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Remembering Fourth of July Celebrations in My Small Hometown

July 3, 2019

 

Remembering Fourth of July Celebrations at Blanford Park (Indiana)

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Aren’t small-town community celebrations of the Fourth of July among the best ways to mark our nation’s Independence Day?  Although tonight a massive firework display will beautifully and creatively light up the night sky over Milwaukee’s lakefront, my thoughts drift back several decades to Fourth of July celebrations in my small hometown of Blanford, located in west-central Indiana’s Vermillion County, where Highway 71 and 163 intersect, very near the Indiana-Illinois borderline.

 

Whenever someone says that he or she grew up in or lives in a small town, I inquire about the population of that hometown.  Almost always, the response will be a few thousand.  Then, I emphasize that my hometown had a population of about four hundred; and I think that population included at least one hundred from over this hill or that hill, not technically in the rural town of Blanford.  Of course, I am proud of my small hometown.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Blanford was a wonderful place to grow and mature.

 

Our small town was not the seat of Vermillion County:  Newport was.  Thus, Blanford was not built around a county courthouse.  I like to think that Jacksonville Grade School, the Blanford Post Office (where my mother was postmaster for more than twenty-eight years), and the Blanford Park were focal points of our community.  Since I have written other blogs about Jacksonville Grade School and the post office, I am sharing with you on this third of July, a few recollections about Blanford Park which was then located in the heart of our rural community.

 

North of Highway 163 and south of the Blanford Cut-off Road, north of Biatti’s big strawberry field and south of Pupilli’s Tavern and my Aunt Zita’s Italian restaurant was Blanford Park.  The park is still on the west side of Highway 71, where the two-way road dips down significantly amidst the hilly landscape.  During the years that I best recall this park, Blanford Park was divided into three geographical sections.

 

On the north side of the park was a relatively steep slope into the grassy area of the park.  In this section were swings and a pavillion with cement floor on which were wooden picnic tables.  While on any sunny day, we could enjoy the swings, the pavilion came to life with Bingo players during the Blanford Reunions on the Fourth of July celebrations of my youth.  Naturally, on the Bingo cards, kernels of corn were used to cover the numbers that were called.  For at least some of these years, the Royal Neighbors of America (Blanford Sunshine Camp), a ladies’ lodge to which my mother was devoted, were in charge of the Bingo games.

 

To cross the creek to the middle section of the park, one could choose from three wooden foot bridges which I believe were made by the WPA, as were some of the outhouses that were on the park grounds.  Each bridge was about three feet wide, but had no handrail nor sideboard.  The creek spanned about six or seven feet at its widest points.  Only after heavy downpours was the creek of ample depth.  Once or twice during the 1950s and 1960s, the creek flooded into the park grounds.  I do recall that once the flood was so forceful that at least two of the three bridges were destroyed and later rebuilt.  The creek meandered from the east, a branch of the much larger Brouillette’s Creek, under Highway 71, and into the park where the waterway formed the shape of a letter “J.”

 

In the middle section of Blanford Park, besides a couple of brick grills and some wooden picnic tables, the park included a second and larger pavillion, where later in the day and in the evening on the Fourth of July, live music was provided for entertainment and dancing.  (I enjoyed dancing the polka with a friend or cousin.)  West of this larger pavillion was a cement-block concession stand which could serve “walk-up” patrons on three sides of the building.  During the Fourth of July festivities–hot dogs, homemade cakes and pies, as well as ice cream were sold at a low cost.  While soft drinks could be purchased at this concession stand, another similarly built concession stand at the far west end of the park and across the third footbridge sold beer.  I recall that as a child, I went to this stand to talk to my dad when he was working there as a volunteer.  Also, I am certain that my mother baked some goodies to be sold at the food stand where Mother sometimes volunteered.  In those days, and in the hot July days, I remember that my choice, as well as the choice of other family members, was angel food cake.  However, if I knew that Mrs. Josephine Perona’s cherry pie was still among the selections, I purchased a piece of the picture-perfect, lattice-topped cherry pie.

