Independence Day 100 years ago was all about thanking and showing appreciation for the troops in their service during the “Great War.” Oneonta and Norwich held massive events for that purpose.
Oneonta Star readers of June 4, 1919, learned, “Every indication is that the grand demonstration to be given in this city on July fourth in honor of the returning soldiers, sailors, marines and Red Cross nurses of Otsego county by the appreciative fellow citizens will be the most notable occasion ever held in the county and there is little doubt that it will attract one of the largest crowds ever assembled within the county. With 1,400 and more guests of honor for the event now listed will come hundreds of friends from every town to witness the presentation of medals which are to be elaborate, to hear the address of United States Senator James W. Wadsworth, and to witness the various spectacular features that are being arranged for the day.
“The Home Defence Committee of the county, since accepting the invitation to hold this truly notable event in Oneonta, has placed the duty of providing the entertainment for the day upon the city and the obligation has been gladly accepted for nowhere in the county is the warmth of appreciation for the sacrifices of the soldiers and their work in saving the nation and the world from the thralldom of militarism more keen and deep than among the citizens of our city.”
The special guests and general public began arriving early in the day. Lunches and dinners were served to the guests of honor at nine of the city’s churches. At 1 p.m. a massive parade was formed at the armory, at the corner of Fairview and Academy streets.
“There were about 500 men in the divisions, and they all received the cheers of the throng all along the line of the march,” The Oneonta Herald of July 10 said. The parade went to the Central New York Fair grounds, now occupied by the Belmont Circle neighborhood. Here, a total of 800 young men and women were presented with medals of honor, along with a speech from Sen. Wadsworth.
For the remainder of the day, locals could choose to watch a ball game in Neahwa Park, enjoy an aviation demonstration by Oneonta native Frank Burnside, or a street dance on Grand Street. Many enjoyed picnics in Wilber and Neahwa parks, and the day concluded with a massive fireworks demonstration at dusk from the upper level of Wilber Park.
If anyone missed the event, they could see it in a motion picture of 15 minutes, which began to be played at the Strand Theater on July 16. The Strand was located at the corner of Wall and Dietz streets, now a dental office.
Meanwhile in Norwich, enthusiasm for a welcome-home event began brewing when The Norwich Sun reported that many of the soldiers were heading home on Feb. 18, aboard the ship Leviathan. A “Welcome Home” committee was soon formed and they too agreed July Fourth would be a good day for festivities.
While the day’s event took place in Norwich, each town in Chenango County had a role in planning the day.
Many of the events were similar to Oneonta’s Fourth. An estimate of the crowd that day in Norwich was between 18,000 and 30,000. People came early and stayed late. Parking the estimated 3,000 automobiles was approached methodically. Depending on the town you lived in, there was a designated parking area. Cars from New Berlin and South New Berlin would park on either said of Mitchell Street, for example.
As The Sun reported on July 5, “Not only were the citizens of this county brought to its capital by the magnificent celebration planned, but those from adjoining counties were attracted by the splendid program that had been prepared, and given the widest possible publicity in the history of old Chenango. Never was a program prepared with more infinite care, and never was one given that was more pleasing and that gave entire satisfaction to so great a number.”
While Chenango County honored their guests on a budget of $6,000, there were no figures published for the Otsego County celebration.
On Tuesday: The local business beat in July 1964.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.
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