Larry Fennig stands by a kettle at the annual Durbin Bean Bake in Mercer County. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
Larry Fennig stands by a kettle at the annual Durbin Bean Bake in Mercer County. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

MERCER COUNTY – Five hundred pounds of beans making an estimated 300 gallons of bean soup were served for the 121st annual Durbin Bean Bake in Mercer County on Labor Day. The annual event that spawns hundreds of people in attendance is held in a woods along Erastus-Durbin Road seven miles west of Celina.

Larry Fennig, a fifth generation supporter of the event, has only missed one bean bake. That was the year he and his twin brother had just been born and were just a few days old.

“I am 68 now,” said Fennig on Monday. “I have been here for 67 consecutive years.”

Fennig ordered the traditional 500 pounds of Navy Beans, 120 pounds of bacon and ham, five boxes salt, two 18 ounce boxes of pepper and 32 pounds of crackers.

“Hundreds of people,” was the estimated attendance for this year. Fennig said that legend has it that 5,000 were in attendance for one of the earliest years. In 1970, it was estimated that 2,000 people attended the Durbin Bean Bake.

Fennig said that the story goes that Andrew Jackson Snavely, a four-year veteran of the Civil War, decided to have a reunion of “the boys” since he had been camp cook during the Civil War. He decided that the menu at the time should consist of beans, hardtack sow belly.

The first event was held in Celina but was less than successful. However, George Durbin, owner of the Durbin Store, suggested that they try again. This time they had it in John Rhodes’ grove at rural Durbin and featured a soldier band. This time, Labor Day of 1898, it was much more successful.

The organization planning the “bakes” was first called “The Durbin Soldiers’ Bean Supper Association.”

The first record of any expenses, in 1907, indicated that meat cost .15 cents a pound, four bushes of beans cost $7.33 and five bushes of crackers cost $15.54.

The day starts at 10 a.m. with various games for adults and children. Games include running races, three-legged races, sack races, men’s and women’s slipping kicking, men’s wife calling contest and women’s husband calling contest, bald-headed contest and wheelbarrow race.

It takes nearly all day for the beans to cook so during the day, a food stand serves up hamburger sandwiches, various kinds of soup and many flavors of pie. There are picnic tables throughout the woods where families and friends gather for meals and snacks.

Fennig said that often families utilize the event for family get-togethers from all over the country. Monday’s farthest traveled individual was from Los Angeles.

At 4:15 p.m., there is a special memorial service and then the free beans are served.

“Prior to Labor Day, the ladies of the club cook chickens, make noodles and bake pies to be sold and served in the lunch stand,” said Fennig. “On Saturday before the event, the members gather at the grounds to clean and prepare the “cook shack.” The day after Labor Day, there is clean up and a lunch of left-overs.