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July 9, 2015
Westfield Republican

By Marybelle Beigh

Westfield Historian

The Westfield Firemen's Annual Ox-Roast in July has a long tradition at Ottaway Park! But do you know when it started?

Article Photos

Photo by Si Wertz via Patterson Library
Pictured is a 1967 photo of Deutschmeisters Band about 3 years after the band was formed.

Ox Roasts have been a staple for summer celebrations in the various villages and cities of Chautauqua County for decades. While perusing a Westfield Republican from August 19, 1896, the headline - "AN OX ROAST - THE DRIVING PARK ASSOCIATION WILL HAVE ONE" - caught my attention. The sub-headline reads, "The Date is September 9 and 10 - Fireman's Day will be Celebrated in Connection With it. - Horse Racing on the 9th. - A prominent Feature will be a Joint Gold Standard and 16 to 1 Debate by Prominent Speakers, on the 10th." The September 16, 1896 newspaper had nearly a half-page, front page story about "WESTFIELD'S BIG DAYS. - NEVER WAS PERRY'S VICTORY BETTER CELEBRATED. - An Ox Roast - Joint Political Discussion - Gold, Silver, Prohibition - Races - Various Forms of Amusement - Good Music - A Great Success."

From the mid 1890s through early 1900s, Westfield had a series of Street Fairs which included an Ox Roast, Premiums, Political Discussions, Music, and Amusements, similar to Perry's Victory Celebration of 1896. These were typically held in mid October, to take advantage of harvest season, sponsored by most of the business men along Main Street. As with most festival projects, these fairs seemed to die out, but attempts were made to revive them such as in October 1915, when the Business Men's Association planned an old-fashioned Street Fair "along the lines of 20 years agoto use up fireworks" that they were unable to use because of rain during Labor Day festivities. As before, an Ox Roast was included.

In her Dibble's Dabbles of June 24, 1981, Billie Dibble wrote of "Westfield's Unforgettable Ox Roast" - June 27, 1923 - for which "the whole town of Westfield turned out for the biggest Ox-Roast and town picnic in the history of the area started when the men's Bible Classes of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches engaged in a contest for the most men they could get out on Sunday mornings. The Presbyterians seemed to win with 500 on the final Sunday to the Methodist's 350... But the in total count over the entire time, the Methodists had the lead. So after several meetings to determine how to celebrate cooperatively, they decided on an all day picnic and Ox Roast to be held at Bourne's Beach. The library and the museum both have large photographs showing the huge gathering from that eventful day.

As near as I have been able to determine, the Driving Park Ox-Roast in 1896 was the first Ox-Roast held in conjunction with a Firemen's day here in Westfield. When I queried several older and middle-aged local citizens regarding when the annual Fireman's Ox-Roast began, the guess was that it was in the 1940s. Several rounds of researching the digitized and microfilmed Westfield Republicans have confirmed that the first (annual) Fireman's Ox-Roast was held Sunday July 13, 1947 at Ottaway Park from 1-9 PM. In addition to the beloved ox-roast sandwiches, there were Pony Rides and Races for Kids, Bingo, and a Band Concert.

The following year, the Fireman's Ox-Roast was held Sunday July 18, 1948, with similar activities included. (Note this was the 3rd Sunday of July, not the 2nd Sunday as the previous year.) An article in the July 21st Republican indicated that the ox roast was a resounding success, and that 1000 persons had attended.

The next three years - 1949, 1950, and 1951, the Firemen's Ox-Roast was held on the last Sunday of each year, 7-31-1949, 7-30-1950, & 7-29-1951. But by 1952, the now-annual event was again held on the second Sunday, July 13th. 1952 was the year of the Sesqui-Centennial Celebration of the founding of our village of Westfield in 1802. The 2nd Sunday continued to be Ox-Roast weekend July 12, 1953, and July 11, 1954. But in 1955, the festivities were on the 4th Sunday July 24th. By 1956, it seems that the 2nd Sunday of July became consistently the expected weekend for the Firemen's Ox-Roast, always at Ottaway Park, at least through 1970 when it was on July 12th (and which is the last year researched at this time).

It is interesting to note that in 1960, the tradition was begun of using advance ticket sales to fund a drawing for some special prize, such as a boat, a trainer, a Polaroid camera, a Portable TV, a riding lawn mower, a free weekend for 2 to NYC, or a John Deere Garden Tractor.

What about band concerts? The only mention of band concerts for the first dozen years or so were for the first two Firemen's Ox Roasts of 1947 and 1948. Then in 1962, they advertised an Old Timers Band Concert at 2:30 PM. In 1963, "The Band" or "The Town Band" under the baton of Alva Mathews was noted. And in 1964, the concert was performed by the "newly formed Deutschmeisters!" From then on, for as long as they were together, the Deutschmeisters have been the highlight of thousands of Ox-Roast attendees at the Firemen's Ox-Roast in Ottaway Park, playing many sets from early afternoon, until the last delicious sandwich was consumed and the last prizes awarded!



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