With Civil War reenactors firing cannons, would-be lumberjacks throwing axes and history aficionados showing off vintage fire trucks, Highway Patrol cars and even a chuck wagon from years before there were cars, the second annual Apex Founders Day on Saturday will have a little something for everyone.
The festival commemorates the town’s founding on Feb. 28, 1873.
The event looks at the past, with antique cars, tractors and engines, a blacksmith and more outside, behind the Tobacco and Mule Exchange building on Salem Street.
It also glances at the present and future, with a display on electric cars outside.
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All told, Saturday’s event in downtown Apex will be much larger than last year’s, said festival chairman Mike Sayers.
He hopes that brings more residents than last year, when Sayers said about 10,000 people stopped by for a glance back in time.
“We’re hoping to have several thousand more people,” he said. “That’s the main thing. The (goal) is to have more people and attract more attention to us and let it grow each year.”
A series of speakers and performances will be inside the Halle Cultural Arts Center in the second-story theater. There will be displays featuring pottery, weaving, quilting, rug making and more on the first floor.
Denise Wilkie, a town council member and social studies department chair at Apex High School, said she thinks a history-focused festival is a great idea and enjoyed last year’s event.
“They had some people, real historians, come and talk about the history of Apex and its founding” Wilkie said. “And it was really neat that they did that.”
More of the same is on the schedule this year, with a speech on North Carolina history at 11 a.m. at the Halle center and a speech on Apex’s history at 12:15 p.m.
Local runners will participate in a 5k in the morning, hosted by the Kiwanis Club.
Wilkie, who moved to Apex 23 years ago, has seen large amounts of change as Apex has gone through unprecedented growth.
For even newer residents, she said, there could be interesting facts about their town – and maybe even their neighborhood – to be discovered.
“The Union Army camped out in Shepherds Vineyard, and things like that,” Wilkie said, referring to what’s now a large subdivision near the high school and Eva Perry Regional Library.
The town’s Civil War history is a favorite of Sayers’. He also serves as commander of Apex’s American Legion Post 124 and said he’s looking forward to the cannon demonstrations most of all.
But not everyone is a military buff, and Sayers said he kept that in mind while expanding the festival this year to include a wider range of interests.
“People were pleased by what they’ve seen,” he said. “They just wanted to see more.”
Nearby businesses were happy with the event, too. The festival was founded by the Downtown Business Association and both Sayers and Wilkie, who is not involved in the organization, said they heard from local business owners who enjoyed the influx of people.
A crowd of 10,000 people in downtown Apex would have been unthinkable even a decade or two ago, let alone when the town was founded with a population of about 200 people.
It remained a small town buoyed mostly by agriculture and the downtown train depot until recently.
The town ballooned between 1990 and 2000, quadrupling in size from 5,000 to 20,000 residents.
People began moving en masse to the Triangle chasing jobs, and Apex’s farmers learned it was more lucrative to grow houses on their land rather than tobacco, soybeans or cotton.
The population doubled again in the first decade of the new millennium, rising to about 45,000 by 2014.
Mayor Bill Sutton said at a recent “state of the town” address that Apex could double yet again, to 90,000 residents or more, by 2030.