Happy Independence Day! For our entire nation, it’s time to celebrate the Fourth of July once again. But speaking personally, this date has even more significance.
It was exactly 10 years ago, on July 1, 1999, that my first column appeared here in the Landmark. It was a fun piece, about a local boy, Jake Green, talking to a new boy in Grossdale, on July 4, 1899.
Jake was telling this kid about the Fourth of July parade and the floats, and where the parade was going. “Bragging up his knowledge,’ they used to call it back then.
After this initial column, I was doing one every month. After a while, I did a few history articles. In time, I did a few more of these, and before long, I was really churning them out.
Up to now, I figure I’ve written about 160 columns, and over 200 articles on Brookfield history. Sometimes my columns were mini-history articles, in themselves. For anyone who likes to keep count, I passed writing a quarter million words of the Landmark some time ago.
Getting back to that first column, it was my intention to give people an idea of what a parade looked like, back in Grossdale’s earliest days.
It wasn’t much to see, as compared to today’s parades. Back then, as today, people marched with real national pride. Pulled by horses, wagons were decorated with red, white and blue bunting, and with many flags.
Were there old time cars? Say, back in 1899 they were all new! Parade watchers were lucky to see a single automobile chug-chugging up the street, far away from the skittish horses.
Kids tied their goats to carts and decorated their own mini-floats. Girls in their best dresses and fanciest hats pushed patriotically adorned doll carriages over the bumpy, stony streets. Bicycles were bedecked with streamers and small flags, sometimes so much that you couldn’t see the bicycles underneath!
And the parade route varied. Parades sometimes went north on Grand Blvd., past the Eight Corners area, up Maple Avenue and to the Bergman Farm, located above 31st Street and west of Salt Creek. There, the parade would end, and the food and festivities would begin, going on all day long.
After the Brookfield Avenue bridge over Salt Creek was built in 1897, some parades would go down Grand Boulevard and end up at the Sylvan Grove, which had a lot more trees in it than it does today, as Kiwanis Park. This is the traditional route that has endured for decades.
As far as I can recall, only one other time has the parade route been different. Back in 1962, I remember, as a small boy, sitting on a curb across from where Harps Realty is today and watching the Fourth of July parade go by down Maple Avenue. I think that was due to the massive street work being done on Grand Boulevard that summer. Sound familiar?
This year’s parade is an equally historic one, so I hope everybody’s going to be out taking photos and videos. This is the first year, ever, that the parade is going east on Washington Avenue, then down Prairie Avenue, to Brookfield Avenue and to Kiwanis Park.
Did you ever wonder why Prairie is such a wide avenue compared to other streets? Back in 1897, it almost had a single track streetcar route going down its middle. The Suburban Electric Railroad (later West Towns) was going to lay this track down Prairie and over the CB& Q (Burlington) tracks, linking up with tracks planned for Ogden Avenue, running between Lyons and LaGrange.
Due to lack of money, and/or the unwillingness of the CB&Q to allow a competing railway to go over their right-of-way, the Prairie tracks were never laid. Neither was the Lyons-LaGrange route on Ogden.
So that is why there is a wider Prairie Avenue, just right for a Fourth of July parade, with floats, candy, marching bands, soldiers and dancers. I hope the residents of Prairie appreciate the novelty of this year’s parade, because they are not likely to ever seen one go down their street again.
Well, I see I’ve managed to sneak a little local history into yet another column, 10 years after my first one. I hope you’ve enjoyed my writing here thus far, and I hope you enjoy this year’s parade. Happy Fourth of July, on my 10th anniversary!