History of the Lyons Fiddle Festival

“The violin sings and the fiddle dances,
but the most beautiful song is the music
of what we accomplish together.”

The Lyons Fiddle Festival is held in a little park built by the Lyons Borough in 1976 using federal bicentennial funds. It began when Arlan Schwoyer noticed it wasn’t being used much. He wanted the little park to be a great place everyone would enjoy so he started a music festival to compliment the borough’s annual fall car show.

The Lyons Fiddle Festival brought the small town of Lyons into the hearts of people far and wide. Sunday, June 5, 1983, marked the first annual festival with a budget of $300, a borrowed hay wagon, homemade food, and some of the finest fiddling.

Schwoyer was quoted as saying, “We want people to say that Kutztown is three miles north of Lyons. That’s where they’ve got the park and the fiddle festival.”

300 people came out for the music, the fellowship, and the food and the numbers have grown each year since. Folks of all ages were inspired to dust off their old fiddles and play again. From preschoolers to retirees, novice to professional, fiddlers from up and down the east coast have entertained and competed on stage at the festival.

At the rear of the park, under cool shade trees, a bow dances across the strings of a fiddle. Age or experience didn’t matter. People gathered around the fiddler and jammed on their fiddles, mandolins, guitars, washtubs and strings. There were even those who brought boards and jigged in rhythm. Kindred spirits were discovered at the Lyons Fiddle Festival.

A new era for the Lyons Fiddle Festival

It was July 2006, when Schwoyer and his wife, Donna, decided they could no longer continue to produce the festival. Determined to keep the music alive, people still came that year and jammed under those shade trees.

In an article written by Darree Robin Sicher, the late Suzie Reed, borough councilperson, said, “We got so complacent; we didn’t realize what we had.”

Reed got to work and with the help of Keith Brintzenhoff, Keith Weidner, Steve Haring, the Lyons Fire Company and many volunteers both old and new, the festival was reborn September 2007.

In its 31 years, it is estimated that over 149,000 spectators have set up their folding chairs and blankets in the park for entertainment by over 770 contestants and an untold number of jammers. Contestants have even continued on with successful careers in music.

The Lyons Fiddle Festival committee is dedicated to bringing the festival to new levels each year including a live broadcast by CWTAP Internet/TV network.

The History of Lyons

Photo Courtesy of Paul and Ellen Laincz

According to an article that had appeared in the Reading Eagle, March 25, 2002, in 1859, a railroad official planned to make Lyons Borough a big city bustling with activity. It was considered the railroad line’s half-way point between Reading and Allentown.

The article noted that a farm owned by the Bowers family was recognized as the mid-point of the rail line, but in order for the station to be built on the land, the station and the town that would develop around it would have to be named Bowers. Although Bowers did appear later, residents did not like the idea.

M. Evelyn Lyons, chief engineer of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, moved the train station’s location to the west and named the site after himself.

Lyon Station served as a depot for Kutztown until 1870 when another line was built through the larger borough.

Because of the train activity through Lyon Station, by the late 1800’s, tradesmen who had settled there included a carpenter, a cooper, a shoemaker, a blacksmith, and a cabinetmaker. Nearby mines and furnaces also contributed to the growth bringing in settlers. East Penn Furnaces were situated to the east of Lyons Borough in Maxatawny Township. Sally Ann Furnace was in Rockland Township and the Mary Ann Furnace was in Longswamp Township.

According to the Lyons Borough’s website, Lyon Station was established in 1860 and on June 20, 1927, Lyons was incorporated as a borough.