WHITESBORO — It was 51 years ago that residents of Whitesboro first held a celebration to commemorate the annual peanut harvest during the fall. While the peanut crop has dropped over the last half-century, Whitesboro’s annual Peanut Festival is still going strong.


More than 20,000 visitors, vendors, craftsmen and entertainers crowded the streets of downtown Whitesboro Saturday for the annual celebration of what was once a major crop.


“In the beginning it was for the farmers as they were bringing in their peanuts to be weighed,” Festival Chairman Dee Lee said. “They don’t bring in that many anymore, but we are still here.”


The annual event covers a 20-block span around downtown Whitesboro, roads entering the area close to traffic. The event has grown so large that organizers have hired an outside company to provide shuttle services for visitors, Lee said.


For 2016, Lee said the event featured more than 200 vendors who traveled as far away as Georgia to participate in the event. Many of the vendors return each year.


“This is probably one of the best one-day festivals for them,” she said.


Other features included a kid’s alley, carnival rides, a midway, traveling food vendors and two musical stages with performances by Vince Vance and the Valiants and gospel artists. The festival also hosted the annual car show, featuring more than 100 classic and modern motor vehicles ranging from a 1939 Jaguar to military vehicles.


Despite the shift from its original focus on the annual harvest, Lee said the event has remained strong over the years due to the wide variety of activities it brings to the community and good publicity and reception from the community.


“It’s got such a reputation that it just keeps growing,” she said, highlighting the festivals place in Americana. “People love to enjoy their hometown and the small-town feel.”


Whitesboro Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Bailey said she can still remember the first festival when the farmers came in. Over the years the event has become something of an annual gathering for Whitesboro alumni. This weekend, many graduating classes will be holding their reunions with the festival serving as an unofficial gathering place.


Bailey also said the event is a major draw for area tourism and the many downtown businesses that remained open for the event. It isn’t often that a town like Whitesboro can grow five times its normal size in a day, she said.


“We are a small community of about 4,500 so bringing in this many people is huge for us,” she said.


Among those in attendance for Saturday’s festivities was Whitesboro resident Paul Johnson, who brought two motorcycles to the car show. Johnson said he was hoping to defend his trophy from the stock class competition last year but was seeing stiff competition from his strongest competitor — his wife.


“It’s a blessing; it’s something close to the house that I can attend year after year,” Johnson said, describing the festival.


Johnson said he feels the secret to the festival’s longevity is its ability to appeal to everyone. Where people might grow tired of a festival after a few years, Johnson said the wide appeal and fresh approach has kept the event relevant all of these years.


“To me it is amazing that they can keep it going all this time,” he said.