Greater Rochester Heritage Days Festival moves a week earlier

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 16, 2017

 Children try their hand at doing laundry with a metal washboard and a bin of hot water during a previous Heritage Days Festival.

Children try their hand at doing laundry with a metal washboard and a bin of hot water during a previous Heritage Days Festival.

Photo provided by Liz Golding

ROCHESTER —  People can take a journey through Rochester’s history a week earlier this year during the Greater Rochester Heritage Days Festival.

“It is an amazing event, and it really brings all of our favorite things about Rochester to the forefront,” Rochester Downtown Development Authority Director Kristi Trevarrow said.

Typically held over Memorial Day weekend, the festival was pushed up a week this year in hopes of securing more volunteers for the event, which will celebrate the city’s bicentennial.

“A lot of people are away the weekend of Memorial Day, so we thought, ‘Let’s have it early and see if it will help,’” said event steering committee member Liz Golding. “We have a tremendous amount of volunteers (this year).”

The 2017 Greater Rochester Heritage Days Festival, which is free and is not limited to Rochester residents, will be held rain or shine 11 a.m.-6 p.m. May 20 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. May 21 in Rochester Municipal Park.

Now in its 40th year, the festival celebrates the heritage of Rochester while providing an opportunity for local nonprofit organizations to raise funds and increase awareness.

“The Greater Rochester Heritage Days Festival has been a service to the community. I think they look forward to it,” said Golding. “There are so many old-fashioned things that Rochester started with. This is just a salute to our history.”

“And it’s a way for nonprofits to get out in front of the community,” event steering committee member June Hopaluk added.

This year’s Heritage Days Festival kicks off with a pancake breakfast at The Community House 8-11 a.m. both days.

After bellies are full, families can head out to the park for the 11th annual Heritage Rod and Custom Car Show 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and the 38th annual Festival of Cars 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, both presented by the Rochester Lions Club.

From there, eventgoers can follow the paths all around the park to get a glimpse into Rochester’s history. Visitors are encouraged to wear vintage costumes both days to add to the fun.

In celebration of the city’s bicentennial, the event will welcome back the Floatable Boatables homemade boat racing event and Brothers of the Brush Beard and Mustache Growing Contest.

Floatable Boatables was an event that started in 1969 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Rochester being incorporated into a village — residents were asked to create their own boats and race them in the creek. The race was so popular that it continued for a number of years after the centennial as an annual Memorial Day event, until it was canceled in 1985 due to an inability to secure liability insurance for the race. This year, eventgoers can once again enjoy the creativity of home-built crafts floating down the creek during the return of Floatable Boatables at 11 a.m. May 20.

“I believe there was a race component previously, but the problem is — with the creek now, with a lot of the enhancements — you can’t really race in the creek anymore. There isn’t enough room. So it is just going to be a (floating) exhibition, if you will,” Trevarrow said.

To enter Floatable Boatables, participants must pre-register by May 19 at the Rochester DDA. There is a cash-only registration fee of $2, and the watercraft theme is “Rochester memories.” A trophy will be awarded to those who best adhere to the theme and follow all of the rules.

Last held in 1969, Brothers of the Brush will once again invite gentlemen to grow a mustache, a full beard or a goatee to be judged in a contest at 1 p.m. May 21 at the Rochester Municipal Park band shell. Participants will be judged by sponsors Kingsfield Grooming in several categories, including length and creativity. All participants will receive an official Brothers of the Brush membership card, a commemorative badge and an official participation certificate, and they will have the opportunity to win a gift basket and a Brothers of the Brush trophy. Participants can register for the contest in person at the Rochester DDA office, 308 1/2 Main St., or online at

Many festival favorites will also return for this year’s event.

The 10th Michigan Infantry will perform Civil War battle re-enactments and living history demonstrations. Grant Lindeman will share his experiences from the Vietnam War, and the Brooks Detachment, U.S. Marines, War of 1812, will perform military drills.

Winnebago Nation Native American re-enactors will display tepees, native artifacts and drums, while French voyager re-enactors will display historical items going back to the times when French fur traders settled in Michigan.

Children can enjoy the ever-popular and free pioneer playground, where they can play old-fashioned games and participate in activities such as stilt walking, rutabaga bowling, a beanbag toss, pony and camel rides, and a petting zoo on both days of the festival. On Sunday, close to the playground, staff from Home Depot will provide kits and tools to assist children in building small wooden boat projects.

The festival’s Heritage Area will include numerous exhibits from the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, the Rochester Historical Commission and the Oakland Township Historical Society, including historical displays and old photos of early Rochester and the Oakland County region. The Oakland Township Historical Society will have perennial plants for sale, and there will be demonstrations of weaving, spinning, chair caning, quilting and antique tools, as well as  a display of antique tractors.

Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve benefits from the festival’s Crafts Along the Creek sale, which features handmade crafts for sale inside the park both days.

After grabbing a bite to eat, families can cheer on the local vintage baseball team, the Grangers, scheduled to play 1-3 p.m. Saturday in Halbach Field.

Strolling musicians — from the Guardians of Harmony Barbershop singers, 20 Banjos and other local talent — will be heard throughout the park and at the band shell during the event.

For more information, call (248) 656-0999 or visit