Monday, July 2, 2012

How Kerrville celebrated Independence

There has been some criticism of City Hall about this year's Fourth of July celebrations being held in June instead of on July 4th.
As long as I can remember, a fireworks display was presented on the evening of the Fourth, at dark-thirty, in the neighborhood of Louise Hays Park. Often the pyrotechnics show was accompanied by a musical performance in the park. Both events were free and well attended.
Not so this year; the public fireworks will go off tonight, June 30th, in conjunction with a musical celebration in the park. The fireworks, of course, will be free to anyone who cares to look in the correct direction this evening. The musical performance is not free. Adults 21 and over will pay $25; ages 8-20, $10; under 7, free.
There are several reasons for this change.
First, the City of Kerrville no longer funds the fireworks display; a local restaurateur donates money toward the show. While the City provides other services (notably crews from the parks, streets, and police departments), it is not the sole sponsor of the event.
This year's musical event is designed to bring in visitors from out of town and will likely do so. This will be a boon to businesses who cater to the tourist trade. Since the celebration is being held on a weekend, instead of during the middle of the week (on Wednesday the 4th), it is thought more folks from out of town will travel to Kerrville for the celebration.
Since this event is being privately produced, albeit with City support, it can be held whenever the producers want. Their freedom to do so is among those we celebrate on July 4th: they're free to produce (or not produce) the event whenever they care to do so.
I don't care to judge the decisions made concerning the event; there are sound arguments on both sides. What I can offer is some stories about Kerrville's celebration of the Fourth in years past.
In 1902, Kerrville enjoyed a grand celebration at the Kerrville Park, which I think was the old West Texas Fairgrounds. The events started at 10 am and ran all day. The day started with a foot race, sack race, high jump, ladies' foot race, greasy pole climbing, and a wheel barrow race. After a barbeque cooked and served by the fire department, there was "speaking," which I assume meant speeches, a basketball game, a "300 yard dash - cow ponies," and one at 350 yards. All this entertainment was free, unless you brought your horse and team, in which case there was a 25 cent charge per animal.
In the late 1950s, a rodeo and water show were held to celebrate Independence Day; admission was charged for both. The rodeo, from what I read, was held in Antler Stadium. I bet Tivy's new athletic director would enjoy having a rodeo produced on his Astroturf-covered field. The water show was held in the little "lake" at Louise Hays Park, and included trick water skiing.
The July 4th Rodeo seems to have started in 1934, so even in the late 1950s, our Independence was celebrated at that event. In 1938, over 7000 folks piled into Antler Stadium to watch the spectacle. Most of the winners that year were from out of town, but Volney Snodgrass, of Mountain Home, won the calf riding contest. The event was sponsored by the Kerrville Jaycees.
Many of those celebrations in the 1930s included a "water carnival" and "aquatic meet" at downtown Kerrville's Cascade Pool, which was about where the Bank of America building next to the Arcadia Theater stands today.
However, in 1930, "no organized effort" to hold a community program was made, though "practically all stores and businesses will be closed."  I think it was this lack of a community event that encourage the Jaycees to organize July 4th celebrations.
For many years in Kerrville's history a private organization produced events to celebrate Independence Day, events which were well attended and for which admission was charged. For many years the celebration was organized by the Jaycees, a group of young people working to bring a sense of community to Kerrville, as well as invite out of town guests to come celebrate Independence Day here.
The event this weekend seems to be in line with those celebrations; it is being produced by a group of young people with similar goals to those groups years ago.
On the evening of the Fourth, may I suggest you celebrate with friends and family? Traditionally foot races and sporting contests were held at picnics and barbeques. Fireworks seldom figured in those early celebrations. Oratory often played a role; perhaps one among your friends could make a speech. Have someone read the Declaration of Independence. Make this year's celebration memorable. The spectacle of pyrotechnics need not be a part of your special celebrations.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who spent many of his July 4th celebrations in years past in Stamford, Texas, at his grandmother's house, where he and his family attended the Texas Cowboy Reunion. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 30, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, I believe there were also parades for the 4th of July during the 1950's.


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