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Biker and toddler enjoy the parade, 1996
Biker and young friend enjoy the Rhododendron Festival parade, 1996 Photo courtesy Siuslaw Pioneer Museum

Florence Rhododendron Festival

Since 1908, Florence has celebrated spring with this May festival, when wild rhododendrons bloom in the surrounding hills and fields, as they have done for hundreds of years. It is the third-oldest flower festival on the West Coast, just behind the Portland Rose Festival and the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California.

Since the first rhododendron festival, Florence has grown from 500 people to about 7,000 residents. The festival, too, has grown to more than 100 entries, and attracts up to 15,000 visitors. An amusement carnival opens mid-week, and then the weekend kicks off with live music and dancing on Friday. The festival includes 5k and 10k runs, floral displays, the Kiwanis Kids Games, a junior parade, the Queen Rhododendra Pageant and Coronation, a motorcycle race, a classic car show, a rod and gun show, an arts and crafts show, and other children's activities. The festival culminates with its Grand Floral Parade with floats and marching bands.

Recognizing that Oregon's central coast would benefit by improving land routes into the area, businessman George Miller originated the idea for the festival to promote Florence. He convinced other local leaders of the festival's merits, and the early spring celebration was developed with the theme, "Watch Florence Grow." Approximately 1,000 people came to see Laura Johnson, the first Queen Rhododendra, as she and her maids of honor sailed down the Siuslaw River to the city dock to be crowned by the Lord Mayor of Florence, who gave Laura a key to the city carved from Rhododendron wood.

Documentation includes a project report and historic photos.

Originally submitted by: Gordon Smith, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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