Vermont Settlement Festival
I grew up in Orland, Ind., and remember enjoying the annual Vermont Settlement Festival. Everything from eating a funnel cake with lots of powdered sugar (that mostly ended up all over my face and on my clothing), to being on a parade float and throwing candy are special memories. I remember pushing the bulls-eye on a dunk tank and watching the local grocery store owner fall into a tub of ice cold water. The annual festival is full of family fun and things to do for people of all ages and stages in life. Even as a college student who lived away from home, I always made time to come home for this annual event and often brought my friends.
In my younger years friends from home paired with college friends to make a team for long-time festival favorites like the mud volleyball competition. We also enjoyed the evening activities like the live bands and action at the Draft Horse. Other times it was nice to just relax under a tree at the town park to listen to a band and eat homemade warm peach cobbler topped with ice cream.
Orland isn’t a big town. Frankly, it’s something you would see in a movie like Hoosiers. Booming with industry and innovation behind the residential portions of the town, Orland has a rich history and tradition, but more than anything it has a feeling of the “good old days” when life was simpler.
Nestled along the Fawn River in the northwestern portion of Steuben County, Orland is known as the birthplace of Steuben County. In 1834 early settlers originally referred to it as the “Vermont Settlement” because they were immigrants from Vermont.
Town founder John Stocker had gone prospecting for his family and neighbors. Stocker chose the area because of the burr-oak trees and streams of the Fawn River. More pioneers coming from Windham County, Vermont arrived shortly thereafter and built a Baptist church. The early settlers named the town Orland after the hymn called “Orland”.
Orland is recognized as the first settlement in Steuben County. Each year in late July, Orland celebrates this heritage with the Vermont Settlement Festival. This year the festival is July 29-30 and the theme is “Orland – A Place Where Friends Meet”.
The annual festival features lots of great food, a crafter and vendor market, musical entertainment and a primitive interpretive village that depicts pre-1840 life. Most activities take place at the Orland Town Park, with a few events at other locations in town. Festival goers can eat Mister Bratz’s famous brats fresh off the grill coupled with ribbon fries made by Prairie Heights football players and Denver Booth’s famous homemade ice cream. If your craving for meat is on the lighter side, you can get some of the BBQ chicken fresh from the local farms of Miller Poultry.
One hallmark of the festival is the parade Saturday at 11 a.m. The parade starts in the heart of downtown Orland and ends at the town park. Events throughout the weekend include an inflatable zone for kids and a petting zoo with pig races. Adults can listen to bands like Cactus, who will liven things with a variety of rock and country, or lighter sounds like the Wasepi Bluegrass Gospel Singers.
For the mighty and competitive there is a 5K race and fun walk/run, tug-of-war contest, mud volleyball and a softball/baseball tournament. A canoe and kayak race on the Fawn River is new this year. For kids who like to compete there is a youth talent show and sanctioned pedal tractor pull.
Orland is always a place where friends meet, but the annual Orland Vermont Settlement Festival is sure to have something for everyone!
I hope that others will come to Orland and enjoy the festival. I might be found watching a softball game, eating ice cream or sitting under one of the burr-oak trees that town founder John Stocker felt connected to when he embarked on the land we know as Orland back in 1834. Whether it was John Stocker and the settlers from Vermont or my family and yours, Orland was and still is a place for “friends to meet.