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Minnesota’s longest continuously running festival

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Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society/Goodhue County Historical Society
A crowd gathered at the 1898 Stiftungsfest celebration.

The longest continuously running festival in Minnesota history, Stiftungsfest, was founded in 1861. This German festival celebrates the music and culture of Carver County‘s German immigrants.

Stiftungsfest has a long and rich history rooted in Pioneer Maennerchor, a German men’s singing group also founded in 1861. One night, founder Carl (also spelled “Karl”) Bachmann had a dream in which he was leading a group of men singing songs in German. Inspired by this dream, the next day he gathered the best male singers in the community who were willing to put in practice hours. That very evening, the first practice of Pioneer Maennerchor was held in Bachmann’s home in Benton. The group sang songs in both English and German, due to the groups’ strong German roots. Over the years, the Maennerchor traveled and participated in many concerts, festivals, and contests, winning many awards.

That same year, 1861, Stiftungsfest was born as a picnic for choir members and their families. Choir members chose the name for the gathering, which is German for “Founder’s Day Festival”. This yearly picnic was first held in Vogler Woods near Norwood and Young America, then in Young America’s City Park. Each year, the festival grew larger, until the whole community of Young America was involved. Baseball games became a main attraction along with the music and dancing. Other Minnesota towns with large German immigrant populations, like New Ulm and Gaylord, offered special train service for this festival, as did Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In 1868 the Pioneer Maennerchor built a permanent home, Singer’s Hall, in Young America. The hall was famous for its “Des Brosse Runde Tisch,” or big round table. Used for card games after practices, the table had a special shelf beneath the playing surface to hold beer mugs, preventing spills on the tabletop.

By 1911, interest in Pioneer Maennerchor had waned. However, the group did not officially disband until July 7, 1938. The final six members voted to turn over control of Singer’s Hall and Stiftungsfest to the village of Young America. The village handed control to the fire department, which has maintained festival traditions ever since. When the cities of Norwood and Young America merged in 1996, so did the fire departments. Both departments have worked to run Stiftungsfest through Stiftungsfest Incorporated since that day.

Over time, there have been changes to Stiftungsfest. In 1956, barbeque sandwiches were first offered. That same year, the festival became a three-day event for the first time since 1866, with baseball tournaments, bingo, parades, and dancing, as well as singing and music. Since 1981, Stiftungsfest has regularly hosted the Diedesfeld band from Bonn, Germany as well as inviting other bands from Germany. In 1994, to better house Stiftungsfest, Willkommen Park was redesigned to look like an old German town. Stiftungsfest celebrated its milestone one hundred fiftieth anniversary in 2011.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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