“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” — John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams.
Now, you might notice that Adams refers to July 2nd instead of July 4th. He’s talking about that day’s vote by the Second Continental Congress to formally split from Great Britain. The next two days were spent editing Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, and independence was formally declared on July 4th, 1776.
Even though we ended up going with a different date, we did at least take the rest of Adams’ advice to heart. I can’t tell you about a single town’s July 4th celebration that doesn’t include a parade, fireworks, music, and other festivities. But let me tell you, our celebrations aren’t anything compared to the ones thrown in the 1800s! Everyone thinks of the Victorian era as sort of prim and proper, but they knew how to party.
Imagine Main Street in Point Pleasant, Front Street in Hartford, and Routes 2 and 62 the entire length of the county lined with American flags and nearly every building decorated with red, white, and blue bunting. Portraits of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other patriots adorn public buildings. Celebrations begin at 5 a.m. with cannon fire and continue nearly to sunset, including everything from a parade that marches on for nearly 4 miles, multiple public speakers and dignitaries, and public gatherings and picnics hosted by fraternal organizations too numerous to count.
In the past though, it was more than just a day for celebration, food, and drink. July 4th was a day to remember our revolutionary history, a history in which Mason County played quite a large part for what was, at the time, such a remote area.
For the nation’s 100th anniversary in 1876, future Congressman Charles E. Hogg spoke on our history. Of course, George Washington produced one of the first surveys of our county in 1770. Colonel Lewis (later General Lewis) led the Virginians to victory in 1774, securing the Valley just in time for the coming revolution. Matthew Arbuckle commanded Fort Randolph in the opening years of the war, though he could not prevent Cornstalk’s murder, an act that finally drove the Native Americans to ally with the British. And the first generation to settle our county was comprised almost entirely of Revolutionary War veterans. Thomas Lewis, Luman Gibbs, William Clendinen, the Roush brothers, Leonard Cooper, George Eastham, John Hereford, Thomas Hannan, David Bumgarner, and so many more.
These were the people that built Point Pleasant (the Bend Area towns were all from the next generation). Between 1790 and 1860, they built a Main Street to rival most others in the Valley, complete with businesses to meet every need and one thing that very few towns in western Virginia had, a free school. Today, only one of those commercial buildings (the Mitchell Building, former River Museum) and a single home (the Mansion House) from that period still stand.
Aside from the buildings and park at the foot of Main Street, what is left? Soldiers of the Revolution lie in long lost cemeteries, most of their stones too illegible to identify and some lost forever to time and destruction. Of their homes, maybe one or two still stand, though unknown to historians and undocumented. The folks in the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution and at Battle Days and Fort Randolph deserve much of our thanks for preserving this period in history and presenting it to visitors and schoolchildren, but still, to me at least, there is a difference in listening to someone portraying Washington and being able to say you’re standing in the same spot, looking at the same view, holding the same object as Washington himself two hundred years ago. That feeling transcends time, and for that, in Mason County, the Mansion House and Tu-Endie-Wei are all that’s left.
With so few of these relics left (unless you’re fortunate enough to live in Boston or Washington, D.C., where there are many), celebrations like Point Pleasant’s Liberty Fest have to occasionally rekindle our nation’s patriotic flame and this year’s celebrations are set to be a good one! There are activities and live music scheduled at the Riverfront Park and around downtown from 4 p.m. right up to the fireworks show at 10 p.m., so hopefully we’ll see you on Main Street!
No article next week, as I’ll be in Oklahoma.
Information from the National Park Service and Weekly Register.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.