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2009 Festival Off Main: Cold weekend ushers in Christmas season for Thomson, Dearing and McDuffie County

Santa was busy in McDuffie County this past weekend for the Festival Off Main, which turned out to be a great success, according to officials.

"Overall, it was a good weekend in Thomson," Mayor Kenneth Usry said.

The big weekend started at the Depot Thursday evening with singing by local school groups, the lighting of the community Christmas tree and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus. A crowd came out for the event in spite of the rainy weather.

"It's great to see the community come out in this time of economic stress and still smile," Mrs. Claus said. "I'm glad to see that everybody still believes."

Approximately 75 children got to sit in Santa's lap and have their picture taken, compliments of Wal-Greens.

"I asked him for a white iDog that plays my music and a keyboard and a Wii, and he said 'okay,'" seven-year-old Aaron Hayes said, adding that he has no doubts he was on Santa's good list. "I know I've been good, because I got nothing but all greens at school."

While the children were visiting Santa, the Thomson Fire Department was serving grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and chili in the parking lot. In the Annex, there were three entries in the inaugural chili cook-off: Jim and Tim's Southern Fried Chili, which won the judge's choice and $100, Kathy Hawkins, who won the people's choice and an apron embroidered by It's a Southern Thing, who was also the third entry.

Santa returned to Dearing on Friday evening, where approximately 500 people filled the newly renovated Dearing gymnasium. After going outside for the lighting of the tree, everyone returned to the gym to hear students from Dearing Elementary School sing and to take pictures with Santa.

"He was really nice," said Katelyn Payton, 9, who asked Santa for a jump rope and a Baby Alive. "I told him I didn't clean my room, and he said to be sure and clean it next year."

The inaugural event was held last year at Dearing Town Hall, which proved to be too small of a location. Dearing Mayor Sean Kelley said he was pleased with how smooth the event ran at the gym, and it was "much better than last year."

"It was an exciting turn out and everything was wonderful," Dearing resident Gladys Rodgers said. "The children were precious. It is great for our community, and I am thrilled with everybody supporting it. If you didn't have a good time, it was your own fault."

Santa and Mrs. Claus were up and out early Saturday morning and had breakfast with children in the Depot. Approximately 75 enjoyed a breakfast of grits, bacon, muffins, cinnamon rolls, milk and juice, crafts with Santa and stories with Mrs. Claus.

The Depot parking lot was filled with vendors of every imaginable item all day on Saturday as hundreds shopped for unique Christmas gifts and enjoyed festival food. Organizer Johnette Bell said the vendors were happy with the turnout and the business.

"It's a little cooler this year than last year, and the show is better," said Alex Williams, of Williams Custom Calls. Mr. Williams is from Dearing, and sells his wild game callers at festivals all over the Southeast. "I always like to do the Thomson festival because I get to see a lot of people that I wouldn't ever get to see if not for this."

And he wasn't the only one to enjoy catching up with old friends. Gail Boyd of Aiken said she comes to Thomson frequently for antique shopping, and was excited to learn of the festival, so she could "roll it all up into one trip." And another South Carolina resident came to reconnect with her roots.

"I think this is terrific," said Judy Cranford, who now lives in Summerville. "I love festivals and I go to every one that I can. I graduated from Thomson High, and it tickles me to come and see how things are thriving."

The vendors packed and left at 5 p.m., but the festivities continued with the Tour of Homes. Approximately 130 people attended the tour, which consisted of eight historic homes along Milledge, Church and Lee streets. Chamber of Commerce Director Carolyn Gilbert said the neighbors of the participating houses also decorated their homes with lights to make the entire neighborhood festive for the occasion. Mrs. Gilbert said she received many compliments from those attending, telling her that it was the most organized tour they'd been on.

"It was just a wonderful occasion, and it was beautiful because the garden clubs had decorated the house here in all live greenery as I requested," said Jim Usry, who owns the historic Usry House on Milledge Street. "And it was just a magical night with all the luminaries up and down the street, and I think it was a signal evening for the City of Thomson to be involved in its past."

Mr. Usry is the seventh generation of the Usry family to live in the house. Constructed by his fourth-great-grandfather, the house began as a one or two-room cottage and through the years evolved into the two-story, porticoed structure of today. Last month, a George III 1780s style London drawing room was completed on the back of the house.

"I just simply say I had a very good time meeting so many wonderful people and introducing them to a house that has many elements in it … and all because our family has lived in it for 213 years since George Washington's second administration," he said.

And the festival continued back in time with the theme of the parade, "An Old Fashioned Christmas," on Sunday afternoon through downtown Thomson. There were 70 entries in the parade, with Salem United Methodist Church winning the religious category, Finuf Sign Company winning the small business category, Thomson Plastics winning the industry category and the Thomson High School softball team winning the education category, according to organizer Debbie Jones.

"I thought the floats were absolutely super," Mayor Usry said. "The parade itself, in my opinion, gets better every year. We may have had less participation than in the past, but the quality was there. And I was really, really taken aback by the number of people that was along the parade route. There was a lot of folks."

The mayor and THS teacher Robin Dudley served as emcees for the parade, and the McDuffie Regional Medical Center Auxiliary members were the Grand Marshals.


See more photos from the Festival Off Main at

Web posted on Thursday, December 11, 2008

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