A holiday parade that once started as a youth event for a local church more than three decades ago now attracts more than 8,000 people from various counties. The one-of-a-kind 38th annual Cat Square Parade, set for Dec. 8 this year in Vale, started in 1973 for the Trinity Lutheran Church youth group, according to Parade Chair Jamie Houser.
He said it’s one of the only unparalleled functions in the area where people become best friends with fellow parade-goers and can watch the parade while parked alongside a country road.
In addition to antique cars, hot rods, beauty queens, Vietnam veterans, the West Lincoln High School band, an appearance from Santa and hundreds of horses, the parade features its very own Cat Square Mayor along with Miss and Little Miss Cat Square.
While the community votes each year on their newest Mayor, typically an area business owner, teacher, farmer or other “local celebrity,” parade officials randomly draw names from a list of community-nominated individuals for the categories of Miss and Little Miss Cat Square, Houser said.
Over the years, both men and women have held the coveted mayor’s title, including Houser’s mother, Barbara Houser, formerly Barbara Sain.
James Houser, a distant relative who once owned a gas station on the county’s western end, served as the event’s first Cat Square Mayor.
According to legend, parade officials said, Cat Square’s name originated from the numerous cats that used to hang around the area’s now demolished general store during the 1930s. Area residents would flock to the store to buy feed and sell cream from their farms.
“Someone called it Cat Square, and it stuck,” Jamie Houser said. “But it’s (origins) have never really been confirmed.”
Parade officials said trophies will be handed out to top floats in a variety of categories including most original, best of parade, best theme, and best equestrian float.
Over the years, parade-goers have most anticipated the creative, wooden float displays crafted by local business owner Ronald Fulbright, of Fulbright Lumber Inc. in Vale.
Past designs have included airplanes, army tanks and old cars.
“It’s bigger than life,” Jamie Houser said. “He always keeps it a secret and makes it the last float before the horses at the end of the parade.”
Former WSOC and WBTV news reporter Doug Mayes will serve as this year’s grand marshall.
“He’s well-known to my generation and older generations,” Jamie Houser said. “I grew up watching him on TV.”
As grand marshall, Mayes will lead the parade followed by Lincolnton Mayor John Gilleland, Sheriff David Carpenter and other elected officials from Lincoln and surrounding counties.
Jamie Houser encourages the community, especially those who have never attended the event, to experience this year’s “down-home, country parade.”
“It’s a time of celebration for the reason of the season,” he said.
The community is also invited to vote for Cat Square Mayor, Miss and Little Miss Cat Square Saturday at Cat Square Superette in Vale.