldn’t make it to the Windy City. Soon every town in the United States saw the bright colors and musical sounds as a way to have fun when the carnival came around.

So grab your sweetie and scurry on down to the games and rides at this year’s Three Rivers Festival.

foodElephant ears, carnival candy, hoagies, hot dogs and more will be waiting to give you the strength to hit the bell and live to tell the tale of how you were the strongest person there.

Every night, shake up your life and experience the thrills, chills and stomach swirls that only a loud and proud all-American fairgrounds can give!

Fancy Fireworks
FireworksYou may cover your ears and blink your eyes, but no one likes to miss this spectacle in the skies that closes out our Three Rivers Festival each year!

Fireworks have been lighting up the night sky since the ancient Chinese dynasties first discovered their bang and spark and since European firemasters dazzled with their ability to shoot colors into the night.

These shooting sparks celebrated the birth of the American dream when our country came to be, and have been a part of the American celebration ever since.

On May 28th, they will mark the end of one celebration, but the

Rachel Ellis

Rachel Ellis

beginning of your new family tradition—a blast into the past, present and future of Marion County every year as you pack up on history, snack up on treats, and stack up on fun with the 37th Annual West Virginia Three Rivers Festival!

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