Tamaqua's 26th Heritage Festival Sunday may have hit a new peak for the borough's annual October celebration.
A sparkling sunny autumn day, with temperatures in the 70s, provided a welcome backdrop for the festival, which encompasses seven blocks of Tamaqua's downtown historical district along West Broad, Nescopec and South Railroad streets and Hegarty Avenue.
"We had a great crowd, and I'm very pleased with the fabulous weather," said Dale Freudenberger, president of the Tamaqua Historical Society, which sponsors the heritage fest. "There were throngs of people here. This has got to be one of the best festivals we've had for perfect weather."
"It's probably the best we've had," said Linda Yulanavage, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce, who estimated the festival attracted a crowd as high as 15,000 for its seven-hour run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"We had our highest number of vendors registered. It was an excellent day."
Many of the most popular attractions center around the borough's history, featuring its traditions of the railroads and anthracite mining.
"We had a lot of train enthusiasts here," noted Freudenberger.
Three fall foliage scenic passenger train rides, each including one-hour round-trips, were almost filled to capacity. One trip traveled south to New Ringgold, while the other two went north to the High Bridge, with its spectacular view of the season's colors.
George Rinker of the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway said that almost 1,600 tickets were sold for the train rides, with the 1 p.m. excursion to the High Bridge selling out.
The trains left and returned from the restored 1874 Tamaqua train depot. Next to the station, in Depot Square Park, a replica of an antique calliope, owned by Gregory Badger of Skippack, Pa., proved to be of interest to festival goers, as did Brian Ferrence's collection of antique steam railroad whistles near the Five Points Intersection of Routes 209 and 309.
The Tamaqua train show and swap meet was held at the Salvation Army Community Center at 105 West Broad St., and the Tamaqua Anthracite Model Railroad Club held an open house in its basement headquarters at the corner of West Broad and Nescopec streets. Both attracted a steady flow of interested visitors.
Not far from the model railroad club is a Tamaqua landmark, the 1848 Hegarty Blacksmith Shop, which was owned by three generations of the Hegarty family up until 1973. The shop is still functional, and blacksmith Donald Campbell of Hazleton gave demonstrations of his craft for those who toured the facility, which at one time was the oldest operating business in Schuylkill County.
Tours of the first home in Tamaqua, the 1801 Burkhardt Moser log house at the rear of 302 East Broad St., as well as the historical society's museum at 118 West Broad St., were also available.
On South Railroad Street, the Tamaqua Street Machine Association held its annual Heritage Day Car Show, which attracted over 70 vehicles.
"That's excellent for us," said TSMA President Mark Blasko. "It's been packed like this all day, and it really filled up in the end."
The People's Choice Award went to Daniel Tyson of Andreas, for his 1978 Ford LTD Ghostbusters mobile.
"I'm just really into the movie," said Tyson. "I had all of the gear for it before, and I started looking for a car for it. It's been finished since last October."
The TSMA show raised $365 for the Toys For Tots program, as well as collecting a number of toys. The club also donated $500 from its last two cruises at Heisler's Dairy Bar in Lewistown Valley to the historical society for its clock restoration project.
Sunday morning included a couple of events that extended outside the borough. The 5K Wabash Dash proceeded along Old Route 209 to the village of Newkirk in Schuylkill Township. A mountain bike race, the Reading Anthracite Coal Cracker Classic, was the first for the festival since 2004, attracting 86 cyclists to Tamaqua's Bungalow Park and its course on the outskirts.
Food and craft vendors lined the streets, and customers kept them busy.
"We sold out of pulled pork sandwiches and soup," said Stacey Bennett of Stacey's Savory Selections, which was set up next to the Salvation Army Center.
"It was a great day for food sales," said Freudenberger. "People got to enjoy seasonal and ethnic food favorites."
Other recurring attractions included Leiby's Belgian draft horse trolley rides, the military timeline, the autumn harvest market, and the Eckley Players from Eckley Miners Village in full period costume. Bob Vybrenner of Tamaqua wore the garb of a 19th century mortician as he spoke about undertaking practices of that era.