There’s nothing quite like the fall season, with its crisp cool air, colorful leaves, and pumpkin everything. As the leaves change and the aroma of apple cider and warm spices fill the air, vibrant orange pumpkins begin popping up everywhere you look. From pumpkin picking and pumpkin pies to pumpkin spice lattes, nothing epitomizes the cozy ambiance of fall quite like these vibrant orange gourds. And no one does this magical pumpkin season better than the tiny town in Illinois known as the “Pumpkin Capital of the World”!
Welcome to Morton: The Pumpkin Capital of the World
If you’re looking for pumpkins, then you may head over to the great midwestern state of Illinois. According to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service (IASS), farms in Illinois produced over 278,000 tons of pumpkins in 2016. That translates into millions of pumpkins growing all across the state! Blessed with a climate and soil type that favors pumpkin growth, combined with decades of dedication, research, and experience, Illinois has perfected the art of pumpkin farming and proudly claims the top rank in pumpkin cultivation. And the biggest contributor to Illinois’ pumpkin production is the village of Morton.
You can find this charming village nestled in the picturesque landscape of Tazewell County, Illinois. With a population of approximately 17,100 residents, Morton is a vibrant community that exudes a sense of warmth and unity. But what you might not expect to find in such an alluring place are fields upon fields filled with pumpkins. There are so many, in fact, that in 1978 Morton was declared the “Pumpkin Capital of the World” by Governor James. R. Thompson.
How did pumpkins become such a big deal in this tiny town? Well, it all started with Libby’s Pumpkin Factory — the world’s largest pumpkin factory — which just so happens to be located here in Morton. It is said that a staggering eight out of every 10 cans of pumpkin consumed worldwide can trace their origins back to Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin production right here in Illinois!
Where is Morton, Illinois?
The town of Morton sits in a strategic location at the crossroads of Interstates 74 and I-155. This provides effortless connectivity to many of Illinois’ major cities. With its proximity to urban centers like Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, and even the cosmopolitan hubs of Chicago and St. Louis, Morton encapsulates the epitome of Illinois living. It combines the allure of small-town charm with the convenience and opportunities afforded by its strategic location.
Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin
If you were to venture just 50 miles in any direction from Morton, you’d find pumpkin farms covering the landscape. Acres upon acres — several thousand in fact — are dedicated each year to cultivating the Libby’s Select Seed, which is a unique strain of the Dickinson pumpkin. And as late August arrives, so does the commencement of Morton’s grand pumpkin gathering. From dawn until dusk, workers pluck these golden globes from their vines, all the way until late October or early November.
Morton began its renowned history of pumpkin growing when the Dickinson Canning Company built a factory in the town during the 1920s. The company merged with Libby’s in 1929 and began canning pumpkins. Their pumpkin products became so popular that in 1970, the factory switched over from other vegetables so that they could focus exclusively on pumpkins.
Today, Nestlé owns the factory in Morton, which processes over 1 billion pounds of pumpkins every year. That translates to potentially 90 million tantalizing 8-inch pumpkin pies! Grown specifically for canning, Libby’s Select Seed pumpkins are smooth without ridges, with pale orange outsides and an oval shape. Their meatier insides have a sweet, nutty flavor, and are a powerhouse of antioxidants, Vitamin A, and fiber. These pumpkins are tasty and nutritional. They are very common in fall-themed dishes, and can even be used in pet food!
The Morton Pumpkin Festival
The residents of Morton take pride in their town’s title as the “Pumpkin Capital of the World”. Each September, the town hosts its extremely popular Morton Pumpkin Festival. Beginning in 1967, this unique celebration has grown into an incredible four-day-long harvest festival. Today, the Morton Pumpkin Festival has more than 75,000 visitors each year! From parades and pageants to competitions and plenty of pumpkin-flavored food, the Morton Pumpkin Festival offers dozens of pumpkin-themed events and is one of the best fall celebrations out there!
The Morton Pumpkin Festival has a new theme each year. A few examples include the 1973 theme of “Cinderella Land”, 2004’s “Pumpkins Under the Sea” in 2004, “Pumpkins of the Caribbean” in 2015, and “Farmin’ Pumpkins” in 2023.
Festival Events and Activities
Festival attendees can participate in all kinds of fun activities. There are pumpkin pie-eating contests, pumpkin decorating, a giant pumpkin weigh-off, and a pumpkin carnival. Children and families enjoy the many free activities offered at the festival’s Family Fun Patch, and many compete in Pumpkin Idol Jr. and the Big Wheel Race. The festival has even hosted pumpkin boat racing, wherein participants rowed through the water while sitting in giant hollowed-out pumpkins!
Celebrating fall at the Morton Pumpkin Festival is an incredible experience for all ages. There is live music, an arts and crafts market, and even a pumpkin store with all kinds of pumpkin-themed swag. And of course, many guests simply enjoy visiting year after year to enjoy the incredible and unique pumpkin-flavored treats. All kinds of delicious on-the-go pumpkin goodies are available at the Pumpkin Drive-Thru and the Pumpkin Grill & Sweet Shop. There are tons of more traditional treats like pumpkin pies and pumpkin cookies. However, you can also find pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin chili, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin donuts. On Saturday, there is even an all-you-can-eat pumpkin pancake breakfast!
Other Pumpkin Parties in Morton
If you’re looking for even more pumpkin-themed fun in Morton, there is plenty to be had! For example, you can check out the Roth Pumpkin Patch. You can pick out your own farm-fresh pumpkin, colorful mums, and other delicious produce from their 100 acres of farmland. With an impressive history of pumpkin growers that goes back at least five generations, the Roth Family opens their pumpkin patch from September through October, providing plenty of autumn pleasures. Kids can enjoy the Pumpkin Playground, giant double barrel slides, the Corn Bin Sandbox, the Straw Bale Maze, and even meet some of the farm’s animals. And when they get tired, they can hop aboard the Pumpkin Barrel Train or take a fun Hayrack Ride.
Ackerman Family Farms is another phenomenal pumpkin farm to visit in Morton. Visitors can enjoy winding through the large corn maze or hitch a ride on the hayrack rides. This sprawling 300-acre autumnal oasis has been run by the Ackerman family for five generations, beginning in 1911. Today, the Ackermans grow over 160 amazing varieties of heirloom pumpkins and squash — many of which you won’t find anywhere else!
One of the most popular pumpkin varieties here, for example, is the colorful and unique knucklehead pumpkin. These pumpkins grow with unique lumps and bumps all across their rugged surface. There are also enormous cushaw squash, a special variety that Abraham Lincoln’s family also grew. And of course, not all pumpkins are orange — you may be surprised to find radiant mellow yellow pumpkins shining like bright yellow beams of sunshine, or pink porcelain doll pumpkins dotting the landscape with their rosy-colored hues.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Loren L. Masseth/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.