Bay Ridge Celebrates the Fourth of July

[Article by Carol Patterson and Jane McWilliams, published in the July Heron, 2021 as part of the Countdown to the Centennial series]

The special day-long celebration of the Fourth of July in Bay Ridge has no equal for community spirit!  For more than six decades, long lines of enthusiastic volunteers have stepped up to head or join the committees needed to make everything run smoothly, while the creativity and participation of Bay Ridgers of all ages have given each Fourth sparkle and joy!

Looking back, we know that at least one July 4th parade was held in the early 1930s on an unpaved River Drive, but in the first decades of the community the holiday was most often celebrated by family and friends at individual homes and on the beaches for after-dark fireworks. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the parade, bake sale, food stands, picnic, socializing, and beach games became established as the treasured traditional celebration we still enjoy. 

Fourth of July parade along an unpaved River Drive, c. 1931, included a junior bride and groom and seanettles, the swimmers’ nemesis— even then.

In the sixties and seventies the Fourth included softball games at Kass Park; and for a time, the beach events included a greased watermelon race in the Bay for children. Seanettles, lard-soaked swimsuits, and the possibility of injury in the scramble to be the one to emerge victorious with the slippery watermelon brought an end to that competition.  The profits from the bake sale, food, and beverages supported the Bay Ridge Marlins swim team.  In early years live music set the parade pace, beginning with Noel Patterson’s, “Spirit of ’76” fife and drum unit—complete with tricorn hats, colonial attire, and bandages; then midway in the parade Oakley Miller’s talented band, seated on a flatbed truck, enlivened the pace with spirited jazz music.  Young walkers, trikes, and wagons joined in at Bagley Path on River Drive. 

“Spirit of ‘76” unit with fife, drum, and flag, 1971

Some years the parade was given a specific theme to follow, others not. Floats have generally adhered to patriotic and Chesapeake-related themes or have had a special tie to living in Bay Ridge. The Garden Club’s float in 1972, “Let Freedom Ring,” featured a giant liberty bell created from fresh Bay Ridge daylilies.  Some floats have reflected interest in events of the times. “Rockfish Banned and the Tolly Pointer Sisters,”a float created as a multigenerational effort by literally everyone on Mayo Avenue, pointed to interest in the Chesapeake Bay rockfish ban enacted January 1, 1985. It featured festive crafted rockfish and a gaggle of human minnows. 

The following description found in the Autumn, 1976 Bay Ridge Newsletter shows just how closely our treasured annual Fourth of July celebration has remained the same down through the years. Notice, too, just how many children participating then are still living in Bay Ridge as adults and community leaders with children of their own enjoying the Fourth.

“The 1976 Bicentennial Fourth of July celebration was blessed with pleasant sunny weather and a strong off-shore breeze to assure maximum comfort for costumed paraders and do-or-die softball players!

The activities began with . . . the morning Mother-Daughter softball game and concluded with the evening Father-Son softball game [held at Kass Parkl]. . . .Rosie Miller was again in charge of the Kass Park cookie and soft drink sales.

The highlight of the day was, of course, the parade, with Jane Hoveland again serving as Parade Marshall! The many decorated cars, bikes, trikes, wagons, floats, musical units, assembled at 1:00 p.m. at Maggios corner [ corner of 11 and 15 Barry and Lawrence] to proceed down Bay Drive to River Drive Beach where the Beach Events were subsequently held. Here, too, was the site of the Bake Sale and Food and Beverage stands. . . .

Many thanks to Parade Judges Mary Widmayer, Lou Carter, and Jody Carter who selected the following award winners:

  • Best Decorated Bicycles – Tony Auth, Margaret Deale, Michelle Auth
  • Best Decorated Tricycles and Wagons – Robert Bussink, Henry Carley, Patrick Bussink, Mandy Miller.
  • Best Club Float – Garden Club – “Happy Birthday, America! – lovely large floral cake in bicentennial colors
  • Best Group Float – “Snoopy Saves America” with help of 4 sunbonnet girls: Heather Wiley, Julie Feiten, Courtney Hutchinson, and Holly Patterson. Float created by Bill Hoveland and Dave Feiten with artistic life-sized “Peanuts” figures by Dave.
  • Bicentennial Prize – “The Tall Ships Are Coming” -elegantly rigged colonial ship under full sail in tribute to the Bicentennial . . . created by the sailing Outerbridge girls: Laura, Cathy, Amy, and Marilyn; and Laurel, Allison, Jason Dollar and Victoria Nicklason.
  • Best Walkers – Mayo Avenue Farmers Go West” –Penney and Garrett McWilliams, Kathy and Gail Marmon, and Rhett McNeely—a fine tribute to westward expansion complete with Prairie Schooner.
  • Most Humorous—Queen Elizabeth” – the brainstorm of Al Adams. This walking costume defies description —a witty harkening to a certain newsmaking, notorious, modern Elizabethan, circa 1976
  • Best Marching Unit –“The Spirit of 76” – Bay Ridge Bulldogs Baseball Team dressed as minutemen leading the parade in step to fife and drum music, led by coach Noel Patterson (fifer) Chris Hutchinson (drummer) and Noel Patterson, Jr. (flag-bearer). Minutemen were Krag Woodyard, David Adams, Scott Hendricks, Chris Dollar, Jeff Ware, Chris Hoveland, Shawn Hoveland, Laurie Dollar, Frank Ervin, Tommy Ervin, Bobby Fox, Matt Miller, Robby McCready and Jeff Nicklason.

Following the parade, refreshments, and socializing, the Beach Events began under the direction of Berry Carter and Chris Carter. Those with energy left to expend competed in running, 3-legged, and sack races, the greased watermelon race held in the Bay, and of course, the always hilarious Egg Toss. Catherine Faulds was in charge of making the ribbon awards for those events. Overall chairman of the Fourth of July Celebration was Stan Hollander assisted by Noel Patterson. Gary Van Nest reports a net profit of $286.90. . . .”

BRCA flyer, 1985

It is not only the day itself that makes the Fourth of July in Bay Ridge so special, so enjoyable.  It is also the days of preparation ahead of time—the meetings with family and neighbors to brainstorm and plan, the cooperation and fun of constructing a float and gathering costumes.  Children, parents, and friends worked together with craft materials and paint to create something unique, often in secret in garages or behind sheets hung on clothes lines.  The Fourth is anticipation, excitement, patriotism, and the forging of lifelong bonds of friendship and lasting memories.  

“Bay Ridge—Our Never-Never Land,” 1979

Do you have a favorite photo to share of a past Fourth of July? We’d love to build a large collection of top hits throughout the decades. Share away!

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