The Chocolate Factory in Red Hook was founded in 1888 by William H. Baker – no relation to the older, more famous Walter H. Baker Company, but Red Hook’s Baker was not above exploiting the coincidence to promote his business, starting what became known as the Chocolate Wars. At the height of production, 20,000 pounds of chocolate were produced each day. New techniques in refrigeration changed the game in the early 1920s, though, and the declining Red Hook factory was sold to the Walker Candy Company, closing in 1932.
While the former factory building has in more recent years been repurposed as a rental space for businesses, the Village of Red Hook keeps its sweet tradition alive with an annual celebration called…not the Red Hook Chocolate Festival, but the syntactically significant Red Hook & the Chocolate Festival. The title is meant to evoke associations with the Roald Dahl children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the two movies based on it, one of them titled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Indeed, a Wonka-themed event with special prizes for holders of Golden Tickets has historically been among the attractions of the festival, which returns to downtown Red Hook for the sixth time on Saturday, November 2. A Wandering Wonka is rumored to be haunting the streets of the village this year.
Downtown businesses and vendors will be offering tastings of chocolatey treats all day; from noon to 4 p.m., the Elmendorph Inn will host a presentation by the county historian on the story of the Chocolate Factory and a demonstration of how chocolate was first made; the Chocolate Wars Dessert Competition gets underway at 1 p.m. at 7509 North Broadway. There will be hayrides, live music and a community art project, which in past years has sometimes manifested as an enormous chalk mural on the downtown pavements.