When Jeanne and Brad Heinke of Branchville went on a trip to Cape Cod, Mass., several years ago, they came home inspired to recreate a scarecrow event that they had seen on a New England Main Street.
Their vision turned into a town tradition that brings visitors from throughout New Jersey.
Jeanne recalled the work it took to get the community to try something they had never seen before. There was some red tape and a few rejections, but the Heinkes managed to persuade Branchville residents to bring 85 scarecrows to life that year.
“You get one or two people who say, ‘That sounds like fun,’ “ she said.
From there, the event took off.
Still organized by the couple, Branchville hosted the eighth annual Branchville Scarecrows event this year.
Hundreds of scarecrows began appearing during the first week of October. The event culminated with prizes awarded on Halloween.
The scarecrow judges are people who have contributed to Sussex County in some way. This year, they were Judy Beelart, founder of the German Christmas Market of New Jersey; Raj Sinha, creator of the Sussex County Sunflower Maze; and May Abdo-Matkiwsky, a hematologist/oncologist at Regional Cancer Care Associates who has treated many Sussex County residents.
The event is more than just a contest. All aspects of the town come together to be a part of the fun.
This year, it was sponsored by Selective Insurance Co. of Branchville. The company not only sponsored the event financially but also got involved in the scarecrow building, giving staff time to work on their display.
The Frankford Township School took over Branchville Memorial Park with scarecrows created by the students.
Ideal Farms donated all of the pumpkins used by the school and the Heinkes donated all of the scarecrow frames.
The couple is very pleased with how their idea has grown into such a big event that brings people to their town.
“It’s a great little community. Because it’s smaller, people get to know everybody. People seem to gather around each other,” Jeanne Heinke said.
Amelia Scarehart, at 37 Main St., was the winner of the 2023 contest. Koko the Clown, at 24 Broad St., took second place, and Pops and his Boys, at 22 Church Hill Road, took third.
Amelia Scarehart also won the People’s Choice Award.