For almost 50 years the Melon Festival has been a highlight of Labor Day weekend for Milan and vicinity. What isn't so well known is that a Melon Festival was held for at least three years during the Great Depression 1936, 1937 and 1938.
The 1936 festival was a two-day affair, on the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend. This was planned by the Milan Methodist Church to draw people from as far away as Cleveland and Toledo and then make them familiar with the wonderful melons grown in the Milan area.
Rather than using the public square, the plan was to use the basement of their church, which had burned in 1930. It was hoped that the money raised would add to the building fund for the present church. A kitchen was fitted up in part of the basement for cooking, and the remainder was to be used for a dining room where each meal served would include melon for dessert. Outside on the church grounds were booths selling melon candies, melon ice cream and other specialty items. Tours were also planned for the Edison Birthplace and Lloyd Cronk's Midget City. Each evening would conclude with a musical concert.
In 1937 the festival was held on the square, where a large tent sheltered booths for the sale of melons, ice cream, cake and sandwiches. The church ladies planned a chicken dinner for Saturday evening only.
The 1938 festival was the last of this series that I could find. Again, this was held on the public square under a large tent. This was a one-day festival with meals served all day along with homemade ice cream and cake, as well as an abundant supply of watermelons and muskmelons for sale.
I could not find a record of a 1939 festival, perhaps because the new church was built in 1937 and the three festivals has served their purpose in raising funds for the present building at the corner of Church and Center streets. This building is the third sanctuary built and occupied by the Methodists in Milan through the years.
Speaking of Milan, one of its oldest homes was torn down in May due to its deteriorated condition. This was the Colton House on Elm Street, built about 1843 in the Greek Revival style. It resembled a Greek temple with a columned portico on the front, similar to but much larger than the Sebastian Taylor law offices at 17 E. Front. They were built about the same time and perhaps by the same local carpenter.
Hamilton and Melinda Colton were the first owners and occupants of this house and it remained in their family for a century or more until after the death of their youngest daughter Cordelia in 1937. Mr. Colton was a grain buyer and forwarding agent and first came to Milan before the canal was completed in 1839. He first settled at Abbottsford, a proposed town on the Huron River north of Mason Road. The oldest son, Sheldon Colton, was born there in 1835 and was spoken of in later years as the only person ever born in Abbottsford.
After the canal was completed in 1839, the Coltons moved to Milan where the children were active members of local society. In 1993, a descendant published a fine book of selected Civil War era letters of the Coltons. This is a fine work on the family, and gives a great picture of the family life and times, and a picture of Milan during the war.