Across the country, fireworks light up the sky July 4 in celebration of the nation’s birthday; but one small town in New York has grabbed headlines for a historic Independence Day celebration all its own.
Springfield’s Fourth of July parade was named one of the best by Conde Nast Traveler magazine in 2013 – a rather impressive accomplishment for a town of only around 1,300 people.
“Springfield is mostly rolling hills and pristine farmland,” said Andrea House, publicity coordinator of the Springfield Fourth of July committee. “It’s home to an Amish community whose horse-drawn carriages are a common sight on the roads in town.”
How does this parade thrive in such a small town?
Debra Ann Miller, chairman of the committee for 35 years and counting, maintains the success of the festivities is due to its loyal volunteers.
She and husband Jonathan work tirelessly for months to get the celebration funded and organized. They join with a small but dedicated group of individuals, all of whom play a necessary role — including Town Supervisor William Elsey and Committee Secretary Janet McCarty and her husband, Keith. The McCartys will be honored in 2017 as grand marshals of the parade.
“We divide up a large job and just get things done,” Miller said. “It is a pleasure to work with such a group.”
The volunteers are responsible for transforming one quiet, little street into the place to be on the Fourth.
“The parade takes place at the hamlet of Springfield Center,” said House. “It’s a quaint collection of a couple antique and gift shops, an inn, an auto repair shop, two churches, a post office, fire house and our community center. However, on each Fourth of July the little hamlet is completely transformed as approximately 4,000 people converge to celebrate American Independence, just as they’ve done here for over 100 years.”
Miller said funding for the event comes from individual contributions, local grants, ticket sales from the Glimmerglass Festival’s “Town of Springfield Appreciation Concert,” proceeds from Brooks’ chicken barbecue dinners and Springfield Fourth of July T-shirt and memorabilia sales.
What makes Springfield’s parade stand out?
“One of the things that makes our parade special is the fact that very few communities in the U.S. have a parade on the Fourth,” said Miller. “Many have fireworks and other celebrations, but we have one of the longest-running July 4th parades in the country.”
“The Springfield Fourth of July Parade represents the best qualities of small-town America, preserving the traditions of years past with pride,” added House. “Watching the parade, people step back in time to the parades of their childhoods or that of their parents or grandparents. Our visitors are struck by the spirit of the town and the celebration, which, no matter your political affiliation, will make you proud to be an American.”
The energy in Springfield has become contagious over the years. Participants now travel from all across the country to bring life to the committee’s vision.
“We have had all sorts of unique entries over the years, from Uncle Sam on stilts to a lighthouse float that came to us from a California winery celebrating its 40-year anniversary,” said Miller. “The parade now runs over an hour and includes about 75 entries, although we had 100 entries for our 100th anniversary.”
Where did it all begin?
The famous Fourth of July parade began all the way back in 1914. Prior to its inception, the town of Springfield celebrated its independence with a bicycle parade, along with various other sporting events such as baseball and a greased pig chase. The first official Springfield Fourth of July Parade was led by a local brass band and followed by a long list of floats and marching groups. The event concluded with a handsome display of fireworks.
“Since then, the Springfield parade and celebration has continued annually,” said House, “except for in 1943 when wartime gas rations prevented it and in 2008 when it rained torrentially the whole day.”
What does it feature today?
“The parade itself celebrates the everyday heroes of American life,” House continued. “Fire departments from all over the area are represented with marching groups and fire trucks, new and antique. Many veterans’ organizations are represented by marching groups as well. Local organizations such as the library associations, environmental conservation groups, Girl and Boy Scouts, family farms and businesses, church groups and arts venues enter floats in the parade.
“There are clowns, princesses and new surprises every year,” he said. “There is always a wonderful collection of antique automobiles and tractors; children ride decorated bicycles; and lastly come the horse-drawn carriages and horse riders. Cash prizes, ribbons and trophies are awarded to the best in many categories as determined by a team of judges.” Parade decorations are expected to reflect the yearly theme, which this year is “Star Spangled Celebration.”
Why don’t you stay a while?
If the parade weren’t already enough, Springfield’s festivities spill over into other activities as the day progresses. Spectators follow behind it to a celebration that takes place at the Springfield Community Center. It consists of a flag raising ceremony; singing of the National Anthem; and patriotic music by the Camden Continentals Fife and Drum Corps, the Cooperstown Community Band and local musician Fritz Henry.
Displays inside the community center include the annual Fourth of July quilt show, a Springfield Historical Society Exhibit and a collection of Revolutionary War era artifacts from the Fort Plain Museum and Historical Park. Taking place on the lawn are a variety of games and raffles, the Utica ZooMobile, bounce houses and face painting. Fourth of July parade merchandise is for sale.
“And of course there’s plenty to eat,” said House. “Hot dogs, hamburgers, homemade pie, strawberry shortcake, popcorn, Snocones and the famous Brooks’ barbecue chicken dinners. All vendors are volunteers for local nonprofit organizations and are raising funds for local programs, including the parade.”
Since the parade’s 100th anniversary, the Fourth of July committee has added a free evening concert and a well-attended firework display held on the beach at Glimmerglass State Park.