The National Cherry Festival: A Traverse City Tradition

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Beginning on Saturday, July 2, the National Cherry Festival kicks off in Traverse City, filling eight days of summer fun in Traverse City. While many locals think they have a good grasp of the festival’s roots, you may be surprised at some of the interesting history of this incredibly popular Michigan tradition. 

Cherry Festival History - Early Beginnings

The festival had somewhat humble beginnings, as the first gathers that would become the Cherry Festival were actually “the blessing of the blossoms” in May of each year. The first edition of this gathering, aimed at bringing together area cherry farmers from Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, was believed to have taken place in 1910. One imagines a few hundred orchard owners and hands celebrating with some beverages. Things have gotten a touch bigger since then. 

The First Cherry Queen

The festival got a lot more official when cherry royalty entered the stage. In 1925, Gertrude Brown became the very first Cherry Queen, starting a tradition that continues to today (although there were no festivals held during the Great Depression and WWII.)

You can meet all of the past Cherry Queens on the Cherry Festival’s website. (My oh my, have hairstyles changed over the decades!)

Big Firsts in the 1960s and 70s

In 1968, the festival was expanded to a full week of activities, making the first time it spanned a full seven days. The expansion in days was a direct result of the increase in participation and excitement surrounding the festival on a local and even national scale. 

1975 saw President Ford serve as the Grand Marshal, marking the first time a sitting U.S. President visited the festival in its full pomp. The “go big or go home” mentality carried over into 1978, when the Air Force Thunderbirds performed for the first time. 

A Really Big Cherry Pie

For the readers who are also bakers, this is probably what you’ve been waiting for. In 1987, Traverse City set a world record for the world's largest cherry pie. The pie was 17 feet six inches wide and weighed a mouth-watering 28,350 pounds. 

The pie plate used for this pie is still on display outside the Sara Lee building on Cass Road

National Cherry Festival 2022

As Traverse City locals, we want to say welcome to all of our out-of-town friends who are coming to town during the Cherry Festival. There are so many wonderful events, shows, and activities for you to check out. Here are some helpful links for out-of-towners and locals alike to check out to make the most of the week ahead! 

Free Family Events

Health and Wellness Activities 

The Airshow (ft. The Blue Angels)

The Parades

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