In 1968, when Towson was a quiet, small-town county seat, Dale Anderson was county executive; Spiro T. Agnew was Maryland's somewhat obscure governor; and Hilda Wilson, a York Road lighting store owner, helped organize a small, afternoon fair one Saturday in early May.
Now nearly 25 years later, the fair has grown to a huge two-day festival, preceded by a catered reception for organizers and nearby community residents on the 10th floor of the new multiscreen cinema, retail, office and restaurant complex that occupies the spot where Mrs. Wilson's old store once stood.
Last night, to launch the official beginning of the festival today, teams of local residents raced bathtubs down Chesapeake Avenue as a fund-raiser for the Baltimore Area Council Boy Scouts of America.
Fund raising is a major reason that the expanded Towsontown Spring Festival is still sponsored by the Towson Business Association. The event gives scores of non-profit groups a chance to spread their message and help finance their activities, and raises about 60 percent of the association's yearly budget, said director Susan K. DiLonardo. "It's a chance to bring people to Towson, for businesses to be visible," she said.
This year, festival-goers will find live, oldies rock 'n' roll, antique cars, 400 vendors selling food, crafts and knickknacks, a flea market at Washington and Allegheny avenues, a children's entertainment stage, pony rides, photography and art exhibits.
The county government has 30 booths to explain its own activities.
Costumed characters will mingle with the crowds. Included among them will be the Oriole Bird; mascots for the Baltimore Blast soccer team and the Skipjacks ice hockey team; Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles; Wally Woodchuck, the mascot for the Baltimore Zoo; Larry and Vince, the seat belt dummies; and others.
There will be beer and wine gardens, but no one will be permitted to drink alcoholic beverages while strolling through the public streets, Ms. DiLonardo said, and no dogs are allowed.
The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, and from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow.
Several streets in central Towson will be closed during the festival, but through traffic will still be able to use York Road or Bosley Avenue and the Towson bypass. Pennsylvania and Chesapeake avenues will be closed, from York Road west to Bosley Avenue. Washington and Baltimore avenues running north and south will be closed and lined with fair booths and four performance stages.
Vendors pay the Towson Business Association fees ranging from $100 to $350 to operate a booth.
The association uses the money to fund its other activities through the year -- the Towson Farmers market during the warm months, Towson at Night free concerts in the summer, and Christmas decorations and landscaping to help keep the older business core looking nice.