Granite City Groove: Historic July Fourth Celebration Remembered

by Joshua Jerome

Temporary arch dedicated to the Barre residents who served in World War I

Temporary arch dedicated to the Barre residentswho served in World War I

July Fourth is a day celebrated throughout this country as the day America declared its independence from Great Britain. We have parades, barbecues, fireworks, picnics and little American flags are ubiquitous. On July 4, 1919, there was a celebration in downtown Barre; not to commemorate the country’s independence, but to give thanks to the 816 men from Barre City and Barre Town who served overseas in “the Great War.”

The whole city was awash in a patriotic fever and a great deal of community organizing through various committees made careful planning for the July Fourth festival. In the days leading up to July, The Barre Times contained advertisements from The Homer Fitts Co. marketing new cotton blouses, sold for $1.50 to $4.50 as “pretty, charming styles of voile, organdie and batiste, some with soft frills around the neck, others simply collarless” while reminding readers that to celebrate their brave soldiers return to “look your best on the glorious fourth.” Another company, the Granite City Bottling Works encouraged readers to make their “soda water” order in advance of the weekend and recommended purchasing at least two cases for the celebration.

Downtown Barre had around 16,000 people gather for the parade. A parade so large, there were four divisions with veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish American War and over 400 men that had already returned home from France. The day of celebration began at 6:30 a.m. when church bells first tolled. The parade participants gathered at several locations around the city as there was not one place big enough to muster them. And as the parade ensued and onlookers gave praise to those veterans, they were greeted with a temporary arch structure erected where “Youth Triumphant” stands today.

This massive structure stood 40 feet tall, 38 feet wide and 15 feet deep. It had a wooden framework that had only begun being constructed on June 24 with a stucco exterior. A committee had formed to work with the local arts community on designing the temporary structure. Some of the names of the men on the committee include Hooker, Scampini, Collamer, Sanguienetti, Calcagni, Ballard and Millar. Many artists collaborated in building the commemorative piece, including Carlo Abate, Nazareno Pelaggi and Angelo Calderara. Inscribed in the structure were the names of all the Barre residents who served in the war including stars placed next to the 44 names of those who lost their lives. The frieze was in Latin that translated into “To commemorate the homecoming of the boys who fought for democracy — 1919.”

Or course, it still was the Fourth of July and it would not have been the same without some baseball. Over 10,000 fans gathered at the “Trotting Park” to watch Barre take on Montpelier. Montpelier got ahead early on, scoring four runs in the 1st inning, but Barre came back and after a few innings of trading the lead, Barre eventually beat Montpelier by a score of 14-7. Interestingly enough, like the American League East standings today, the New York Yankees were in first place in their division with the Red Sox near last place. I can only imagine the pride and joy of Barre residents who had witnessed such a remarkable parade complete with victory arch and coming back to defeat Montpelier.

For Barre residents, the evening of July 4, 1919, was spent listening to music, sharing soda water and for some women, showing off their newly purchased cotton blouses. It was a glorious Fourth of July celebration in downtown Barre complete with a come-from-behind win against Montpelier.

The writer is executive director with the Barre Partnership.

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