Before clothing stores, textile mills, and Eli Whitney's cotton gin, there was linen. For thousands of years, people have been turning fibers of the flax plant into linen cloth. When Europeans settled the American frontier, flax was one of the first plants cultivated. Flax scutching turns flax fibers into linen cloth. The Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival demonstrates the process as it has been practiced for more than 200 years in the Ligonier Valley.
This is the oldest active festival of its type in the Western Hemisphere. The centennial anniversary was celebrated in 2007.
Dating to the first settlers back in the 1770s, flax has been raised and scutched in the Ligonier Valley. Traditionally, farming families would gather after the harvest to share the labor-intensive chore of turning flax fibers into linen. Their gatherings quickly became social events with shared food and folk music. In 1907, local Justice of the Peace, Elmer N. Miller, conceived of an annual reunion to celebrate the valley's history and homey pleasures. A mock "Indian Raid" commemorated several actual raids that occurred here in the 1770s and ‘80s. Homemade foods, traditional music, displays of antiques and demonstrations of folk arts offered tastes of the past. And the event was centered around flax scutching to preserve this disappearing folk craft.
Today the festival continues to reflect all of these rich traditions:
- Drawing upon more than 200 years of oral tradition, Ligonier Valley residents still demonstrate how flax plants were turned into linen cloth. The National Park Service and other historical groups have come here to observe this vital pioneer craft.
- Other folk crafts and vintage farming equipment are displayed.
- Civil War re-enactors provide a mid-19th century experience.
- The mock Indian Raid remains a festival fixture.
- Traditional foods provide delicious tastes of the past.
- Learn how linen was made.
- Enjoy live country, bluegrass and gospel music.
- Experience a Civil War encampment.
- Children's Area - young and old, for the kid in each of us.
- Eat buckwheat cakes and sausage.
- See the Indian Raid - a festival tradition - on Saturday.
- Marvel at the antique farm machinery.
- Sample homemade soups and fresh-pressed apple cider.
- Observe demonstrations of blacksmithing, pottery-throwing, and flax demonstrations.
- Outdoor worship Sunday morning.
- Indulge in baked goods at the bakery.
- Stop at the kitchen for sandwiches, sides and plate lunches.
- Wander in the Flax Scutching Historical Area.