(Souvenir program from the 1968 Towson Bicentennial Celebration — an event that would continue in later years as the Towsontown Spring Festival. On the front is a drawing of Towson’s Tavern by Hilda N. Wilson/Private collection)
In 1768, Ezekiel Towson opened an inn and tavern to service travelers along what would become York Road. Two hundred years later, in 1968, a group of Towson business owners decided that date was as good as any to designate as their town’s birthday, and threw a grand Towson Bicentennial Celebration to mark the occasion.
Over the 46 years since, the Towsontown Spring Festival has become one of Baltimore County’s premier springtime events.
That first celebration, held on May 11, featured women in Colonial garb, serving as hostesses along Washington and Pennsylvania avenues, where most of the festivities were concentrated. Four banks, all long gone now — Loyola Federal, Chesapeake National, Maryland National and First National – held open houses. The Towson Library’s bookmobile (from when the library was housed in a two-story brick building on Susquehanna Avenue) was open for visits. Radio station WTOW had a booth, and Wilson Electric on York Road (established in 1919 and still going strong, although it has since migrated south on York Road) was offering souvenir placemats, with pictures of historic Towson structures, including Towson’s Tavern (which, sadly, had been razed in the late 1920s), Rodgers Forge (gone for ages, but its name remains on the community just off York Road south of Towson University) and the Hampton Mansion.
(A crowd scene at the 1974 Towsontown Spring Festival, Carl D. Harris/ Baltimore Sun photo)
Proud Towsonites (Towsontonians? Towsoners?) flocked to courthouse square and its environs in droves to join in the celebration – some attracted by the annual outdoor art show, being held in conjunction with the bicentennial celebration that year. Buses took people on tours of historic Towson, beginning at the courthouse and including visits to Towson State College, The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, Trinity Episcopal Church, Aigburth Vale Mansion, Bosley Mansion (now the Presbyterian Home of Maryland) and more than a dozen other sites. Many, such as the 1881 Masonic building at Chesapeake and Washington avenues, proud home of Asbill Pharmacy, have since been demolished, but many (amazingly!) still stand.
The fair was the brainchild of Wilson Electric’s Hilda N. Wilson, a founder of the Towson Business Association (which sponsored the bicentennial celebration) and a tireless civic promoter long known as the unofficial mayor of Towson. Working out of the back office in her store, just south of the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue, she would always make time to discuss the history of her beloved Towson with visitors; for years, the program for every Towsontown Spring Festival (the name first appeared for the 1969 celebration, held on April 26) included a heartfelt welcome from Mrs. Wilson.
(A balloon vendor at the 1972 Towsontown Spring Festival, Frank Gardina/Baltimore Sun photo)
“Everywhere friends are greeting one another and people are smiling as gaiety pervades the atmosphere,” Mrs. Wilson wrote in the 1972 program. “Little children are enjoying lemon and peppermint sticks or fluffy pink cotton candy. Hearty appetites are being satisfied with hamburgers, hot roast beef sandwiches, crab cakes, sausages, French fries, Greek delicacies, pastries, ice-cream and home-baked specialties.”
Mrs. Wilson died in 2001, at age 95. But the tradition she started continues this weekend with the 47th annual Towsontown Spring Festival. The courthouse grounds may look different (though, happily, you can still pose alongside the old Spanish-American War cannon that’s aimed at Washington Avenue) and you can no longer sit down for lunch at Bernie Lee’s Penn Hotel or buy flowers from Whitney Florist on Chesapeake Avenue. But, you can still go to the festival, and ain’t that grand?