Who doesn’t love steaming pancakes piled high and dripping with pure maple syrup?
Maple syrup does not just belong to Canada or Vermont. Pennsylvania also has a stake in the maple trees–or a tap, to be precise. Not familiar with the collection of maple syrup? A few of the photos above show trees that have been tapped and are slowly collecting the sweet clear sap.
This sugar-filled substance has been such a key part of Pennsylvania’s history that there are several festivals dedicated to syrup and its production. Now, some of these festivals even have historical significance.
Flashback to 1948 in Somerset County, where the first Maple Festival was held. Meyersdale boasts a festival that has been held for 68 years. How did it get started? The recipe included a potbellied stove, a sample of maple syrup, and a song.
As one account of the Somerset County Maple Festival history goes, one day in 1947, American songstress Kate Smith (who you may recognize singing “God Bless America”) mentioned over the radio her appreciation of Vermont maple syrup. Some in Meyersdale took this as a challenge and rallied together to send Miss Smith a sample of Pennsylvania’s pure maple syrup. Their efforts were rewarded on April 17, 1947, when Miss Smith sang her popular music, as well as praises of Meyersdale’s gifts on a national broadcast, claiming the syrup was the “sweetest she had ever tasted.”
That May, the Meyersdale Chamber of Commerce began pushing for a promotional campaign using this attention, but excitement dwindled and planning lapsed when winter took hold. Then, on a blustery January night around a potbellied stove, new plans were hatched for a festival dedicated to the maple syrup produced in Meyersdale.
On March 18, 1948, the first Somerset County Maple Festival was held. Pennsylvania Gov. Daniel B. Strickler came as a guest speaker and addressed a crowd of 1,500 gathered on Main Street. The festival also included a dinner, a tour of local maple camps, and the coronation of Agnes Jean Hornbrook as Pennsylvania’s Queen Maple–a title that girls still compete for today at the Maple Festival.
The Meyersdale Maple Festival has changed a bit through the years, and other maple festivals have sprouted up around Pennsylvania including the Beaver County Maple Syrup Festival that started in 1978 and the recent addition of the National Maple Syrup Festival in Brown County.
Although some of the festivities may differ slightly at each event, from long-distance pancake flipping to the crowning of a Maple Queen, one thing remains constant: celebrating a love of the sweet liquid gold.
Each year also includes demonstrations of the tapping and distilling process. Visitors watch as the sap is collected, sometimes even getting a look at the old horse-drawn carts that move the collected sap from trees to stove. There it transforms from a clear liquid in the tree to the rich golden syrup containing almost 70% sugar.
No matter the year or location, the PG’s archives show that children, adults, and…cows (?) alike are fond of the sweet sap that drips from maple trees in the last biting weeks of winter and early frigid spring days. Most of the archives captured people as they snuck a sample of the clear sap, or indulged in the long awaited syrup at the end of watching the refining process.
Most festivals also feature a pancake breakfast for visitors to sample the maple syrup and the chance to buy other maple-wares like the maple leaf maple candy shown above from a 1988 festival.
Would you be able to resist dipping your fingers into the sugary pail?