Early Hamfest Locations
The first Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club (SVARC) Hamfest was held in 1951 at Dickey’s Ridge on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The Hamfest was typically a swap meet of amateur radio (“Ham”) equipment and was held outside on picnic tables on the park grounds where 100-150 local Ham Radio operators would attend. The Hamfest remained on Skyline Drive until 1957, when entertainment was provided that year by a rising star named Patsy Cline. She was encouraged to attend by her photographer, who happened to be a Ham. She was paid $25 to sing to the group and sang notable songs “Crazy,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Door prizes were drawn and given to those in attendance with the purchase of a $1 raffle ticket. Some of the prizes consisted of tools of the trade such as a Millen Grid Dip Meter, a plate transformer that weighed 30 pounds, and an RCA Vacuum Tube Voltmeter.
In 1958, the National Park Service took over ownership of the Dickey’s Ridge Lodge and converted the building into a Visitor’s Center. Physical changes included the removal of the dormers from the east roof. In the 1960s, the three remaining cabins were demolished and the parking area around the Visitor Center (Lodge) was expanded. In 1958, the Hamfest was moved to the Virginia Gentleman Restaurant in Front Royal, Virginia. It was held there for one or two years before it moved to the old armory building in Winchester, Virginia, on Millwood Ave.
Early Hamfest Memories
During this time, hamfests were a fairly new concept and only a couple were held on the East Coast. Most of the announcements of these events were word of mouth or over the air. Their focus was to trade gear with other Hams and provide a social time where you finally could meet someone with whom you’d been talking every week on your radio.
Then due to size constraints of the armory, in about 2007, the Hamfest was moved to its current location at the Ruritan Fairgrounds in Clarke County, Virginia, on the edge of the Town of Berryville. This venue offered several buildings and lots of outdoor space. The first year in Berryville was a huge success due to abundant free parking, indoor vendor spaces, and plenty of outdoor tailgater space under beautiful century-old towering oaks.
Two of the founding members of the Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club— John Kanode N4MM and Sam Long, W4WSE (both current SVARC Members as of this writing in 2022)—attended the second Hamfest and provided most of the details of this history.
Modern times in Berryville
Over the years, the Hamfest has continued to grow. Back in the 80s and 90s, it shared its name with computers and related electronics, billing itself as the Winchester Hamfest and Computer Show (and after 2007, the Berryville Hamfest and Computer Show). Today, we feature vendors selling all sorts of tools of the trade for every Ham to enjoy, but you’re sure to find some other unusual products and treasures from our wide variety of vendors.
Since 2014, we’ve been known simply as The Annual Berryville Hamfest. The event enjoys about 1500 visitors, 25-30 indoor vendors (representing about 100 indoor tables) and over 200 tailgaters. It is still going strong heading into its 71st year in 2022 (having missed only one year in 2020 due to COVID-19). In recent years, we’ve offered fantastic door prizes such as the ICOM-7300 and Handi-Talkies.
The Shenandoah Valley Amateur Radio Club’s Annual Berryville Hamfest occurs the first Sunday in August every year, with the gates opening at 6am. Be sure to mark your calendar to attend. You can buy your prized vintage radio, meet on-the-air friends in real life, and enjoy the Ruritans’ famous Chicken and BBQ lunch. General Admission is still only $10 and gets you a shot at hourly door prize drawings. Tailgaters pay another $10 to sell their wares.