Riverhead town historian Georgette Case speaking at a Fourth of July celebration in Jamesport

Editor’s note: These are the remarks of Riverhead town historian Georgette Case at the town’s July 4, 20.19 celebration in Jamesport

The crowd grew in 1818 as they joined our 42nd anniversary of American Independence celebration at Riverhead.

The exercises of the day were performed with great harmony and decorum, and joy and gratitude beamed on every countenance.

By 1866, the Civil War had ended and Riverhead was publicizing Independence Day. Church bells and anyone with a bell was up a sunrise creating a cacophony of sound.

Residents joined in a parade with the Riverhead Fire Department and the National Guard. Prayers, poems and music filled the day with the highlight of the day, the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Judge Timothy M. Griffing.

The Centennial

July 4, 1876 was America’s 100th birthday. All the stops were pulled out. Such noise! Church bells rang, cannons fired, whistles blew, drums beat, bugles tooted. From morn ‘til late, happenings included everyone.

At dawn, bells pealed “rousing up the deaf”. On top of a Main Street building was the Riverhead’s Brass Band playing rousing patriotic selections.

Pranksters had been out removing fence gates, signs and whatnots, so during the day people were scurrying around looking for many missing items.

The watering cart went up and down the streets laying the dust.

Churches were festooned with trimmings, as were stores and private homes. The Rev. Mr. Cook of the Grace Episcopal church had at least 50 flags flying on, over, and around his house. Corwin’s Drug Store on Main and Bridge Streets offered ice-cold soda flavored with your favorite syrups.

Big doings were planned for 1916! A sizeable parade was planned which included cars, bicycles, wagons, and fire trucks all decorated in holiday fashion. In planning the festivities Riverhead Rifle Club was in charge of the sporting activities such as horse racing. It was a grand and glittering day with fireworks and patriotic speeches.

“The Old Town Did Itself Proud …” was the headline informing the reader of every July 4th detail. The Foresters of America organized many of the events of the day and the events were numerous. The women of the village were credited with all the day’s successes — except for the baseball game.

The parade was sponsored by the Riverhead Firemen’s Association, patriotic, fraternal and civic organizations. Riverhead Band under the direction of Professor Garfield Corwin provided marching music.

Commencing at 1 p.m. the first fire apparatus, drawn by boys dressed in “tasty” uniforms, was the hose cart. The route was long going all over the village. When the parade reached the Methodist church, marchers filled the church where they heard a musical program by the Philharmonic Society. Prayers were recited and the Declaration of Independence was read. Timothy Griffing read a history of the town of Riverhead written by the Honorable George Miller. The history oration was so well received that it was reprinted for distribution. (Copies of this speech are even available today.) The procession reformed and continued for several more miles. Wow!

Floats included ladies dressed in white with headdresses representing the Goddess of Liberty. John Marcy (Marcy Avenue) had decorated a boat placed on wheels and drawn by two horses.

Oh yes, let’s not forget the ballgame. The late afternoon game at the fairgrounds was played between the Enterprise Club of Riverhead and fellows from Jamesport and Aquebogue. The score was 12 to 11 in favor of the Enterprise Club.

Bicycle and horse races were some of the other Fourth of July events taking place at the Suffolk County Fair Grounds in Riverhead. A purse of $100 was awarded to the fastest trotter. Gold medals and bicycle tires were awarded to the best peddlers. Ceremonies and activities didn’t stop at dusk. People gathered on the corner of Griffing Avenue and Lincoln Street for the grand display of fireworks. The evening was one big social affair. At least 863 people came through the fairground gate that evening.

At 1 a.m. the town-wide party was still going strong and a cannon was fired from a Peconic Avenue bridge. With all the enthusiasm it was unfortunate several people were injured including Nathan Petty’s 4-year old son, Orcutt, who was lighting a firecracker when it exploded and burned his face. (Even in the 1930s, people were injured by firecrackers. DeWitt Benjamin of Riverhead exclaimed to my father – “There go my fingers!”)

The American’s Creed was written by William Tyler Page, who was the Clerk to the United States House of Representatives. After a contest the House of Representatives adopted the Mr. Page’s Creed in 1918.

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

Happy 4th and God Bless America!

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.