The Mountain Heritage Festival actually grew out of a countywide pig roast that began in 1982.
The pig roast was sponsored by then- County Judge/ Executive Ruben Watts, County Treasurer Phillip Hampton and the county magistrates. With the help of others, the fiscal court prepared approximately 10 hogs, 300 pounds of chicken, and over 100 dozen hotdogs.
The countywide free cookout fed thousands of people. As plans were made for a sequel the following year, a group of people throughout the county met to determine whether or not Letcher County could possible host a festival on the same order as the Black Gold Festival and Hillbilly Days in our neighboring counties.
As County Judge/Executive, Ruben Watts was eager for them to succeed and offered the assistance of county resources in getting the festival started.
The Black Gold Festival loaned its partitions to construct the booths under the “big tent”. The “big tent” was located on Railroad Street and was home to the many craft booths and commercial exhibits. Needing a name for the new festival, a contest was held to name the festival and Toby Davis had the winning name, Mountain Heritage Festival.
The committee, wanting to involve all of Letcher County in the Mountain Heritage Festival, dedicated individual days for local communities to celebrate those individual communities. Those individual days included Neon Day, Jenkins Day, Letcher/Isom Day, and Blackey Day. Many of these communities have grown from one-day events to weekend festivals.
Many days and nights were spent in planning for this festival, which is now in its 36th year. This weeklong event was established to help promote and celebrate the mountain traditions and pride that make up our area’s heritage. The event brings together arts and crafts, food, free music entertainment, a parade, and an amusement midway. It has grown from the ”big tent” on Railroad Street to two big tents in which approximately 90 arts and crafts booths are set up for artists and crafters to demonstrate various talents such as chair and basket making, weaving, woodcarving and pottery.
It has grown from a stage on a flatbed on Railroad Street to its own stage in the festival village located on the bypass ramp in Whitesburg. Bluegrass, gospel, country and rock groups play all week and other entertainment is available on the stage. The entertainment is free to the public.
The festival has 17 food booths manned by churches, civic groups, school organizations and nonprofit organizations. Food is in abundance as local organizations cook and sell their specialties such as apple dumplings, “bloomin” onions, Polish sausages, barbeque and many more.
The first festival parade was a huge success and has continued to grow over the years. The festival parade is on Saturday morning, bringing hundreds of people to line the streets of Whitesburg for this event. The Mountain Heritage Festival parade has become one of the largest parades in southeastern Kentucky and lasts an hour or longer.
The Mountain Heritage Festival was recognized as one of the top 10 Kentucky fall festivals for the years of 2012,2014 and 2015 by the Kentucky Travel Industry Association. As communities throughout the county begin the festival season to promote mountain traditions, stop and remember those who worked diligently to see that the Mountain Heritage Festival had the kind of start that would mean a lasting countywide celebration.
This year the headliner will be Halfway to Hazard. The theme is Leave Your Print on the World, and Letcher County educators will be celebrated.