What started as a way to highlight Denham Springs’ antique shops has turned into a semiannual festival that draws shoppers and festivalgoers from neighboring parishes and states.

Thousands of visitors thronged the streets of Denham Springs on Saturday for the semiannual Antiques Festival that places a spotlight on the city’s Historic Downtown District and its collection of retail outlets that purvey treasures from the past.

While the festival’s emphasis was on a wide variety of collectibles available at numerous stores specializing in antiques, the event had much more to offer. The center of Range Avenue in the heart of old Denham Springs was lined with tents nestled against each other, sheltering vendors who offered a variety of items for sale. Beneath the shade of the tents, fest-goers could choose street food treats, handicrafts, art objects, beauty products and home-canned jams, jellies and vegetables.

Music filled the air as the festival participants shopped for special treasures to take home.

Lindon Hogg, a junior state champion fiddler, walked about entertaining the crowds. Children played in inflatables and took part in fun activities in a play area provided by the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office. They also could examine equipment used by law enforcement personnel and firefighters.

The heart of the festival, though, was the emphasis on antiques. One focal point was the Theatre Antiques Mall at the center of the blocks-long festival venue. The mall, housed in Denham Springs’ last downtown movie theatre, is owned and operated by Al and Kim Bye. The Byes, chief planners for the Antiques Festival, said that the festival days are some of the happiest and most enjoyable days of the year for the antique store owners and others who attend.

Bye said the Antiques Festival began about 10 years ago when a group of antique store owners wanted to bring attention to the section of Historic Downtown Denham Springs known as Antiques Village. The festival is produced by the Denham Springs Antique Merchants Association and Pelican State Credit Union.

“This festival is all about bringing attention to what we have to offer in Antique Village. When we started out, that was our intention,” Al Bye said. “But the festival has grown so much since then and has now become an important event for our city.”

He added that 30 vendors were invited to participate in the early Antiques Festivals and that number has now grown to 150 vendors.

“We had to put a cap on it … there wasn’t any more room. We are already taking applications for our Spring Antiques Festival, and the 150 spots will be quickly snapped up,” he said.

Bye estimated Saturday’s crowd at about 10,000 but said that the number could be much larger. “People just love our festival. We have made it a family-friendly, pet-friendly event, and we must be doing something right because more and more people are coming to every festival,” he said.

Bye said that there is always something new at the festivals. Saturday military re-enactors representing all major wars involving the United States had a presence at the festival. The most colorful contingent was a group of enactors dressed as militia that would have fought in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

He said the festival comes together because of many volunteers who perform various tasks such as lining up the vendors, getting out publicity and coordinating the setting up and breaking down of the festival. “What’s unusual about our festival is that we hold it right here on Range Avenue, which is a state highway. We are not allowed to close the street until 6 a.m. and we must have all the booths down and the street opened shortly after 6 p.m. That takes a lot of work, but we always manage to pull it off,” he said.

With all the things for visitors to do and see at the festival, the antiques remain the stars of the show. Glynn Watts, who has been employed at the Theatre Antiques Mall for about 15 years, said people enjoy antiques because it reminds them of the way their grandparents and parents lived. Her co-worker Marsha Watts said of the value of antiques, “It’s all about nostalgia … people remembering their childhood … buying things that give them a tie to the past and to the memories attached to another generation. It’s a way to connect to our past,” she said.

Watts said older patrons of the festival enjoy coming to the Theatre Antiques Mall because it reminds them of when they attended movies there when they were young. The last movie was shown in the building in 1972.

Glenn Stockton, of Baker, who serviced movie projection equipment for many years, was eager to talk about the “old days” when movies were seen through projectors that had to be carefully synchronized to assure that all the reels were seamlessly shown when they had to be changed. He said that he and his wife Bessie enjoyed browsing the antique stores.

Charlotte Cason, co-owner of the Seldom Seen Antiques Store with her husband Harold, said she enjoys the Antiques Festival because it is a busy time in her store.

“I only stop to eat a bite now and then on festival days because we are so busy.” Cason said antique collectors “love to see things they have never seen before. That’s why we named our store the Seldom Seen Antiques. I am always amazed at the antiques that we get … some of them are complete surprises, and we don’t know what they were used for until we do the research. Antiques are a link with the past, and a lot of people need that link,” she said.

Donna Jennings, director of Mainstreet Denham Springs, said the Antiques Festival is good not only for the merchants and vendors but for all of Denham Springs.

“The Antiques Festival is a huge economic boost for our antique stores,” Jennings said.

“Many who come to the festival return later for Christmas shopping or to pick up large antiques that they couldn’t put in a truck because of the crowds,” she said. “Our city government is a huge supporter of the festival because of the focus that it puts on Historic Downtown Denham Springs and our city in general. It took many years to restore our downtown area and for us to earn a Cultural District Designation. The festival has helped us with all of that.”