On Tuesday, families across the country will be hosting cookouts and barbecues, celebrating the birth of our great nation. But since everyone should already know the significance of July 4th, I’m going to focus on the massive celebrations that used to be quite common throughout our county. Since I’m a native of Hartford, and more familiar with stories from this area, I’m going to stick with those.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, it was not uncommon for the entire town to gather on the 4th of July. They’d deck the entire town in red, white, and blue bunting, hang flags from every porch, and gather on Hartford Hill for a picnic. Occasionally, the salt company even cleared out their sheds to hold a grand ball. An excerpt from the local papers describes the festivities in 1879:
“The glorious 4th was quite a day here. Our Band got up a grand ball in the Company’s Salt Sheds, which brought together a great many young and old, who came to participate and enjoy themselves. Everyone seemed to be happy. Your correspondent, having received an invitation to deliver an address, met the New Haven Sabbath School in a beautiful grove, on the hill back of town. Everything passed off pleasantly. We always enjoy the 4th of July, and hope we ever shall- the birthday of American Independence, and of what is destined to be the grandest Republic of the earth.”
Again, in 1899, the festivities are described in the newspapers.
“The people of Hartford and vicinity recently celebrated the Fourth by a big picnic held on the hills back of the town where there was plenty of shade…. From the great oaks were suspended a half-dozen or so good swings, for the amusement and pleasure of the young people. Barrels of ice and liberal amounts of lemonade and ice cream quenched the thirst of people gathered there, and a more cheerful, orderly behaved bunch of people could not be found…. French’s New Sensation (a showboat) was lying at the wharf and its excellent band came up and furnished music for the occasion. Short addresses were given by Mayor Hensley, and the Hon. George Poffenbarger. The entire affair was arranged by the Odd Fellows, Jr. Order of United American Mechanics, and the Knights of Pythias.”
In the latter half of the 20th century, these massive town picnics slowly gave way to parades, family cookouts, and an evening fireworks display. I, for one, wouldn’t be opposed to reviving the massive picnics and celebrations of the past. Perhaps we could even combine them with family reunions, and revive that tradition as well.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be 6:30 p.m., July 18, location to be announced.