SHIRLEY — It was enough to stop casual observers in their tracks.
Nearly a dozen bearded men in red and green descended upon the Historical Shirley Museum and the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House on Saturday.
The Hoosier Santas chose the Shirley Founder’s Day festival for their monthly social meeting bringing together Santas throughout the state, because Santa Kenny Reagin hails from the area.
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They took part in the annual parade, toured the Jane Ross Reeves Octagon House and ambled through the rows of muscle cars parked just next to the old railroad depot for the annual car show, enjoying the artifacts from bygone days, the kind of nostalgia organizers hope to stir every year with Founder’s Day events.
The annual event drew 600 to 700 tourists — including the jolly old elves — from around the state with the lure of live music, food and special events supporting the handful of organizations promoting historic preservation in Shirley, a town of about 800 residents founded in 1890 when the Cincinnati, Wabash and Michigan Railway was built to that location.
Shirley’s Founder’s Day Festival honors Joseph A. Shirley, a railroad official who became the town’s namesake. The event was established in 1965, said organizer Jerry Duke, a member of the Shirley Historical Society.
The festival celebrates the small town’s history, drawing event-goers to the museum and the Octagon House, a 16-room eight-sided house originally built near Wilkinson and moved to its Shirley location 20 years ago.
A parade is among the signature events. First-responders, political hopefuls and representatives from local organizations marched through town Saturday morning.
Duke headed the car show, judging and handing out glass beer mugs and golden-painted trophies to the event’s winners. It was a good turnout, he said — a mix of classic and more recent automobiles and three times the participants in recent years, thanks to the sunny weather.
Last year, 11 die-hard car show participants stuck it out amidst a downpour, Duke said. This year, some 40 classic cars, trucks and one replica coal wagon entered the contest. A fan favorite was the 1966 TV Batmobile replica.
Just to the north of the car show site, volunteers at the Octagon House spooned homemade chicken and noodles while hungry festival-goers tried to decide whether they wanted cherry or lemon pie.
After enjoying lunch on the wraparound porch, those who attended took tours of the eight-sided home. Lynne Guinn of Wilkinson was amazed to see the repaired condition of the home, which has been restored room by room with the help of sponsors.
She remembered the unusual structure’s disrepair when it was moved to Shirley.
“It used to be a wreck,” she recalled.
The Hoosier Santas planned to take in the historical sites, too, though they found their colorful attire made them another of the attractions. They often stopped for pictures with amazed residents, said Santa Byron Fritz.
“People were very friendly with us,” he said. “I hope we’re going to come back next year.”
There’s a shortage of volunteers to help put on the annual Shirley Founder’s Day events, said Shirley Historical Society president Dennis Westridge.
Volunteers are needed to plan the queen pageant, parade, car show and talent show that help make up the festival every year, he said.
A call-out meeting seeking volunteers and ideas for next year’s event will be held 7:30 p.m. today at the Shirley Volunteer Fire Department, 212 Main St., Shirley.
To volunteer, contact the Shirley Historical Society at 317-294-5582 or visit the Shirley Historical Society Facebook page.