The tomato is king in Jacksonville, but in the 1930s and 40s the “love apple” had a queen.
Jacksonville’s National Tomato Festival rivaled the Texas Rose Festival from 1934 to 1941. It celebrated the town’s produce with an elaborate festival, parades and a Tomato Queen and court. It had all the pageantry and dazzling dresses as the Tyler tradition but was stopped to aid in the war effort and never was brought back.
Frances Carolyn Wood was the third queen crowned in 1936, said Deborah Burkett, local author and member of the Cherokee County Historical Commission. She later married Phillip Pavletich and had two daughters, Carolyn Ann and Mary Frances.
Miss Wood won the title by a landslide over her rival Miss Ruby Lee Beall, said Ms. Burkett, who came across the story while working on her book “East Texas Spunky Women — 1830s to 1850’s … Spirited Women Who Made a Difference,” and reached out to Mrs. Pavletich’s family for more on the woman who served as an ambassador for the city and its farmers.
“Research is seldom conducted along a straight line,” she said. “While working on the next book and researching East Texas women, I discovered royalty, the Tomato Queen of 1936 … however without … family scrapbooks the real story would not have been uncovered.”
In 1936, an estimated 15,000 people, the rough equivalent of Jacksonville’s population today, attended the four-day event. The Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, Col. Earnest O. Thompson, crowned Miss Wood queen, and tomato princesses from more than 35 cities participated in the coronation, Ms. Burkett said.
The festival was as elaborate as the ceremony, with a tomato parade, princess tea, pageant and a queen reception and ball, according to a 1936 schedule of events.
Visitors took part in a street dance with serenading musicians and costumed parade, as well as a full carnival with a flying circus, and the former amphitheater in Love’s Lookout was formally opened with a folk festival.
After the celebrations were complete, Miss Wood became an ambassador for the city.
Images of her and tomatoes were used to advertise the town, and later that year she attended the East Texas Chamber of Commerce Convention in Dallas, where she and the town’s mayor were “The toast of the town,” Ms. Burkett said.
Jacksonville had a float in the parade in Dallas and set up an exhibit and booth in a convention hotel where they served gallons and gallons of tomato juice to visitors, Ms. Burkett said.
The tale of the city marketing itself to a growing market in the Great Depression and the beautiful pageantry and fanfare was saved, in a large part to Miss Wood’s children working to preserve their own family history, Ms. Burkett said.
“My mother, Frances Carolyn Wood Pavletich, kept lots of pictures, newspaper articles and memorabilia,” her daughter Carolyn Ann Pavletich Leach said. “It was important to me to preserve these memories for my children, grandchildren and future generations of my family. After Mom and Dad died, my sister, Mary Dublin, and I began the tedious process of going through many, many picture books, scrapbooks and boxes of memorabilia that had been collected since mom’s childhood and before. It was indeed a long labor of love, and I am very pleased with the result.”