When compared with the town celebrations of today, those of earlier times were quite sedate. People of that time liked to party, mind you, but they were not as
extravagant as they are today with fireworks and parades.
All they needed was some good music, a little drink and a lot of food and the fun was sure to follow.
That’s probably because during the pioneer years, people worked harder and had less time and opportunity for leisure activities.
Of course, people back in the day didn’t need a town festival to celebrate. A barn raising was enough of an occasion to bring hundreds of neighbors together. In addition, come the first Saturday night that the barn was complete, the laborers would gather to celebrate their accomplishment and let off a little steam, especially on the new “dance floor.”
Those parties were simple affairs. A few tables would be spread with food. And many hay and straw bales would be scattered about for seating. However, most folks did not sit unless they had too much spiked cider to drink. People danced, usually into the morning hours, at which time the caller for the square dancing was hoarse and the musicians would be near exhaustion.
But when a community celebrated the Fourth of July or some other major milestone, people would turn out in droves. According to a newspaper clipping from those times, one Fourth of July celebration brought out between 4,000 to 5,000 folks. Following is an excerpt from that article that was published in the Watkins Forum:
“The big 4th of July celebration put on by the Watkins American Legion post No. 452 last Monday was an overwhelming success in every respect. The day was an ideal one and visitors were streaming into town by the hundreds early in the morning, and by noon the attendance was estimated at 4,000 people, the largest crowd that was ever assembled in Watkins at any previous celebration.
“The program for the day opened at 10 with the most wonderful parade consisting of some 34 or 35 beautiful floats representing the different business houses of the village. This alone was an attraction very seldom seen in much larger cities than Watkins, and one could hear words of praise and high compliments from every angle in the large crowd that was lined up on both sides of the street for several blocks.
“This big attraction was made possible only by the combined efforts of our wide-awake and public-spirited businessmen who spent much time and money to put on an attraction of this kind. Following the large parade, the large crowd present was entertained at the village park by the Watkins Band, which rendered an hour’s concert after which dinner was served at the St. Anthony Church.
“At 1 p.m., races of every description were pulled off, and at 3 p.m. the large crowd was entertained in a hotly contested ball game between the Eden Valley and Watkins teams, who kept the crowd on their feet at every stage of the game, and which resulted in a 13-12 victory for the local boys.
“Dancing at the big bowery erected for the occasion was also a big attraction for the young folks both in the afternoon and the evening. At 7 p.m., a large program of sports and contests was pulled off at the village park, followed by a short concert by the band after which the large crowd was assembled at the ball park to witness the big fireworks display, which was greatly enjoyed by the visitors. A big dance at both the large bowery and village hall closed the program for the big celebration.”
Our hard-working forefathers (and foremothers) looked forward to holiday celebrations as a community. This was Memorial Day in an unnamed town. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society