DELPHI — Though the weekend promises to bring hot temperatures, that won’t stop Beth Erwin, a crafter and festival coordinator, from heartily greeting Canal Days festival attendees in her period-piece costume.
Erwin has a three-layered cotton outfit, though she says she might only wear two. She will appear along with fellow crafters, food vendors, musicians and historians for this weekend’s Canal Days in Delphi at Canal Park. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the Wabash and Erie canal, which was a major source of transit and economic development from 1840 to 1874.
This year’s festival will include 17 food vendors and artists, featuring goods such as wooden toys, handmade purses and metal lawn ornaments. Sunday attendees will also be able to witness an American flag show featuring 17 historic flags. The flags will also be on display Saturday.
The festival will feature live music on both days from hammered dulcimer player Ted Yoder and Don Roberson and his band.
Dan McCain, president of the canal board, said the festival, which he estimates has taken place for the past 20 to 25 years, increases the number of visitors in Delphi, while teaching them about the canal’s history.
“It’s a good draw for economic development,” McCain said. “It’s a good excuse to celebrate the canal itself. We celebrate the canal, of course, on a weekly basis”
Last year’s festival drew a crowd of as many as 3,000 people, McCain said.
The canal used to be “king” in Delphi, McCain said, as it brought at least five new industries to the town in the 1800s. It also served as the only means of mass transit for workers building the railroad and offered a route from Delphi to New York City.
To celebrate the canal’s history, a blacksmith will be demonstrating his craft, and the school master will teach festival attendees about the history of the one-room schoolhouse.
The 54-foot long canal boat, a replica of the 90-foot boats that carried goods and people along the canal, will also be offering rides during the afternoons.
Children can take part in interactive crafts like leather making and birdhouse building.
On the craft side, Erwin, who makes hand-crocheted goods, said she and her co-coordinator of crafts look for artisans who produce handmade goods. That way, Erwin said, crafters can stay true to the 1800s methods of production, while adapting their goods to the 21st century.
“If we keep it within handcrafted, that’s pretty much historically based,” Erwin said.
A descendant of canalers in Erie, NY, Erwin said she enjoys dressing up and delivering first-person narratives about the life of a canal woman.
“I love the canal. I love the era. I love the atmosphere,” Erwin said.
And though McCain said he worries about the hot temperatures, he said he’s sure crowds will still come out to learn about the canal.
“It’s going to be a great weekend,” he said.
• Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.