Vinton gears up for bean dinner

By Kevin Kelly - For the Tribune

VINTON — A tradition steeped in the aftermath of America’s Civil War will be observed Aug. 6 when the Vinton community gathers for its annual bean dinner.

Set in Vinton Community Park, the dinner commences around noon. It will be preceded by a parade to the park starting at 11 a.m. The parade assembles at Vinton Elementary School and proceeds down Keystone Road and Ohio 160 to Ohio 325 North, where it marches to the park along the banks of Raccoon Creek. The dinner has been staged at the park since 1993 following a lengthy tenure in what was known as the American Legion Grove.

Sponsored by American Legion Post 161 and its auxiliary, the dinner is a continuation of one of a number of reunions or campfires initiated by veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic in the years following the conflict between the states of 1861-1865. Post 161’s John Holcomb, who researched the history of such events in Ohio, noted that the reunions “reflected some of the daily aspects of the soldier’s life, including a campfire meal of pork, beans, hardtack and coffee. So many beans were cooked at these gatherings that in time these events became known as bean dinners.”

Vinton itself became a Civil War history location during Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s raid into southern Ohio in 1863. Morgan and his men briefly stayed in the community and burned the bridge over the Raccoon when leaving to delay pursuit by Union forces.

The term bean dinner didn’t come into common usage until the late 1880s, Holcomb said. The gatherings became commonplace around Gallia County, and along with Rio Grande’s bean dinner, Vinton is among the oldest continuing such events in the area. Rio Grande’s bean dinner can be traced back to 1870. Anecdotal information places the first Vinton campfire around 1868, but Holcomb’s research of local newspaper archives has placed the first published reference to Vinton’s dinner to 1883.

Print accounts reveal that Vinton’s dinner annually drew thousands of people in its early days — an 1897 Gallipolis Daily Tribune account noted that “the beans were made to suffer” — and took on the air of a homecoming for families and friends after 1910, a distinction it holds today. As a world war raged in 1943, Harry R. Hurn of the Gallia Times feared that the dinner would become a thing of the past due to lack of manpower; however, a 1947 Times report from local correspondent Stella E. Wilcox informed readers that “Plans are going forward for the annual Vinton bean dinner. The grove is being cleaned, tables, seats, and a speaker’s stand are being built.”

Following the 1950 bean dinner, the Times’ Hurn concluded that the “American Legion boys and all their helpers are being complimented this week on the work they did in preparation” for that year’s event, the first directly sponsored by the Legion and its auxiliary.

Bean soup, prepared in cauldrons, will be the highlight of the menu, which includes other food items, along with music and other activities.

By Kevin Kelly

For the Tribune