Old Settlers’ Day is as rich in tradition and as filled with constant change and progress as the years past which it honors. Indeed, it is the careful blending of tradition with innovation that makes Old Settlers’ Day one of the best annual celebrations in Central Kansas.
Always county-oriented, Old Settlers’ Day began Jan. 7, 1881, with a reunion for all people who settled in Marion County in the 1860s. The old settlers gathered for a basket dinner and reminiscing in Marion.
Other “pioneer picnics” and old-fashioned Independence Day celebrations were conducted both before and after this affair, but Jan. 7, 1881, is generally cited as the birthday of Old Settlers’ Day
In 1912, at the suggestion of the Marion Record, Old Settlers’ Day was revived and made an annual affair. The Marion County Old Settlers’ Association was formed to supervise the event. Thomas Potter of Peabody was the association’s first president, and Alex E. Case of Marion was its original secretary.
Prominent speakers from among early settlers of Marion County gathered Oct. 16, 1912, in Marion’s Central Park and delivered speeches. Incidents and reminiscences of early days were told. Old settlers from all parts of the county, state and nation swarmed to Marion for the gala.
Similar celebrations followed in 1913 and 1914. In 1915, the affair’s date was changed to late September, and several new additions were added. Band concerts, parades, and free sporting events all were included for the first time.
The annual festival continued thereafter, sometimes in early summer and occasionally in late autumn. Late September seemed to be the most desirable time of the year.
For many years, Old Settlers’ Day was on a Thursday or a Friday. In 1965, the celebration’s date was finalized. Because most people could attend Saturday celebrations and weather conditions in late-September were most favorable, Old Settlers’ Day was scheduled for the last Saturday in September each year.
Around that time, the tradition of honoring original settlers, who by then would have been more than 100 years old, was altered, and the event was made to coincide with high school class reunions, which previously had been scheduled at various other times throughout the year.