Bean dinner tradition is more than 100 years old

| August 16, 2021

The annual GAR Bean Dinner opened the day’s festivities with a flag raising ceremony by Mohawk Valley 4-H Club. (Marianne Austin)

The annual  GAR  (Grand Army of the Republic) Bean Dinner is held the third  Sunday in August in Newcastle’s McElwee Park every year in commemoration of the Charles C. Nichols Post, formed in 1867 to support widows and orphans. The first bean dinner got its start on the Nichols Farm West of Newcastle.

“It’s been 154 years that we’ve had the bean dinner,” said Karen Allen Locke. “It started  a year after the war in 1867 when the widows and children from the civil war had no means to provide for themselves. There were no funds, so they all came back together and had an encampment, slept on wagons, cooked soup beans and corn bread and took up a big collection for  the widows and orphans. That’s what it was originally for, and we have kept with that theme.”

In 1907 Doctor McElwee a very astute medical doctor was also a legislator. He bequeathed the park to the community with the idea that they needed to have the encampment here every year.

“It started the third Sunday in August – it’s in the history books – and has been continuous since then,” Locke said. “I think we are the only one in Ohio to continue it every year. My dad, James D. Allen Jr. was on the committee for as long as he lived about 50 years, and I’ve been on it since I  was about 16 so I can vouch for 60 plus years. Alias Allen was my great-grandfather, and he was in the military service. We have many people here that are just like that. There are  names here that have been here for many generations. My great-grandson will be the sixth generation on our farm so there is a firm foundation here. We have lots of activities and the park is open to everyone. The money goes to maintain the park, and some goes to the women who have an emergency fund that goes right to anyone in the county who is a veteran and needs help. We’re thrilled that we can be of help even in this tiny community.”

The Walhonding Rube band has been coming to the event for 60 some years. Local historian Chris Hart also came to tell the story, “Paws for the Cause,” about a Civil War soldier and his dog and Dave Snyder came from the Walhonding Valley Museum.

“Many of us are getting older so if anyone would like to volunteer, we are always the third Sunday in August,” Locke said.

Martha Young remembers past years being an active volunteer giving her time  preparing food and getting together making potato salad.

“We still honor our soldiers,” she said. “We don’t want them to be forgotten and so we still have this. It has turned out to be a family affair where everybody comes and it’s more like a reunion. I’m getting older and it’s always nice to come back. I enjoy all the people that come. I’ve worked at the event for many years, and I enjoyed every minute of it, and I enjoy the community.”

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