“It was the happiest day of our lives!” Her eyes light up. Her smile is a mile wide. She claps her hands in joy. Lena Collins Facteau (1904-1992) is remembering her childhood days at the 15th of Redford. If you ask anyone in the Redford area, in the town of Saranac, Clinton County, you’ll get the same response.
For one day each year people get to be part of a big family tradition that includes old-fashioned games, pie booths (they empty first), fancy booths, sumptuous meals, music, the ring toss, cotton candy, and a chance to ride on one of the oldest carousels in the country.
It is the opportunity to reconnect with friends and relatives not seen in a long time. Children have free reign over the grounds to spend the coins they saved all year. It is just 100% fun. And the spirit has not changed since 1855.
Still called the 15th of Redford by old-timers, the Redford Picnic evokes a special magic of a 19th century fair.
Following Mass on Wednesday, August 15th, 1855 – a Catholic holy day to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – the congregation assembled to honor the laying of the cornerstone of the Church of the Assumption in Redford. A community picnic, attended by parishioners and neighbors followed, beginning a tradition that has lasted for 166 years.
Reflecting the changes in society, by 1956 the date changed from the actual 15th of the month to the third Sunday in August and the name evolved to become the Redford Picnic.e
Using the same game wheels from over 50 years ago, the traditional games of chance continue. For 50 cents participants can win a prize in a horse race, Skillo, or the ring toss. No one ever leaves hungry after enjoying the delicious dinner served throughout the day.
The opportunity to ride one of the oldest continuously operating carousels in the country attracts carousel enthusiasts, but the ones who enjoy the enchanting ride most are the area children. With the purchase of a ticket anyone can get the chance, offered only on this day, to ride one of the twenty-four original wooden horses and four brightly colored sleighs on the rare 1890s Herschell-Armitage single-track carousel. Music from the calliope adds to the spirit of the unique ride.
At the turn of the century many towns held picnics like the 15th of Redford. Just as we have traveling carnival ride companies at the county fairs today, there were traveling groups with carousels bringing the thrill of amusement parks to rural areas. According to Redford lore, one such company ran out of money in Redford and abandoned the merry-go-round on the grounds. Another story says Charles Hooey purchased the carousel from a bankrupt group and donated it to the church. The mystery behind its acquisition just adds to the whimsy of the
In the past cornet (brass) bands and other music makers from North Country towns provided musical entertainment for dancing and merriment. Some came from Lyon Mountain with others coming from as far away as Willsboro. Until recently, Redford native singer/songwriter Roy Hurd, drew the crowd in as he brought memories and a tear or two to listeners’ eyes when he sang about laying his “dime down to ride that old merry-go-round.” Local talent entertains the crowd today, giving them a glimpse of what is happening in the music world.
The Redford Picnic is a monumental undertaking, always staffed by volunteers. During its early years, the picnic’s proceeds supported the beautiful sandstone church. As time went on, the proceeds helped fund the parish school, and now the profits continue to support the parish.
Volunteers for the picnic begin planning for next year’s picnic even before the present picnic ends. Many are third or fourth generation volunteers following in the footsteps of their ancestors.
The magic continues on August 20, 2023.
Jan Couture is a retired Town of Saranac Historian and Secretary of the Clinton County Historical Association Board of Trustees.
Photos: The Redford Picnic historic marker and Charlotte and Paul Anderson from Port Henry riding the carousel at the Redford Picnic.