A HISTORY OF THE RHODODENDRON FESTIVAL
In 1935, Clive Buttermere, a local businessman, convinced the Hearst Metrotone News organization to come to Jefferson County and film the rhododendrons in bloom. Hearst provided “short subjects”‘ to theaters throughout the United States, and visited Jefferson County in that year to photograph the wild rhododendrons. As a prelude to Hearst’s arrival, Mr. 8uttermere and the business community organized a Queen competition so that there could be a group of young women photographed with the rhododendrons. Nominations were made and the community could vote on their favorite by shopping at participating merchants. Dollars spent equaled votes. Myrtle Olsen was voted the first Rhododendron Queen and filmed by Hearst.
The American Legion, having witnessed the enthusiasm of the community and the festival spirit that was created, decided to make the celebration of the beauty of the rhododendrons in bloom an annual event. In 1936 the first Rhododendron Festival took Place. Royalty was chosen in the same manner and this process of selection continued for several years. The first festival in 1936 was a one day event with a parade. As the years progressed more events were added and the length of the Festival grew. (Visit the Jefferson County Historical Society to see the old brochures) The Festival was suspended during World War II (1942-45), and resumed in 1946.
The Chamber of Commerce took over the festival leadership in the early 1950’s and more events were added until it grew to be a week-long celebration. Each year brought different events: fat man’s race, boat race, golf tournament, baseball tournament, air show, cow chip throwing contest, bed race, trike race, beard growing contest, car show, kids’ parade, Queen’s Ball, and more. For many years, the candidate who sold the most buttons was chosen Queen. During the early festivals, the publicity tour only included members of Royalty, rather than candidates.
In the 1980’s the festival became a non-profit corporation and not affiliated with any one group in the County. Volunteers chair the festival as well as serve as board members. Royalty are provided scholarships from the association to pursue their education. Button sales and contributions from community members and businesses fund the festival. The annual budget is spent on candidates’ expenses, Royalty expenses, float building and maintenance, travel expenses of the float crew and Royalty to between 10 and 15 parades per year. The travel to other communities is not only fun, but is a way of promoting Port Townsend and Jefferson County.