There won’t be a Town and Country Days festival in Lake Mills this weekend, an event that brings many to town over four days and features a parade and many activities.
Lake Mills has a long history of festivals, most of them thrown by legionnaires, going back to the early 1920s. The Town and Country Days festival, as it’s known today, dates back to about 1957. The festival started as a way to highlight local merchants.
The Lake Mills Legion Post held its first festival in 1924. The event featured a series of athletic contests and dances at Rock Lake Pavilion.
The next July a similar event was held with added attractions including a freak car parade and “Ben’s Broadway Stars and Garters.” There was a free firework show at Ferry Field.
In 1926 firemen joined the effort to put on the festival and it moved from the City Park to Sandy Beach. The weather didn’t cooperate for the festival and it was a financial bust. There were no festivals after that until 1932.
In August 1932 the Legion organized the American Legion Merchant’s Day. There were athletic events and children’s races, horseshoe contests, tug-o-war, and swimming and boat races at Bartel’s Park. That same year there were baseball games, political speeches, band concerts and an evening dance. Carnival rides started in 1933.
Festivals over the years have featured band competitions, lake activities, vaudeville acts and more.
In 1936 the Legion festival was combined with the Lake Mills Centennial celebration and moved to August at the old high school campus.
In 1941 the entertainment included the WLS Barn Dance, a national radio show and during World War II the festivals were called War Festivals and in 1945 the Victory Festival.
In 1960 the Les Brown Band was contracted for a dance and concert at the Campus Street gym, but because of hot weather there were few dancers or spectators and the event took a financial hit.
The Chamber of Commerce began to be associated with the Town and Country Days festival in the 1960s and old Leader articles feature Town and Country queens and courts in that era. The queen and her court received gift certificates from area merchants.
One of the most popular parts of the festival over the years has been the parade, which is still organized by the Lake Mills Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Roland Liebenow wrote the Chamber and Legion held separate festivals until they were combined in 1978. An article in the Leader in 1969 said the festival was celebrating its 12th year, but the actual start date of Lake Mills festivals is tough to pin down and varies in articles from year to year.
The last several years have featured class reunions in the Sons of the American Legion beer tent, carnival rides, sliders and pies and of course family fun.
2020 will go down in history books as the year the festival was cancelled due to coronavirus.