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The first Old Mill Day was held in 1989, and for a quarter century, the celebration has remained a time when the Bradfordsville community comes together.
Admittedly, it was a noticeably smaller affair when it first began.
“We had the supper. We had fireworks. We had music,” Bradfordsville Mayor David Edelen recalled.
The idea for Old Mill Day, in a way, rose out of what many in the community considered a sad event — the closing of the Bradfordsville School in 1984.
While it was open, the school served as a focal point for the entire town, according to Edelen.
“Without the school, you needed that glue to bring everybody’s hearts together,” he said.
A couple years after the school closed, the city had a festival to honor its namesake, Peter Bradford, but that only lasted one year.
A few years after that, people started talking and working on another idea. That first Old Mill Day was held on July 4 (thus the fireworks). After a few years, the event organizers determined that July 4 was a little too hot, so they moved it to May. When that turned out to be a little chilly, the event settled into the middle of June.
Over the years, Old Mill Days has included a variety of contests — Bradfordsville Idol, greased pig and greased pole races, among others that have come and gone — but through it all, the festival has become a fixture for the community.
Edelen said one of his favorite memories was during a talent contest when Goldie Helm was singing her heart out.
“She was singing ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, and the whole crowd got behind her,” Edelen said. “She picked right up on it, and it was beautiful. And she won the contest that time.”
At first, the proceeds from Old Mill Days were used to pay for the community center. After that was built, the town discussed building a gymnasium, but then an opportunity arose, and the city had the chance to purchase the old school. Since then, Old Mill Days — and a number of other fundraisers — has helped pay for renovations to the school, which now has a storm shelter, senior citizens activity room, kitchen and a gym.
For the record, that gym was full Friday night as hundreds of kids, parents and grandparents squeezed in for this year’s kids’ beauty pageant.
Faye Carol Cochran, who has been involved in Old Mill Days since the beginning, said this year was the busiest Friday night she can remember during the festival.
Cochran said one of her favorite memories was the men’s beauty contest, during which men would dress as women. She remembered one year a contestant even got upset that he didn’t win even though he’d shaved his legs.
“Willy [Wiser] won it with a beard,” Cochran said. “He was the prettiest one — with a beard.”
Troy Overstreet said the Old Timers softball game remains one of his favorite parts of the festival.
“The Old Timers started out with guys I used to watch when I was a kid,” he said. “Now, I’m an old timer.”
Perhaps as a testament to how the festival brings the community together, Overstreet, who grew up in Bradfordsville, and Loni Clarkson, who moved to the town from Illinois, have served as chairs of the Old Mill Day Committee in recent years.
Clarkson grew up in a town of about 35,000 people, and she admitted she didn’t know what to think 10 years ago when she first moved to Bradfordsville (population 294, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).
“But everybody’s nice to everybody. They get along,” she said.
Three years ago, Edelen asked her to help with the festival, and while Clarkson was a little tired this weekend, she didn’t seem to regret getting involved.
“It’s a small town event, and it doesn’t grow to just outrageous size,” she said. “It’s home for a lot of people, and a lot of people come back to visit during Old Mill Days.”
2014 Old Mill Days contest winners
Bike race — 1. Wesley Purdom; 2. Kyle Purdom
Water balloon contest — 1. Kaylee Cheatham and Maggie Overstreet; 2. Brooklyn Foster and Virginia Phillips; 3. Tori Gribbins and Mary Beth Overstreet
Mummy contest — 1. Maggie Overstreet and Kaylee Cheatham; 2. Tori Gribbins and Mary Beth Overstreet; 3. Virginia Phillips and Brooklyn Foster
Hula Hoop — 1. (tie) Alana Colvin and Breanna Moore
Egg relay race — 1. Virginia Phillips and Brooklyn Foster; 2. Maggie Overstreet and Kaylee Cheatham; 3. (tie) Tori Gribbins and Mary Beth Overstreet, Kyle and Wesley Purdom
Airplane contest — 1. Maggie Overstreet; 2. Nathan Mink; 3. Tori Gribbins