There are few alive today, perhaps none, who attended the first Putnam County Homecoming in the summer of 1929. One individual who was in attendance on that occasion was John Lyle Burnside. Mr. Burnside, now deceased, shared his memories of the event with the Breeze just prior to the 2001 Putnam Homecoming.
As an eight-year-old, Burnside was, not only a witness to the happenings of that day, but, a close up spectator to the preparations of the three prominent Winfield citizens who founded the Putnam County Homecoming. One of the three was Burnside’s father, John (Peggy) Burnside. The other two were John Miller and Charlie Howell. Peggy, as he was known to his friends (he had many) was a riverman who doubled as Winfield’s mayor. John Miller owned and operated the Putnam Democrat newspaper, while Charlie Howell was the president of the Bank of Winfield (which later fell prey to the Great Depression).
Burnside recalled that the idea for the homecoming stemmed from conversations which centered upon the many friends and acquaintances who had moved away. The three thought it would be great to have a community together. As an incentive to attend they decided to finance a community ox roast with their own money. The three collected the names and addresses of all that had moved and mailed out penny post card invitations in early 1929.
The date selected was in the middle of the summer. The weather was hot but the turnout was huge. The consensus of those attending was “Let’s do it again!”
It was decided to move the event to the second Sunday in September and have each family provide their own picnic lunch.
“I really liked the food,” Burnside stated, “It was in short supply during the Depression, but it seemed like there was a lot of sharing at the Homecoming.”
In the early years of the homecoming the roads to and through Winfield were all gravel. Burnside remembered there being lots of Model T’s and not very good roads. There was no U.S. 35 (now State Route 817) or State Route 34 and there was no bridge across the Kanawha. The route of travel from Hurricane to Winfield was Teays Valley Road to the Kanawha River at Scary and then along the river to Winfield. Most motorists on the northside of the Kanawha parked their automobiles at the ferry site in Red House and crossed the river as passengers on the ferry. Homecoming was a busy day for ferry operator Steve Leach. After 1934, some northside motorists drove to Nitro and crossed the, then, only bridge between Pt. Pleasant and Charleston.
Peggy Burnside’s employment required him to move his family to Marmet in 1932. Despite his absence from Winfield, he remained involved in every Putnam Homecoming. “Dad would take vacation and spend the entire week prior to homecoming in Winfield getting everything ready,” Burnside stated. “He would stay with his sister Betty who was a lifelong resident of Winfield. During that week, he would be busy building bandstands for speakers and performers. Entertainment has always been part of the Homecoming.”
Burnside could not remember a Homecoming without a parade or the selection of Miss Putnam County. The first parade would have featured horse drawn wagons which earlier in the day transported local families to the event.
Burnside reported that his Dad did not encourage the participation of politicians in the Homecoming but politicians have long been a part of it.
Burnside attended every Putnam Homecoming up until World War II when he served in the Marine Corps. Gasoline rationing and dedication to the war effort caused the homecoming to be discontinued during the war. The Putnam County Homecoming is 92 years old, but there have only been 88 or 89 homecomings.
Peggy Burnside was part of Putnam Homecoming until the time of his death in the early 1960’s. John Lyle Burnside passed in 2008. The Putnam County Homecoming, carried by the momentum of penny postcards and an ox roast, continues onward.