In 1877, George Bitzel, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Smallwood, cleared an area of trees in preparation for the church's first community picnic. More than 125 years later, the annual event is still being held on the same grounds.
The 128th annual Dutch Picnic Festival is expected to draw more than 500 people, said Beth Werrell, chairwoman of the evangelism committee chairwoman at Trinity Lutheran. The event will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the church, at 833 Deer Park Road.
Historically, the picnic has been held the first Saturday in August. The name "Dutch" picnic is believed to draw from the German heritage of the church's founding members, Werrell said.
The picnic, the church's biggest fund-raiser of the year, is open to the public, Werrell said.
Originally a daytime affair centered on the pastor's address to the congregation, the picnic extended into later hours with the invention of electric lights. It grew in size each year, as paved roads enabled people to travel longer distances.
In the 1950s, the picnic began to draw crowds of more than a thousand, partially due to appearances by the governor. A large jousting tournament also was held, attracting riders from across the state.
The food is popular - in the early 1950s, nearly 1,000 tickets for the all-you-can-eat dinner were sold, said Sandy Miller, director of worship and music for the church. This year, there will be a breakfast, as well as baked goods and other food sold at booths for the duration of the event. About 500 tickets are expected to be sold for the fried chicken and ham dinner, Werrell said.
This year's activities include an antique fire engine and car display, a race car show, demonstrations by the Carroll County School for the Performing Arts, children's games, a silent auction, and performances by several bands, including Christian rock and bluegrass. New this year is a raffle for a 55-inch television set.
More than 100 items and services have been donated by church members, community organizations and businesses for the auction, including gift certificates to restaurants, baseball tickets, handmade rugs, wreaths, furniture and Civil War collectibles.
Items sold in the crafts and collectibles alley will include aurora glass items, hand-painted pictures, jewelry, glassware, cosmetics, toys, antiques, books and hand puppets.
"People come and they have fun. It's a nice, wholesome family event," Werrell said. "There's always lots of good food and music, fun things for the kids to do, and a good all-you-can-eat dinner. What could be wrong with that?"