Festivals don’t come together overnight.

So, in late 2016, in the basement of the Scott County Visitors Center in Huntsville, a team of planners and organizers set about the task of putting together Scott County’s newest festival — Fall on the Mall. October 2017 was nearly a year away, but there was much to be decided, much to be done.

That team — the Scott County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee — wasn’t armed with much on the front-end, except a desire to pull off a successful fall festival that would bring the community together. In fact, the scope of the festival changed drastically from start to finish. The focal point of the festival was originally intended to be the old Scott County Jail, transformed into a haunted house by Scott High students through the Museum of Scott County program, with Fall on the Mall complimenting the haunted house. 

The haunted house didn’t happen; Gary Sexton, the museum’s curator, toured the old jail early on and realized it was in no condition to open to the public, let alone have his students working in. It could actually be considered a liability.

The Tourism Committee was undeterred. Too much preliminary work had gone into the festival to abandon it entirely. And so the planning continued.

Originally planned as a Halloween-themed, family-friendly festival on the historic Huntsville Mall, the event didn’t actually have a name until Wayne King suggested Fall on the Mall during one of the brainstorming sessions in the Visitor Center basement. From there, the festival slowly began to take shape.

As winter turned to spring, the festival saw tremendous buy-in from the community. As word spread that the Chamber of Commerce wanted to provide the youth of Scott County a fun-filled day that would not cost parents or caregivers anything, businesses and organizations were eager to jump on board. 

What eventually emerged from those planning sessions was a day filled with activities. It would begin with a pancake breakfast hosted by Huntsville Fire & Rescue — an opportunity for the fire department to conduct a fundraiser around the festival. Then church youth groups would take the stage in 30-minute blocks for most of the afternoon. That would be followed by a costume contest, a trunk-or-treat and, at dark, a kid-friendly Halloween movie under the stars.

As the week of October 28 arrived, the weather forecast had a foreboding look to it. The festival team kept a close eye on the contest throughout the week, waiting for it to change, but it soon became apparent that the one thing that hadn’t been planned for was going to be an issue — inclement weather. A cold front was going to arrive to the Cumberland Plateau on the morning of the festival, bring lots of rain and maybe even a little snow. 

The festival team scurried to move the event back one week — to Saturday, November 4. Most of the vendors who had committed to the event were able to accommodate the new schedule, but there was still a sense of dread among the Tourism Committee. Who celebrates Halloween after Halloween? Would anyone actually save their costumes? Would anyone want to watch a Halloween-themed movie? Would anyone be interested in trunk-or-treat after over-indulging on Halloween candy just a few days earlier? 

The weather on November 4 couldn’t have been better, and turnout was tremendous. After an opening prayer by White Rock Baptist Church Pastor Jim West, the White Rock youth group took the gazebo stage, followed by youth groups from numerous other churches — West Robbins, Trinity, Oneida Church of God, Riverview, Pine Creek and New River. 

Hundreds turned out for the costume contest, which featured more than $500 in prize money provided by Big South Fork Medical Center. Hundreds of pounds of candy were distributed to Scott County children through the trunk-or-treat.

There were lots of kids’ games, ranging from simple spin-the-wheel games with prizes to more elaborate games. There was a free bounce house on one end of the mall. Jellico Communit Hospital provided Thomas the Train rides around the mall. Scott County Sheriff Ronnie Phillips took youngsters for a spin in the Sheriff’s Department’s tricked-out side-by-side. The local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation showed up with a portable archery and air rifle range.

And, as darkness descended on the mall, families settled in on hay bales provided by Brimstone Recreation to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus” on a massive outdoor movie screen provided by the Chamber of Commerce. Off to the side, their parents watched the Tennessee-Southern Miss football game on another large movie screen beneath a tent that was also provided by Brimstone Recreation.

As for food, there was lots of it, ranging from homemade ice cream to funnel cakes to hamburgers and hot dogs. 

And the best part of it all? It was absolutely free (except for food and merchandise that was being sold by some vendors). The intent was to provide the youth of Scott County with a fun-filled day that would not cost their parents anything, and the community had pitched in to make it happen. The Tourism Committee had approached the make-up date with trepidation, but even for Halloween-in-November, the event was a huge success.

And plans immediately started for the 2018 Fall on the Mall festival.

We’re now just a little more than a month away from Fall on the Mall. The Tourism Committee — with some veterans who helped pull off the 2017 festival and some new faces — is meeting every other week in the Visitor Center basement, and work is fervently being done to put the finishing touches on this year’s event.

Once again, community buy-in has been tremendous. A number of local businesses are sponsoring the event, and an even larger number will participate by offering games and activities for kids on the mall on Saturday, October 20. 

This year’s gold sponsors are Big South Fork Medical Center, First National Bank, United Cumberland Bank, Citizens First Bank, Lumber King, Roane State Community College and Independent Herald. Silver sponsors include Children’s Center of the Cumberlands, Citizens Gas Utility District, Ellis Family Dentistry, William W. Windle Trucking, Container Technologies Industries and Longbeards of the Big South Fork. Bronze sponsors include Ellis Sales, Roark’s Pharmacy, Brimstone Recreation and M&M Cabins at Williams Creek Retreat.

The goal will be to once again provide the youth of Scott County a fun-filled day at no cost to their parents and, because of community buy-in from businesses and organizations that call Scott County home, it will happen.

As for the setbacks of 2017? Even those resulted in positives. Accompanying Museum of Scott County curator Gary Sexton on that tour of the jail was new Huntsville Mayor Dennis Jeffers. Months later, when Jeffers successfully petitioned Scott County Commission to give the old jail to the Town of Huntsville, he cited that walk-through with Sexton as a realization that urgent work was needed to preserve the jail and prevent further deterioration. Since that time, the town has obtained grant funding to help with its efforts to restore and preserve the jail, and tentative plans are for the jail to be ready to open to the public for the first time on October 20, 2018 — at the second annual Fall on the Mall.

This article is the September 2018 installment of Profiles of a 3-Star Community, presented by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County on the second week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B10 of the September 13, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.