Many Fourth of July Celebrations have become a very special memory for people down through the years.
On August 24, 1904, Mary Jane Cutler read a story that she had written about one of the very early Fourth of July celebrations in the Lowell/Cedar Lake area. She was reading to the members of the Lake County Old Settlers and Historical Association (now the Lake County Historical Society) at their 29th anniversary meeting.
When she wrote the story about the pioneers in 1848, she was Mary Jane Ball and lived in Cedar Lake. She read: "Cannons, anvils, bells, firecrackers and shouts usher in the Fourth of July in the East, but not yet here in Lake County. Here no cannon'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 amid shouts and noise, no fife and drum kept time to the soldiers' tread, and no bugle notes set the wild echoes flying."
But changes were to come. Their quiet, isolated home, nestled in the trees that bordered the prairie, was all aglow in the early dawn of July 4, 1848. The family was filled with excitement for all had received a special invitation to a festive gathering to celebrate the Independence of our Nation!
About 30 guests were invited to partake of the delicious meal cooked in two large fireplaces and a cast iron stove which was purchased in Detroit, Michigan, on the way west. What a wonderful meal was prepared. Rock bass were cooked to perfection, and 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 venison, wild ducks and a huge chicken pie.
Later in the day, as darkness deepened, the children began asking about the fireworks. Mrs. 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 the roman candles, wheels, and all kinds of fireworks were fired from the post at the garden gate, each was a signal for louder shouts and greater praise."
One of the elderly gentlemen guests reminded all present that the best speakers and greatest minds would be making speeches concerning the welfare of the country. He assumed that within 10 days the great orations would be read with great interest in the Eastern newspapers. He was especially looking forward to reading a speech by the famous statesman, Daniel Webster (1782-1852).
Mrs. Cutler described the end of their perfect day: "The night hawks swooped down with a loud whirr for their prey, the mourning doves answered each other from a distance, and the whip-or-wills plaintively called from many a tree and stump."
Fourth of July celebrations continued in many of the towns and villages of Lake County. In the Town of Lowell on the Fourth of July, 1881, the celebration featured a great foot race to see who could run the most miles in two hours. The race track was marked off at the Olde Towne Square, with the contest beginning about 2 p.m. on a very hot and dry day, with a large group of runners entered.
Each runner was allowed a person along the track to refresh him with a wet sponge. At the end of the two hours, only four runners were still able to stand, with Albert Webb, the favorite, sure enough the first- place winner.
Webb had trained while running behind the old steam trains between Lowell and Shelby. (It was 1881, the first year that the trains were running at Lowell, the old engines running slower in those days.)
Webb ran 20 miles in 2 hours, with the second place winner, David Fuller, running a total of 19 miles. A few of the other racers mentioned were August Sunderman, Ben Worley, and Al Kelsey. Money exchange hands after the race, for bets as high as fifty dollars were placed on the favorites.
On July 28, 2001, the third annual Buckley 5-mile race continued a new summer tradition, sponsored by the Lowell and Lake County Parks Departments. At the race last year the Albert Webb Trophy, in memory of the long-ago runner, was awarded to one of the winners.
When automobiles and other forms of transportation became more advanced, the Fourth of July celebration in Lowell was discontinued, and residents traveled to events at Crown Point, Whiting or Beecher, Illinois, to attend large celebrations, with everyone looking forward to the great Labor Day Celebration at Lowell, which had its start in 1919, soon after World War I, when the boys came marching home.
But July 4, 1916, an Independence Day celebration took place at Hayden's Grove, near the Hayden Family Homestead, three miles west of the village of Belshaw in West Creek Township. The program included a concert by the Lowell Boys' Band, long speeches, interesting races and an assortment of other contests.
E.C. Pulver, Charles Minninger and Cecil Minninger were the committee for the athletic events, which included foot races, ball throwing, broad jump, three legged race, sack races, high jump, tug-of-war, fat man's race and a shoe race. Dr. Leon Bailey was in charge of the big potato polo race on horseback.
The races were followed by an exciting baseball game between the Belshaw Giants and the Stars from Orchard Grove. Horse races followed with expert horseman, George Bailey, a Lowell banker, in charge. Dancing and fireworks topped off the exciting day at Hayden's Grove in 1916.
Among the fine historical photographs now hanging in the Lowell Town Hall Meeting Room is an image of the home of pioneer Josiah Bailey of West Creek Township. A carriage decorated with colorful bunting and flags can be seen on the front lawn, ready for parading on the Fourth.
The fine old house has since been moved from its original location to a nearby site on Belshaw Road.
The Old Timer remembers seeing West Commercial Avenue decorated (or littered) with remnants of many firecrackers and roman candles fired by the neighborhood boys on both sides of the old tar road and along the shaded parkway. A favorite item in the 1920's was a hammer-looking contraption which shot a feathered ball high into the air with the aid of a special explosive cap.
Many of the cities and towns are still presenting Fourth of July celebrations, including some who have done so for decades: Crown Point, Hobart and Whiting in Lake County; Hebron in Porter County; and Beecher in Illinois. The Cedar Lake Summerfest has also been a popular even for 20 years.
The excitement in the Town of Lowell on the Fourth of July 2001 began with a Flag Relay sponsored by the Lowell Labor Day organization and Charles "Butch" Bukovac, chair. Dozens of townspeople took part in the flag-carrying event, led by a United States flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol and will next accompany astronaut Jerry Ross of Crown Point into space next winter. Participants took turns carrying the historic flag.
Then it was time for the second annual Duck Race, sponsored by the Lowell Chamber of Commerce as a fund-raiser. A large crowd turned out to see hundreds of plastic ducks race across the lake at beautiful Evergreen Park and to enjoy refreshments prepared by the Lowell Women's Club.
The history of the Fourth includes many brave men and women, from pioneers to astronauts.
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