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Watermelon festival draws hundreds to eat, have fun

Delicious, juicy watermelon delighted hundreds of people who attended the Sixth Annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival at Hickory Hill in Thomson on Saturday.

"I just love the atmosphere and the country folk all coming together to enjoy each other and the historical presentations," said Kathi Whittington, of Augusta, as she took a big bite out of a piece of yellow watermelon. "This is so good."

"This is a great way to entertain a lot of people," said Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry. "And it's all free. We're glad that the Watson-Brown Foundation hosts this festival every year in our city."

There were a lot of first-timers to the festival this year.

Junfeng Pang, who moved from China to Augusta three years ago, was one of them.

"This is very fun," said Mr. Pang, as he watched his 20-month-old son, Steven, play in a pool of bubbles. "We're going to come back again next year, because we've had so much fun."

Another first timer was Haixia Qin, of Augusta.

"I love this," said Mrs. Qin. "There's so much for children to do and have fun."

Suzanna Guterl, of Evans, agreed.

"Our children have had so much fun," said Mrs. Guterl, as one of her daughters, Helena, 2, tried a funnel cake for the first time. Mrs. Guterl also said she and her family enjoyed eating freshly cut slices of watermelon. "The watermelon was so good."

Games included a watermelon seed spitting contest and eating contest.

Lindsey Mann, a University of Georgia senior from Tifton, is the reigning Georgia Watermelon queen.

"I've learned so much about watermelon history since becoming the new queen back in January," said Miss Mann, who was accompanied by her brother, James. "I'm very proud to serve as Georgia's watermelon queen."

Starting under the threat of rain, the clouds later broke and temperatures climbed quickly into the mid 90s. The pleasant weather brought out even more people.

"This is so nice," said Janet Crawford, of Atlanta, as she watched her 4-year-old daughter, Miranda, participate in the watermelon bowling contest. "The weather is perfect."

Mrs. Crawford along with her husband, Marty, drove down from the capital city so that they could take in the watermelon festival, as well as visit relatives in the Augusta area.

Quay Reese, 7, of Thomson, created a giant bubble in the bubble pool. "That one was really big," he told a friend.

Old tractors held fascination for other youngsters, including Jaxon Stanphill, of Thomson.

Sitting high atop an old green and yellow John Deere tractor, Jaxon enjoyed pretending to drive it, turning the steering wheel.

His Dad, Jerry Stanphill, who serves as assistant chief of the Thomson Police Department, said his son had a "great" time.

Justin Swiney, 8, of Thomson, participated in the greased watermelon contest, where he and other participants had to run along a course without dropping the slippery watermelon.

"It was fun, but it was hard to do because it was so slippery," Justin said.

Don Kearly, of Martinez, said the festival was enjoyable for his 8-year-old son, William. While his son was nearby playing games, Mr. Kearly ate several slices of watermelon.

Ivie Reese, 3, and her younger sister, Lillian, 1, were pulled in a wagon by their Dad, Keith Reese, formerly of Thomson, who lives in Grovetown.

Gloria Brooks, of Lincolnton, watched and learned how Pepper Shields, of Thomson, worked grinding corn in an old-fashioned grinder. The corn was ground to feed chickens back in the old days, explained Ms. Shields.

About midmorning, two men in old garb and members of the Lincoln County Historical Society, pretended to be bootleggers at a still being busted by police. Playing the role of police officers were officers with the Thomson Police Department, Asst. Chief Jerry Stanphill and Investigator Lt. Scott Whittle.

Nelson Brooks, known by the alias "Illinois Jones," and his friend, Gary Edwards, known by the alias "Snuffy Smith," played the roles as the bad guys. The old Adamson turpentine still, was popular back in the liquor still days of Lincoln County. Members of the Adamson family recently donated the 75-year-old historical still to the Lincoln County Historical Society.

"The Adamson family wishes to preserve the memory and history of the turpentine still from Lincoln County," Mr. Brooks said. A Watson-Brown Foundation's Junior Board grant has made the still mobile.

Web posted on Thursday, August 06, 2009

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