A Historical Summary of Rhine’s Pondtown Festival
The Pondtown Festival was “borned” on the porch of mayor J. T. Williams. Many cities and towns were in the process of either executing or planning celebrations for the nation’s 200th birthday. Mayor Williams wanted Rhine to be a part of that celebration. J. T. Williams had called Theron McCranie to stop by and talk with him about the plans. Together they discussed possibilities and Theron took some ideas back to Rhine Elementary School, where he was working part-time. Many of the teachers, especially those working in the pre-kindergarten program became very interested. Plans were begun and the dates of June 17th and 18th 1976 were set. The festival was advertised by appearances by Lucille Conley and Theron McCranie on both 13 WMAZ TV in Macon and WALB in Albany.
The weekend celebration began on Friday night with a pageant with the contestants and their escorts dressed in 17th century costumes. The judging of the costumes was part of the pageant. Contestants were aged three through nineteen. Mr. “Red” Hilliard welcomed the large crowd gathered and Rev. Dan Jones gave the invocation. Mrs. Lucille Conley was emcee for the evening. Then Saturday festivities began the next morning with arts and crafts booths set up throughout the town. The crowd swelled until the town bustled with activity all over. Shortly after lunch, the parade entries began to line up on Church Street by the United Methodist Church. On the Rhine Elementary Early Childhood float was a huge birthday cake made under the direction Mrs. Grace Hilliard. The cake was designed to feed hundreds and took several people to lift onto the float. All of the contestants road on convertibles and the winners of the pageant were on a special float. Many of the churches had built floats. On the Fair Haven Baptist Church float, Mrs. Della Fuller, age 88, sat wearing her mother’s dress and churning butter. The Dodge County High School Band led the parade. Just as the parade got started huge drops or rain fell from a blackened sky. Thunder roared and lightning streaked around. Although the participants may have hurried up the pace, the parade was completed. Just as quickly as the rains came, they left.
A Community Supper was held at 6:00 P.M. and street entertainment was enjoyed by hundreds of people who endured the storm. People even enjoyed the birthday cake. The fine ladies had protected most of the cake and it was delicious. Plans for an annual festival were made in the months following that first festival and it was decided that the event would be held in the spring and would be called the Pondtown Spring Festival. The festival was planned for May 13 and 14 for the following year. A tradition of choosing a theme and elaborately decorating the gymnasium began that year. Many of the breathtaking scenes were designed and assisted in creating by Mrs. Mildred Swymer. Following a beautiful pageant emceed by Mrs. Lucile Conley, entertainment was presented by the Lee Jessup Band. Saturday’s arts and crafts fair was organized by Mrs. Grace Hilliard and a parade with over 40 entries was held in the afternoon. After downtown entertainment, a community supper was held at 6:00P.M. Theron McCranie again served as chairman for the festival.
The third Pondtown Festival was held in the month of April where it would continue to be held for many years. The festival grew due to the hard work and dedication of citizens like Waymon Cannon, Lions Club President, Administrators and staff of Rhine Elementary School, and the mayor and city leaders of Rhine. In 1979, at tribute was made during the ceremonies to commemorate the contributions to the success of the festival by the late Mayor J.T. Williams. Through the years many celebrities, politicians, and former citizens would attend the festival as special guest. Several citizens have been honored by the festival committee members to be chosen as Grand Marshalls. Some were; Rev. T.K. Carroll, Ovid Vickers, A.G. (Buster) and Frank Clements, Joyce B. Jones, Paul Studstill, Grace W. Whitehead, Belvin and Lucile Conley and Theron McCranie.
In 1986, the festival was co-sponsored by 13 WMAZ and the special guest was meteorologist Bill Powell. For a few years, the festival would move to a three day format. The pageant would be held on Friday, arts and crafts and parade on Saturday and a horse show would be held at the ball field on Sunday. Another momentous occasion for the festival was in 1991 when Rhine celebrated it’s 100th birthday. It was the 16th Annual Pondtown Festival and would be held on April 19th, 20th and 21st in the community. The celebration included a bid 100th birthday party, arts and crafts show and a Community Wide Patriotic Worship Service. The festival has continued due to the interest and love of community of many citizens of Rhine.