130 Years of Tradition: Pioneer Picnic, Russell’s Grove
The 21st Century Pioneer Picnic is a three-day event that begins the last Friday in August. It started as a reunion for the Russell Groves family in 1890, and the tradition has survived and evolved into a generational community reunion that is part of the historical record of Pierpont and Ashtabula County as well as the region and beyond.
Moina Large noted in her 1924 History of Ashtabula County, Ohio, that former residents of Pierpont “are loyal to the old town, and show their love for it by assembling year after year in Russell’s Grove, in one big reunion which has come to be widely known as the annual Pierpont picnic. They come by the thousands and the meeting is always made a gala occasion. That is about the only exciting event of the year, unless something extraordinary happens to disturb the tranquil existence of the village. “
Automobiles Superseding the Horse Among the Farmers -Movie and Carnival
Attractions Added Much to List of Entertaining Features.
In speaking of the Pioneer picnic which was held yesterday at Russell’s grove, Pierpont, those who attended from this city, state that never before in the history of the annual affairs, has there been such a large attendance at the grove. This was due, not only to the fine weather but also to the number of new attractions added this year and to the wide popularity gained by the picnic in years previous.
The Circa 1900 Versions
One feature which dispelled the conjecture that automobiles were playthings of city folk, was the fact that farmers for miles around with! cars representing almost every make, drove to the picnic with their families. One spot that in years before had been devoted to the hitching of horses, was this year lined with automobiles. The machines, however, have not altogether obliterated the horse and carriage for there were also thousands of these to be seen. One businessman in this city stated that were all the carriages and machines put into a line they would almost reach from here to Pierpont.
Pioneer Picnic Day, Circa 1910-1916
In addition to the two “movie” shows which were new innovations this year, several of the shows belonging to the carnival which was supposed to have been in this city this week, were on the grounds.
Conneaut is Virtually Depopulated Today And Everybody is at Pierpont –Local
Merchants Making Big Displays on the Grounds
Epsom Downs never had attractions for more people than has Pierpont today. All roads lead in that direction and never was the time when thoroughfares leading to the great English racecourse saw more activity than did the roads carrying pilgrims to the Pioneer picnic today. Early morning saw the first of thousands of visitors on their way to the picnic grounds and throughout the morning every thoroughfare was crowded.
Every conceivable conveyance was seen passing points of vantage along the way and many were the exciting scenes as this carry-all or that attempted to pass another. Jollity reigned and the whole day will be one of merriment. Conneaut, of course, sent its full quota to participate in the festivities. But every other city, town, hamlet and village within a radius of twenty-five miles of Russell’s Grove is sending a somewhat similar representation. The picnic will undoubtedly have the largest attendance in its history and it is expected fifteen thousand people will be on the grounds.
Conneaut, however, more than any other community, will be prominent at the
activities of the day. Conneaut merchants have contributed liberally in many ways to make the day enjoyable. Simonds & Bennett, furniture; H. B. Kurtz, jeweler; and The Mitchell Hardware Company have big exhibits under canvas for inspection of the visitors.
Other merchants are on the grounds and many are giving out souvenirs of some kind. The stores in town today were practically deserted, the businessmen and their employees as far as possible joining with the other hundreds of townspeople to attend the picnic.
A Farnham baseball team crossed bats this morning and will again this afternoon with picked teams. Conneaut people will take part in the other sports and everyone from here will be in some particular way interested in the occasion.
So early as yesterday morning every livery rig in the city was engaged to carry people to the picnic. Auto after auto was enroute to the picnic at an early hour this morning. Every other conveyance was likewise engaged. Neighborhood parties were formed and big carry-alls engaged to carry fifteen or twenty people to the festivities, many rigs being gaily decked and the occasion was made an all day and part of the night pleasure trip.
The big feature of the afternoon program is a speech by the Hon. Hiram E. Starkey, Republican candidate for congress from the Nineteenth district of Ohio. (In 1916, Hiram E. Starkey of Jefferson served as a delegate from Ohio at the Republican National Convention. He died on September 6, 1930 and is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Jefferson.)
A literary program will be given. Aside from the ball game will be moving picture and vaudeville shows, merry-go-rounds, shows and the usual fun makers. The whole occasion will be a gala one.
(Editor’s Picture and Note. The caption on this picture that I discovered in a file on Conneaut Historical Museum Pictures reads this way. From left to right: Floyd Martin, President Pioneer Picnic Association; Mrs. Martin; Mrs. Chester Childs at her 79th Pioneer Picnic; Mr. Childs. The date is August 30 with no year mentioned. If it were Mrs. Childs’ 79th Pioneer Picnic and they began around 1890, the photo possibly dates to the late 1960s. It was taken by John Tyler and is marked Conneaut Sunday Women, September 9th, so it probably ran in the Conneaut News Herald. If you have any information about the people in the photo, please email email@example.com. I strive to make the historical information on this website as accurate as possible and some of the sources are very scattered. Help me bring them together. Sincerely, Kathy.)
Pioneer Picnics 21st Century Style
An Ashtabula Star Beacon story by Warren Dillaway, noted that the 2016 Pioneer Picnic began the last Friday in August 2016, continued for three days and had expanded into an old fashioned festival with a family friendly basis, according to Pioneer Picnic Associate Trustee Mark Posey of Pierpont. Although Pioneer Picnic Trustees and planners did not know of any surviving Groves family members, they did not worry.
One of the conditions of holding the Pioneer Picnics in Russell’s Grove every year was that the grounds had to be returned to the Groves family if there was no picnic. Picnickers swore that there would always be a picnic or as Picnic volunteer Virginia Forbes of Pierpont put it, “We have it for the festival as long as we have a picnic,” she said. “There are no living members of the Groves family left we know of, but I’m sure they’d find one if we didn’t. We love doing it though, so there’s no chance of that.”
The Pioneer Picnic /Festival features its old-fashioned flavor with events like frog jumping, cross cut sawing, pedal tractor pull for kids, horseshoes, and old engine display. There are stage coach rides, a covered wagon, horse pulls, pageant for all ages, a Chinese and regular auctions, and life music.
Don Wakefield of Pierpont said he’s been coming to the Pioneer Picnic for more than 75 years. “My mother took me when I was a baby,” he said. “I love it and hope it runs another 120 years.”
An August 2022 story by Warren Dillaway reported the events of the Pioneer Picnic including cross-cut sawing, competitions, sack races and live music.
Julie Martin, Pioneer Picnic secretary, noted that she has been attending the celebration for 49 years, and that there is a group of ten to fifteen volunteers who plan and make the picnic a reality. She said that the picnic planning committee needs more volunteers to feature more activities. She added that she loves seeing people together and having a good time, especially children. She pointed out that there are plenty of opportunities for children to have fun, including pageants, games and rides on a horse drawn stagecoach.