A fabulous Fourth
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 29, 2004
The Fourth of July in &uot;these parts&uot; has been a heady mix of fireworks and flag-waving, picnics and parades, beauty queens and baseball – and sometimes, not much more than &uot;business as usual&uot;.
Look into Greenville’s past and you’ll discover the Camellia City has been on a rollercoaster ride when it comes to honoring Independence Day.
From high-energy hoopla to quiet streets and little fanfare, Greenville and Butler County have enjoyed an intriguing Fourth of July history.
Email newsletter signup
Good for what ails you
Did you know Butler County was once a popular resort destination, one enjoyed by thousands each Glorious Fourth? It’s true.
In the mid-1840s, a tavern and hotel were built near Butler Springs. This popular spot boasted no less than four marble-encased springs.
&uot;It was a draw to those seeking both health and pleasure. The springs were widely known for having cured people of what ailed them&uot;, says Judy Taylor, librarian of the local historical society.
Celebrations at Butler Springs became a longstanding tradition. &uot;Fourth of July celebrations went on for more than 60 years at the springs, attracting large crowds of politicians, orators and spectators,&uot; explains Taylor.
The July 8, 1896 edition of The Greenville Advocate reported yet another gala day at the summer resort: &uot;The Glorious Fourth. Greenville was practically deserted Saturday. Everyone who could beg, borrow or hire a team left the town…by far the largest crowd gathered at our famous summer resort, Butler Springs…the crowd was estimated at about two thousand…&uot;
Reunion beneath the trees
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many local folks chose to stay in Greenville and celebrate July 4th at the fair grounds on the outskirts of town. Confederate veterans and their families from out of town came to enjoy a day of reunion with old comrades.
Following a festive parade, folks would spread their blankets and quilts beneath towering oaks and enjoy a picnic meal.
(The younger fellows would often slip away to rejuvenate themselves, sans clothing, in the &uot;wash holes&uot; in nearby Persimmon Creek.)
By the late 1920s, many Civil War veterans were gone; those well-attended Greenville picnics beneath the oaks, just a fond memory.
Just another day
The newspaper reported in its July 10, 1929 edition, that year’s holiday had been &uot;just another Sunday&uot;, with few Greenvillians staying in town.
Many attended a barbecue and baseball games in neighboring Fort Deposit, while others enjoyed &uot;private picnics and fishing parties&uot; in the county.
All Greenville stores and garages were closed, with local drug stores open &uot;only for a few hours&uot; that day.
The Advocate reported
&uot;streets were empty&uot; in Greenville on July 4, 1929. Many merchants did not even bother to remain in the city long enough &uot;to display flags in front of their stores.&uot;
Like the good old days
Greenville was in the midst of the Great Depression by the summer of 1934, but that didn’t stop the city from celebrating the Glorious Fourth. With its brand new municipal park and swimming pool, Greenville was eager to show off the facilities to the county’s citizens.
In the issue dated June 29, the newspaper headline read, &uot;Greenville’s Invitation: Spend the Fourth Here&uot;.
&uot;The celebration will not be as elaborate as 1922 when the [city] centennial was held; nor as they were 20 years ago…when the Confederate Reunions at the old fair grounds brought thousands of visitors to Greenville for the Fourth,&uot; the paper stated.
Independence Day 1934 turned out to be a &uot;gala day&uot; with &uot;throngs of people&uot; from across the area assembling at the new Beeland Municipal Park.
The park was located on the site of the oak-shaded former fair grounds where countywide Independence Day celebrations had once been held. (Only this time, the boys were forced to don swimming trunks before diving into the new &uot;cement pond&uot;.)
Many folks also enjoyed a baseball doubleheader at Black’s Park that Fourth of July, while others chose the Franston Theatre, which offered patrons &uot;moving pictures in cool and comfortable surroundings&uot; all day for the price of a dime.
By the time July 1941 had rolled around, the war in Europe was raging.
Little wonder Judge Chauncey Sparks, retired state senator, chose to speak to the holiday crowd at Beeland Park on the subject of &uot;American Independence and Preparedness.&uot; (Radio coverage by WCOV of Montgomery allowed his patriotic speech to be heard statewide.)
Greenvillians were once again primed to celebrate their nation’s birthday.
Independence Day morning 1941 kicked off with a parade of local 4-H club members led by the Greenville High Band. But much more was in store.
The Camellia City also held a fiddlers’ convention, hog-calling contest and a water battle between two competing fire brigades from Methodist Hill and Baptist Hill.
Boxing matches, swimming and diving contests and exhibitions also were enjoyed by celebrants. Music lovers were serenaded with concerts in the park throughout the day.
As evening fell, sports fans attended city baseball games. Later, folks in search of a little romance enjoyed a late dance at the park.
War, rain don’t stop festivities
&uot;Rain Fails to Dampen Celebration&uot; was the front page headline of The Greenville Advocate in July 1945.
In spite of four years of war and hardship, the Camellia City was in the mood to celebrate. That Independence Day, Greenville enjoyed a war bond auction, fiddler’s contest, bathing beauty contest, band concerts and an old-fashioned square dance.
Rena Alice Pope, sponsored by Planter’s Mercantile, was chosen as top beauty with The Greenville Advocate sponsoring runner-up, Lottie Davis.
$100,000 worth of war bonds sold that day helped make it a true (red, white and) blue-ribbon day for Greenville.
Hotter than a firecracker
By the following summer, the U.S. knew peace again. Locally, things were quiet.
In 1946 the paper reported &uot;no special [July 4] observance was planned&uot;.
Six years and a new war later, patriotic fervor-and a sweltering heat wave – swept the city.
On July 4, 1952, locals enjoyed a bathing beauty contest and diving for cash and prizes at the municipal pool. There were swimming and diving exhibitions, &uot;crazy rules&uot; baseball games and the holiday’s piece de resistance: fireworks, &uot;the most spectacular aerial display attempted in South Alabama&uot;, organizers promised.
Miss Carolyn White was chosen 1952’s top bathing beauty, with Betty Ruth Speir and Elizabeth Ann Gentry, the runners-up.
As for the baseball games, the Pilot Club soundly defeated the Rotary Club by a score of 97-0, while the Lions only slightly mauled the Kiwanis, 31-29.
Everyone, winners and losers alike, were said to enjoy the festive fireworks that evening.
A return to good old days
In recent years, many local citizens have once again headed out of town, often to the beach or lakes, to celebrate the Fourth.
However, this year Butler Countians can enjoy the holiday very close to home.
A patriotic downtown parade, professional fireworks display and other activities are scheduled for Friday, July 2, courtesy of Greenville Main Street, the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce and several major sponsors.
Greenville’s Dunbar Park is also offering a Fun Day for families on July 3 with sports, games, and refreshments.
Whether you celebrate in big ways or small, enjoy a safe, healthy and happy Independence Day!