 

Between the food stand and the pavillion for dancing was a children’s ride, which traveled from one event to another.  The circular ride held six wooden swans–each of which was painted a different bright color:  red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and pink.  A small bench and footrest were horizontally placed between the two silhouettes of swans.  Chains, like those for a porch swing, suspended the swans onto the “roof” of the simple twirling ride.  Despite its simplicity, young children did enjoy this ride during the era when Disneyland was a far-off dream, Disney World had not yet been established, other amusement parks were too far away, and carnival rides were rare treats.  Even after I was too tall for such a children’s ride, I enjoyed watching this swan ride in our small-town park.  Everyone waved at the little riders as if they were flying away on those fanciful swans.

 

Despite so few attractions, the park was always quite crowded on the Fourth of July for the Blanford Reunion.  Even though I was too young to appreciate the “reunion” aspect of this event, some people who had been former residents of our rural community did return for this “reunion” of town folk.

 

While in the winter, we enjoyed sledding down the hill to the south of the middle section of the park, adults and children, in the fairer-weather months, trekked up this south hill to the grandstand and baseball diamond where adult teams regularly played.  To my knowledge, during the 1950s and 1960s, only men teams played baseball at this diamond which was, in later years, equipped with lights for night games.  Thus, a baseball game or a doubleheader was a part of the Fourth of July celebration.

 

We never had a firework display over the baseball field or elsewhere in Blanford.  During this decade or so period of my life, to view professional firework displays, my family and I went to Memorial Stadium in Terre Haute, Indiana (Vigo County, about a half-hour drive).  Other Fourth of July firework displays we viewed were at the Clinton High School football stadium in Clinton, Indiana (about seven miles away) or fireworks over Twin Lakes in Paris, Illinois (about seven miles west of Blanford).  At the firework displays in Terre Haute and Clinton, what most intrigued me was the ground display which was called a “waterfall.”  Despite the beauty and wonder of these fireworks, celebrating Fourth of July at the Blanford Reunion in Blanford Park, where one knew almost everyone in the crowd, sparkles with special meaning in my memory book.

 

Happy 243rd Birthday, America!

Best Wishes for a Sparkling, Safe, and Patriotic Fourth of July!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

July 3, 2019, Wednesday

 

 

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6 Comments
  1. Katherine Binole permalink

    Hi Alice, I had no idea Blanford park put on such a 4th celebration. It must have been such fun!
    Unfortunately, I never attended. I’m wondering why no one ever took me there. I remember Charley taking Carla and I to Clinton to watch fireworks a couple times. I was glad to live the celebration in Blanford park through your vivid memories. Thank you. Love, Aunt Kathy

    • Hi, Aunt Kathy–Thanks for commenting on this blog post.  When Mary and I discussed the Blanford Reunions, we could not recall your being at the park either.  During the 50s and early 60s when you and your young family were living in Blanford, I do recall how much fun we had with croquet games and badminton games either in your yard or our yard.  I remember that your Bill was the master at croquet.  How many evenings did we spend with these games or on the porch swing?

      Take good care, and enjoy the first weekend of July–Alice and Willow

  2. Belated Happy 4th of July, Alice! Thank you for capturing the essence of the Blanford Reunion—families of a small town coming together for a day of friendship, fun, and celebration of our country! I had not thought about that event for years. Your description of the swan ride warmed my heart so much that I’m sure I must have loved that ride as a youngster. I also loved to play Bingo! Once again, you have shared special memories in scenes that could be found in Norman Rockwell paintings.
    Love to you and Willow,
    Mary

    • Hi, Mary–Thanks for adding your thoughts to this hometown post. I am pondering turning the swan-ride paragraph into a poem.

      Enjoy your post-Fourth of July weekend!

      Happy swimming–Alice and Willow

  3. Susan M McKendry permalink

    Alice–I so enjoyed reading this detailed description of Blanford’s 4th of July. You have provided your relatives, young and old, with a wonderful historical glimpse of small town festivities before the days of mega amusement parks. How lucky your family is to have its own historian.

    • Hi, Sue–What a nice compliment!  Thanks for reading this long blog post and for taking the time to leave  an encouraging comment.  Perhaps, you should be proclaimed an “honorary citizen” of Blanford!

      Hoping to see you soon–Alice and Willow

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