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Jennifer Ewing shows off her bobbin lace demonstration at Grape Day Festival. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Jennifer Ewing shows off her bobbin lace demonstration at Grape Day Festival. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Thousands rediscover Escondido history at Grape Day Festival

ESCONDIDO — Despite the threat of rain, the return of the Grape Day Festival brought thousands of people Saturday seeking to rediscover the history of Escondido.

Hundreds of people were already perusing the vast tents of local vendors and historical displays within the first hour of the historic festival’s opening.

First started in 1908, Grape Day Festival used to attract thousands of visitors from all over Southern California to visit the town known for its sweet grapes and wine. For years, the city’s celebration of local agriculture was only second in popularity to Pasadena’s Festival of Roses.

Professional blacksmith Fil Martinez shapes a hooked prong on his anvil at Grape Day Festival. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Professional blacksmith Fil Martinez shapes a hooked prong on his anvil at Grape Day Festival. Photo by Samantha Nelson

The festival started in 1908 and ran until 1950. The Escondido History Center revived the festival in 1990 and ran it until 2018. The History Center was one of the main organizers of this year’s festival and worked alongside Brothers of 6, another charitable organization also working to preserve history in the community.

Robin Fox, director of the Escondido History Center, called the Grape Day Festival a fun, free, “one-day history lesson” for the city.

Blacksmiths, lacemakers and other entertainers demonstrating old-world crafts were busy answering questions throughout the day about their skills as they worked away at whatever sword, steak prong or sock they made.

In front of the old Bandy Blacksmith Guild, standing next to the train depot in the park, professional blacksmith Fil Martinez shapes hooked steak prongs and other tools throughout the day. As he hammered away, Larry Fox, a novice blacksmith, explained to onlookers how Martinez shapes the tools he creates using his forge and anvil.

Grape Day Festival featured demonstrations of blacksmiths and other old crafts. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Grape Day Festival featured demonstrations of blacksmiths and other old crafts. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Despite a threat of rain, the city's historic Grape Day Festival attracted thousands to downtown Escondido over the weekend. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Despite a threat of rain, the city’s historic Grape Day Festival attracted thousands to downtown Escondido over the weekend. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Jennifer Ewing's bobbin lace demonstration at Grape Day Festival. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Jennifer Ewing’s bobbin lace demonstration at Grape Day Festival. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Phil Ewing, another Escondido blacksmith, made the wagon. He helped design the reconstructed blacksmith shop in the 1990s by taking inspiration from the Tom Bandy & Son blacksmith shop initially established in 1908. Ewing also assisted with the wheelwright and woodworking extensions on the shop in 2007.

“This wagon was in the process of being built for 10 years,” Fox said about the wagon used for the first time at the festival. “He made it to be able to pull in parades.”

The blacksmith shop volunteers teach blacksmith classes throughout the year and are usually present in the shop on Tuesdays and Saturdays, according to Ewing.

Over at the train depot, Phil Ewing’s daughter, Jennifer Ewing, was busy demonstrating the art of bobbin lace, a process that braids and twists thread wounds on bobbins.

“As a blacksmith’s daughter, what I make is based on the tools I use,” she said.

Alongside her were other textile-making crafts, including an antique soft knitting machine from 1904. Women would often sit by the fire while knitting clothes for troops in WWI and WW2.

With the triumphant return of the Grape Day Festival this year, many are looking forward to many more years of grape stomping, history and art.

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