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Celebrating Independence Day - Westfield Style?

July 2, 2015
Westfield Republican

By Marybelle Beigh

Westfield Historian

You'd think this would be a "no-brainer" to research and write - right? WRONG!!!

Article Photos

Submitted Photos
Top: Pictured is an 1886 photo of how Westfield decorated for national celebration events at that time. Bottom:?Pictured is one of the oldest known photos of Westfield Main and Portage intersection circa 1880. This would have been about 20-plus years after the 1858 Independance day celebration described in BeeLines.

So after several nearly-fruitless attempts to locate historic celebrations of the 4th of July in Westfield Republican newspapers from 1855 to 1927 (that date range being the extent of WR digitized online), the next option was to find out what my predecessor, former Westfield Historian, the late Billie Dibble, might have written in her ten years of Dibble's Dabbles (1981-1990). Imagine my surprise to discover only three Dibble's Dabbles dealt with this timely topic of interest! But a reading of her stories suggested strongly that Dibble had discovered a similar peculiarity - Westfield was seemingly "fickle" about local celebrations of our nation's birthday. This is quite in contrast to an annual Dibble's Dabbles about how Westfield has celebrated Memorial or Decoration Day over the years.

Not that Westfield never celebrated Independence Day or reported celebrating it just that those celebrations were few and far between, and not easily located.

In her Dibble's Dabbles of July 3, 1986, Billie quotes from the earliest Westfield Republican editorial article that each of us found (July 1, 1857), which reads, "It is to be regretted that so little interest is felt by the community in a proper celebration of Independence Day. It goes and has gone, by default, inaction. We care so little for the blessings of freedom and civil privilege we enjoy, that we are too indolent to erect altars of gratitude, or get the children of our households together and teach them what our liberties cost, and who gave them to us. What is done is simply and only amusement - sport and merriment without a single proceeding that brings again to our memories the night of the Revolution - the sorrows of Valley Forge - a naked and suffering soldiery - Yorktown after long years of doubtful conflict - these and the Providence that gave us success."

Sounding like what we often hear even yet, it was somewhat heartening to read the next paragraph: "But we are glad that some among us have determined to make some improvement of the day, and that a generous Pic-Nic is to be had on the 4th, at the Maple Grove, on the Lake Shore." Apparently a number of folks took notice of this editorial and how "dead" the Fourth of July 1857 seemed in Westfield, because in 1858, a pretty spectacular celebration was held - on the Fifth of July, as the Fourth fell on a Sunday.! "Promptly at midnight the ringing of the bells, and glare of the bonfire, kindled by the industry of the boys, at the head of Main-st, with a brisk firing from the larger pieces of boy artillery, gave notice to the less wakeful part of our citizens, that the day for celebration had made its appearance; and those who had the curiosity to go out on the street found the Fire Company vigorously at work with their Engine, not in smothering the flames of the bonfire, that was being regarded with so much pride by its builders, for it would hardly have answered to interfere with this brilliant display of patriotism - but in sprinkling the streets; and when the booming of the heavy gun told of daylight, and that the national salute was being fired, the cool and refreshing look they presented intimated thoughtfulness on the part of the "cold water" men, that all were glad to acknowledge. By nine o'clock the streets were thronged with people."

The following paragraph summarizes the major events of the day that took a half-page of the newspaper in fine print to describe. A parade commenced at ten AM that was headed by the band, followed by the military, the clergy, the president (mayor), the reader and orator, 13 aged men, 32 young ladies, the fire company, with the citizens bringing up the rear. Hon. George W. Patterson read the Declaration of Independence, and an oration was given by L. Parsons, Esq. After these and many other prayers and readings at Academy Grove, they all returned to the village park for a "bountiful repast" which included thirteen toasts and responses: The day we Celebrate, the President of the US, The Governor, The Patriots of the Revolution, The Tree of Civil and Religious Liberty, The Constitution, the Memory of Washington, The Union of the States, Education, The Military, The Fire Department Band, and last but not least, The Ladies. In the evening there was a brilliant display of fireworks, and at a late hour a special balloon was sent up, which eventually disappeared over Lake Erie, to the northwest.

After reading about this fascinating account of events of 112 years ago, another surprise was discovered in the July 4, 1883 Westfield Republican, in a column next to a notice that Jones Bros. would be providing transportation on the afternoon of the 4th for all who wished to attend the Picnic at Peacock's Grove. "An 'old-timer' informs us that on the 4th of July, 1824, a merry celebration was had in the Knight and Mallory neighborhood, (now Bliss Street), at which the following toast was offered: 'The Village of Westfield-May it have patriotism enough in 1825 to fire one small squib.' The next year (1825) when Independence Day came there was a big celebration in Westfield, the citizens and farmers around uniting in a festival that did them honor. Whether above sentiment acted as a spur 'to prick the sides of their intent' is not known; probably it did."



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