Loblolly: Heritage and History
WHAT IS A LOBLOLLY, ANYWAY?
Arguably the most tongue-twisting term in the Laurel lexicon, “loblolly” is a reference that stumps most visitors. While the word may sound silly to those unfamiliar with our City Beautiful, locals know that a loblolly is the species of pine tree that was most prevalent in our area around the turn of the twentieth century, spiking the lumber boom that laid the foundation for the city we know today. Laurel natives are true “Loblolly Lovers”, and look forward every year to the first Saturday in October, when we celebrate Laurel’s heritage at the Loblolly Festival.
Loblolly pines are a Southeastern staple, second only in US prevalence to the red maple. Unlike the pines of the northern parts of the US, our loblolly pines grow straight up, with branches that can begin – on mature trees – over fifty feet in the air. They gained their name from the Southern take on a British reference. The Brits use the terms “lob” and “lolly” to refer to thick porridges or stews; around here, swampy lowlands are referred to as “loblollies”. Given the trees’ preference for low-lying, marshy areas, the name stuck.
THE LOBLOLLY FESTIVAL
The festival itself was first held as the Main Street Festival, celebrating Laurel’s history and raising funds to continue needed improvements to her downtown revitalization. Now, many years and a name change later, the festival has grown to an attendance of roughly 30,000 people and covers the entire downtown footprint. Attendees will find traditional festival food — corndogs, chicken-on-a-stick, and funnel cakes — but local offerings, as well, from the Knight Butcher, The Pearl Diner, and Lee’s Coffee and Tea. Artists and makers from several states converge to showcase their wares, while Dayton Scoggins, local chainsaw artist, gives loblolly logs a second life as bears, eagles, and a myriad of other wildlife. The most anticipated tradition is always the appearance of the Loblolly Lumberjack, played by Ben Napier, who essentially becomes the “Where’s Waldo” of the festival, posing for pictures with excited tourists and locals alike.
HERITAGE AND HISTORY
While Laurel’s primary town gathering isn’t held under the pines, her story still stands in their shadow. From the late 1800s, when our “Iowa men” came to town and began the Eastman Gardiner Lumber Company, the loblolly’s presence and history has been intrinsically bound with our City Beautiful. From their vision came a huge industry that grew Laurel from a tiny logging community into a small, but well-rounded, city. Eastman Gardiner’s foresight spawned generations of visionaries — John Lindsey, William H. Mason, and countless others — who, too, saw the potential beneath our loblolly pines.
It’s this storied heritage that we celebrate with Laurel’s Loblolly Festival. Every town has a history they’re proud of, and every town has a festival celebrating that history, but what sets Laurel’s apart is the attention paid to the modern manifestation of our collective history. Our town was founded by visionaries, built by craftsmen, and buoyed by makers — and the fostering of those creatives, business leaders, and builders is what has kept Laurel afloat from the time of her founding until now. Loblolly is a celebration of what is best about Laurel’s history, and what will grow her opportunities, her community, and most importantly, her people, in years to come.