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July 4 in Saranac Lake, 1899

July 2, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Let's see if we can make this work let's see if we can have the biggest Fourth of July celebration in the entire North Country that will attract thousands of visitors to our fair village. A great idea but almost impossible to pull off? But you know what?

Mayor Oatman A. Covill called his village trustees together - Hiram Moody, Charles S. Derby, William Ledger and Clifton D. Havens - they appointed Joseph Merkel as president of a Fourth of July celebration committee with J. G. Simpson as treasurer and A. K. Botsford as secretary and this committee made the almost impossible happen.

Following are excerpts from a story in The Enterprise in July, 1899 covering that July Fourth celebration:

Article Photos

The year of this July 4th parade on Broadway is unknown. By the looks of the cars and the policemen on horseback, it was probably around 1910.
(Photo from the Centennial book which were from the of John Duquette collection)

The headline reads: "Saranac Lake Outdid Itself";" subheads reads "Five Thousand People Present - Sprinter George Smith Runs - Valleyfield Band a Grand Attraction."

"The Glorious Fourth at Saranac Lake was ushered in at midnight by the ringing of bells and firing of cannon crackers, which was repeated at sunrise. The day dawned fine, clear and warm. In the afternoon, frequent showers helped to purify and cool the air, but did not improve the race track on Main Street."


The train arrives

"At exactly 10:10 a.m., the train from Montreal rolled in at the New York Central station, bearing with it the Valleyfield brass band and nearly five hundred passengers (no worries about parking in 1899) from Montreal, Malone and Valleyfield and other points along the line of the St. Lawrence & Adirondack railroad, all bound for the Adirondack Mountain metropolis to join in celebrating the one hundred and twenty-third anniversary of American independence".

The parade started at the station when the train pulled in:

"The party was met at the station by the Saranac Lake Coronet Band, the hose companies and a large delegation of citizens. Here the line of march began, headed by the splendid Valleyfield Band, which was followed by the different hose companies, the Saranac Lake Band, fancy decorated bicycles, citizens in carriages and on foot. The procession marched down Broadway to Bloomingdale Avenue, (the exit from the train station then went out to Broadway) thence to the Baker Bridge (the bridge on Pine Street), returning, passed down Broadway and Main to Riverside Inn, along River Street, through Church and back to the Town Hall by Main Street where it disbanded." (Whew!)


A sampling of events

The Enterprise story said the village was decorated in "gala attire" and here are some of the events of the day:

The first event after the parade was a boat race on Lake Flower (it does not say what kind of boat). Hundreds lined the banks of the lake to watch Willie Gale, who won the race, followed by George Sweeney, John Girard and George Paye, who dropped out.

This is too good to paraphrase:

"The tub race was rather a one-sided affair, Joseph Cantwell contesting against little Ashton Ayer, and easily capturing the prize.

"In the swimming contest, Claude Durgan was too fast for his opponents, winning first prize with Joe Cantwell second. Joe St. Peter entered bravely with the others, but his courage soon forsook him, and he dropped out during the first half of the race."

(Gee whiz - editorializing about the poor guy; maybe he was also "forsook" winded, with a cramp.)

"The most laughable event was the walking of the greased pole over water. Several persons attempted this feat, sliding, one after another, into the water and presenting a very funny sight. After numerous fruitless endeavors, the task was accomplished by Fred Levitte, who cautiously made his way to the end of the pole, secured his prize, then dove into the water and swam ashore."

"The hose race in the afternoon drew a huge crowd. Miller Hose Co. No. 2 made the run, laid one hundred fifty feet of hose, attached to the hydrant, made the coupling and shot water from the nozzle in 53 secondsthey won first prize. While the Adirondack Hose Co. made a better run, they were a trifle slow at the nozzle and the water prevented them from attaching it. They won second prize."

There were many other events including various races: three-legged, hurdles, wheelbarrow and sack; many running events were won by George Smith, apparently well know at the time. Here is a quote about him: "Mr. Smith, the popular sprinter from AuSable Forks was here and he has many friends of both sexes in Saranac Lake who were anxious to see him run."

There was a "social dance" going on at the Opera House which began at 2 p.m. and went on "to the wee hours of Wednesday morning." With one more observation about the event: "The dance attracted a good crowd, especially at the time it was raining".

Here is how the day ended:

"In the evening, there was a grand pyrotechnic display, and if the shooting of rockets and Roman candles, and the firing of cannon crackers are an indication, there can be no question that the citizens of Saranac Lake are a very patriotic people."



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