City History: Milford held a giant July 4 party in 1876
On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the country on July 4, 1876, the Milford Sentinel newspaper reported the events of the day with its longest bank of headlines ever:
The Glorious Fourth!!!
A Gala Day for Old Milford!!
The Red, White and Blue Everywhere.
Buildings Aglow with the National Emblem.
The Streets Ablaze with Illuminations.
The Day Greeted by Cannon, Bells and Whistle.
The Stars and Stripes Flung to the Breeze.
Address by John J. Miner, Esq.
The Grand Procession.
Oratory by Abner L. Train, Esq.
Fireworks Close the Day.
A framed, preserved newspaper front page in the archives of the Milford Historical Society tells a story of how the community came together to celebrate a very special Fourth of July. Milford was already 137 years old when the nation was born, and the strong sentiment of liberty and patriotism was everywhere in town on July 4th, 1876.
The National Centennial was celebrated here with everything Milford had: banners, flags, fire balloons, cannons, cornets, processions, exploding illuminations, The Goddess of Liberty, Chinese lanterns, stars and stripes, and all the cowbells and factory whistles the villagers could find.
“The Sentinel” newspaper reported that “As the day advanced the enthusiasm of the people became more evident until in the length and breadth of the village there was hardly a house but what displayed to the breeze the inspiring red, white and blue.”
J. H. Wingfield was accorded praise for his “elaborate show of the tricolors gracefully festooned above the entrance (of his house). Chinese lanterns of various hues were interspersed amid these folds, and myriads of small flags fluttered here and there arranged in good taste and judgment.”
The paper cited the P.S. Bristol house as having “one of the finest displays in town. Its streamers and buntings “were gracefully relieved by Chinese lanterns, (and) over his entrance was an arch with the motto ‘1776 Liberty 1876.’ From this arch extending to the residence of Ellsworth Clark was a line of flags, pennons (pennants) and lanterns bearing the insignia of masonry, a medallion of Washington and other patriotic emblems.”
Many more houses were mentioned, but special notice was made of Mr. John W. Merwin’s residence, known as the DeWitt house, that dated back more than 125 years. This house on the Green put on “the bright garments of patriotism outdoing its neighbors in the profusion and multiplicity of these streaming emblems. Hardly a part of its spacious front but was covered with flags, streamers, pendants, and multitudinous lanterns of various designs, all most artistically arranged, and presenting during the day, and by the brilliant illuminations of the evening, a most gorgeous spectacle, and a scene never to be forgotten by those who viewed it.”
On the Green there was displayed an “ancient” spinning-wheel and chair from 1776, Baldwin & Lamkin’s Shoe and Boot Factory had bright lights in every window, and a new flag graced the flagpole.
A parade, or procession as it was called, featured dignitaries carried in carriages made in Milford. There was a “grand floral car” with “The Goddess of Liberty,” portrayed by Miss Matilda Tibbals, along with 38 young women representing the 38 states. It was called “one of the finest features of the procession,” and the reporter mentioned that “The horses were led by grooms.”
The report continued: “As the night drew on the volume of noise produced by exploding powder increased.
“Every now and then as if exuberant joy and patriotism could not contain itself, the belching cannon broke in upon the air. So the twilight drifted into the evening and evening into the night.”
Nighttime was no reason to stop celebrating.
“Few people had planned to have an unbroken night of rest on this last of the century and the dawn of a new hundred years in the life of the Republic.”
The Milford Cornet Band started playing at 10 p.m., and a “fire balloon” 20 feet in circumference was set off to float away.
Next the newspaper reports that “About that time the Charles Island gun appeared on Broad Street and in the hands of enterprising young Americans waked the slumbering echoes from Indian River to the Housatonic during the remainder of the night.
“At twelve o’clock one long loud whistle from the Automatic Works announced the departure of the old century and the birth of the new.”
For information on the preservation work and activities of the historical society, go to milfordhistoricalsociety.org.