Whiskey Rebellion Festival deserves support

April 20, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

Earlier this month, participants in a panel discussion on downtown Washington that was sponsored by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties agreed there needed to be more retail offerings in order to draw visitors.

However, they indicated that there also needed to be more special events in Washington’s downtown, and pointed to the summertime Whiskey Rebellion Festival as an example of what the city is doing right. They explained that they wanted to see more events that take advantage of the area’s ties to the Whiskey Rebellion, a three-year insurrection in the 1790s when farmers and other dissenters protested a tax placed on distilled spirits in order to cover debts the country racked up fighting the Revolutionary War.

“We get millennials here because they’re into whiskey and the history of whiskey,” said Ellen Hough, the co-owner of Mingo Creek Craft Distillers, which is based on West Maiden Street in Washington. She also pointed out, “I have to have a story that no one else can copy.”

Well, in a stroke of unfortunate timing, it emerged at a news conference Tuesday the Whiskey Rebellion Festival is in need of a cash infusion if it’s going to happen starting July 6. Preparations are moving ahead for the event, which will be centered around the Community Pavilion on South Main Street, but a 30 percent funding shortfall will have to be made up.

Clay Kilgore, the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, took on the role of Whiskey Rebellion leader David Bradford at the news conference, and intoned that “our beloved festival, celebrating our rebellion against an unfair tax, is in peril. We call on the good merchants in this region to keep our celebration alive. Our patrons have been generous to this endeavor, but, alas, some are leaving to fight for other causes. The coffers must be replenished.”

Festival organizers declined to say who is no longer supporting the festival and what “causes” they are now interested in putting their resources toward. But if any of these entities are actively involved in promoting Washington County, or luring businesses and visitors to the area, it makes sense to support a festival that drew 20,000 visitors in 2015.

Festival co-chair Tripp Kline explained that the Whiskey Rebellion Festival is “an economic development tool, not just a four-day event in the middle of the summer. We see an opportunity to brand Washington, the city and the county, as the home of the Whiskey Rebellion.”

Organizers have set a goal of raising $20,000 in order to keep the festival afloat and have established a GoFundMe account. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/whiskeyrebellionfest.

Washington County has experienced growth in recent years, from the retail outlets that have sprouted in South Strabane Township to the shiny office complexes at Southpointe. But the county’s downtowns cannot be allowed to wither. Supporting the Whiskey Rebellion Festival is one way to keep that from happening.

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