Inside the pancake tent is its own unique atmosphere. The organ music playing, the emcee welcoming everyone to Pancake Day, the smell of the golden brown pancakes, the maple syrup pouring and the familiar hometown chatter that combines to make that special Pancake Day feeling. There are pancake flippers from every corner of Appanoose County, some that have flipped for 20 years and some that are doing it for the first time.
In 1949, Centerville had a distinct advantage in hosting an event where the main attraction was free pancakes — a company that made pancake flour was located right here in town. The Pillsbury Company was happy to be involved with Pancake Day and their donation of pancake flour was the cornerstone of the event.
The other companies who were excited to jump on board were the Tones company, who provided the coffee and syrup was provided by Penick-Ford. Several different creameries and dairies provided the butter, milk and cream over the first few years of Pancake Day.
Eventually, the Pillsbury Company was no longer one of Centerville’s industries, and Tones Coffee was no longer available. Over the years, the Pancake Day Committee has had to purchase the ingredients, or at least part of the ingredients to continue to provide the same claim of free pancakes to all of the visitors to Pancake Day. When all of the food was donated from the manufacturing sources, pancakes and coffee could be served until evening, but once the burden was put onto the Pancake Day Committee, the hours were scaled back to serve only until 1 p.m. This also alleviated the problem of recruiting enough volunteers to run the tent all day. Also, gourmet pancakes were added to the menu for a nominal charge.
Today, HyVee provides all of the pancake flour, syrup and margarine for Pancake Day. The milk is purchased by the committee and sold to the consumers at a low cost.
The pancakes have been served from many different places over the years. Originally, they were served at the old Armory, which was, at that time, located on East Jackson Street. Once the celebration moved to the Square, they were served from the band shell at one time, and then a tent was used. It has been set up on the east side of the Square and the west side and in 1952, there were tents on both the east and west sides at the same time.
In 1958, Wally Higbee of Centerville Tent and Awning constructed the large pancake tent that was used for nearly 50 years. It required 10-15 people to set it up and for many years, the P.E. classes from the high school were used to help erect it. The large tent was always set up on the northwest side of the Square, the only place large enough to accommodate a tent of that size.
The tent was sold in 2007 for $2,100 which went toward the purchase of the replacement. In 2008, with help from a grant from the Bemis Foundation a new set of tents was purchased. These tents are used for a multitude of smaller local festivals, as well as combined together to make the new Pancake Day tent.