WESTERLY — The tranquillity of Wilcox Park will be interrupted briefly and for good cause Saturday when the tree-lined sanctuary becomes the setting for an Olde Tyme Fair, an ambitious menu of events, music, attractions and food being offered as part of the yearlong celebration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Westerly.
The fun starts at 11 a.m. and runs to 10 p.m. A quiet observance at the War Memorial at the park's Grove Avenue and Granite Street entrance will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. to remember the contributions of residents who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
A roaming barbershop quartet, swan paddle boats, pony rides and a jester show are just a few of the attractions planned for the fair, which is considered the signature offering on a packed slate of activities organized to celebrate the anniversary of the town's founding in 1669. Many of the activities hark back to yesteryear. Everything is free except for the food.
"We wanted to go back in time," said Paul Donahue, chairman of the subcommittee that has worked for more than a year to put the fair together.
This is Donahue's second big celebration of the town's birthday. In 1969, at the age of 19, he dressed up as a Keystone Cop for an event at Westerly High School tied to the 300th anniversary celebration. "That's what made me really want to be involved with the 350th," Donahue said during an interview on Thursday.
Donahue's subcommittee is one of several working with the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce and the 350th Anniversary Committee to put on the events that kicked off on New Year's Day with a community bell-ringing on the steps of Town Hall.
A mime will circulate through the 14-acre park and an electric trackless train will offer cross-park trips and circle around the park's pond, where a special dock has been built to provide access to the swan paddle boats. Train riders will receive a souvenir punched ticket marking their trip on the 350th Express, Donahue said.
There will also be pony rides and a horse-drawn wagon.
Activities for children will include games and prizes, jewelry making, face painting and temporary tattoos. Westerly storyteller Jeanne Donato will share a few tales; a fortune teller will offer readings, and magician Matt Roberts will dazzle with tricks and illusions. A balloon artist will be on hand as will a caricaturist.
The fun can be captured for posterity by stepping into a photo booth where old time clothes will be available as costumes.
Several restaurants will offer seafood, pizza, gelato and other delights, and Donahue promised lots of free popcorn and cotton candy. The gustatory bonanza will hit high gear at 6:15 p.m., just after Beatles-tribute group Britishmania sounds the final note to the Fab Four's "Birthday" song. When the song ends, a mammoth town anniversary cake, set up on three tables and created by two local bakeries — Vesta and Sunny Side Up — will be cut and served.
The Westminster Youth String Ensemble of Westerly will perform in the morning. Other musical offerings include Kevin Lowther's The Big Lux Violin, and The Mercy Brown Band, which will perform in the afternoon and later in the early evening.
In keeping with the theme of celebrating the town's history, The Westerly Band, believed to be the oldest continuously active community band in the country, will perform. The fair will wrap up with a 90-minute performance by the local blues legends, Roomful of Blues.
People can stake out spots on the lawn with blankets starting at 5 p.m. today. The fair's organizers will have chars available on half of the lawn area for those who prefer a seat to a blanket.
As many as 20,000 people are expected to enjoy the fair and with that in mind the Westerly Police Department has arranged for extra coverage to keep everyone safe.
"I think it will be fantastic. It was a lot of work. We've been working on it for over a year," Donahue said. "This is a first for me, planning an event like this, but it only happens every 50 years so I had to get involved."