At the 29th anniversary meeting of the Lake County Old Settlers and Historical Assn. on Aug. 24, 1904, M.J. Cutler read a story she had written about one of the earliest celebrations of the Fourth of July in south Lake County.
Her story was about the pioneers of 1848, when her name was Mary Jane Ball. She wrote: "Cannons, anvils, bells, fire-crackers and shouts usher [in] each Fourth of July as the years bring it around (in the East, but not yet in Lake County). (Here) no cannnon's roar had been heard, no guns aroused the midnight sleepers, or welcomed the sunrise of the eventful day, no loads of celebrants went to a patriotic gathering, with their dinners and shouts and noise, no fife and drum kept time to soldier's tread, or bugle notes set the wild echoes flying."
But then, she wrote, in a quiet, isolated home nestled in the trees that bordered the prairie, the early dawn of July 4, 1848, found a family all astir and filled with excitement, for each of them had received a special invitation to a festive gathering to celebrate the Fourth of July!
About thirty people were invited to partake of the holiday meal cooked in two large fireplaces and a stove purchased in Detroit on the way west. Rock bass were cooked to perfection, and a a whole roast pig was placed in the center of the table, with wild plums for eyes and a nubbin of corn in its mouth. Then came fat and juicy prairie chickens, roast vension, wild ducks, and a huge chicken pie!
Later in the day, as darkness deepened, several of the children asked: "Isn't it most time for the fire-crackers?"
Cutler wrote: "When the long-desired answer was given, then began the exuberant wonder and delight of those who had never seen the sparks of patriotism on the glorious Fourth, and as Roman Candles and wheels and all kinds of fireworks, then obtainable in Chicago, were fired from the post by the garden gate, each was a signal for louder shouts and greater praise."
Henceforth, celebrations on the Fourth of July continued in most of the towns and villages in Lake County. The Old Timer found a short account of the celebration on 'the Fourth' in Lowell in 1881, when it took place on the town square, now Senior Citizens Park. During that celebration, a great foot race was held, a race to see who could run the most miles in two hours.
The contest started about 2 p.m. on a very hot and dry day, with a large group of runners entered, and each runner positioned someone along the track to hand him a wet sponge.
At the end of two hours, only four runners were left, outraced by Albert Webb, the favorite, who had practiced running behind trains between Lowell and Shelby! Webb ran 20 miles in two hours, with second place David Fuller running a total of 19 miles. Some of the other contestants were August Sunderman, Ben Worley, and Al Kelsey. Bets as high as fifty dollars were placed during the race.
When transportation became more advanced, the Fourth of July celebration in Lowell was discontinued, and Lake County residents traveled to Crown Point, Whiting, or Beecher, Ill., for large celebrations with everybody looking toward Lowell in the fall to take part in the Lowell Labor Day Homecoming, which began soon after World War I in 1919.
On July 4, 1916, however, a big celebration took place at Hayden's Grove, three miles west of the village of Belshaw in West Creek Twp. The program consisted of music by the Lowell Boys' Band, speeches, songs, races and contests.
E.C. Pulver, Charles Minninger and Cecil Minninger were on the committee for the athletic events, which included foot races, ball throwing, the broad jump, a three-legged race, sack races, the high jump, a tug of war, a fat man's race and a shoe race. A special feature of the day was a potato polo race on horseback, with Leon Bailey in charge.
The races were followed by an exciting baseball game between the Belshaw Giants and the Stars from Orchard Grove. Next on the program were horse races, with expert horseman George Bailey as chair. All this was followed by fireworks and dancing.
There is a fine picture of an early Lowell home in one of the town's restaurants. It is the home of Josiah Bailey of West Creek Twp., and in front of the house is pictured a carriage decorated with bunting and flags for the Fourth of July.
The picture was taken many years before the celebration in 1916, however, for Bailey died in 1902. The house is still standing, but has been moved from its original location to another site on Belshaw Rd.
The writer remembers, as a youngster, seeing the street in front of the Schmal residence on W. Commercial Ave. decorated with remnants of many firecrackers and roman candles fired from both sides of the tar road. One of the favorite items was a hammer-like contraption which shot a feathered ball into the air with the aid of a special cap.
Today many towns and villages in Lake County are having Fourth of July celebrations, including those who have done so for many years: Crown Point and Whiting in Lake County, Hebron in Porter County, and Beecher in Illinios. Cedar Lake has been celebrating Independence Day with its "Summerfest" for about a dozen years.
Referring back to the Fourth of July gathering in 1848, one of the guests said: "In every city and town in our broad country today, have the best speakers and greatest minds given their noblest thoughts for our country's welfare, and we will look forward with eagerness to receive ten days hence here in our western home, the eastern newspapers, which will undoubtedly publish many of the finest orations given in New England, which we will read with intense interest, especially Webster's."
As their perfect day drew to a close: "The night hawks swooped down with a loud whirr for their prey, the mourning doves answered each other from a distance, and the whip-poor-wills plaintively called from many a tree and stump."
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