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The Centennial Fourth in Hillsborough

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, some of you might remember the Bicentennial Celebration in Hillsboro back in 1976, but how many of you remember the Centennial Fourth a century earlier?

OK, put your hand down back there, smart aleck.

In 1876, Hillsboro was still Hillsborough, and when the Fourth of July rolled around, the town held a “feast of patriotism” that started early and lasted all day as 20,000 people celebrated the nation’s birthday. There were flags, banners and other decorations all around. There was a procession, oration, music and fireworks. It was, indeed, “a grand gala-day.”

At sunrise, the holiday was ushered in by the ringing of bells and firing a national salute. All the bells of the town were rung for a period of 15 minutes, and 13 guns were fired in honor of the original 13 confederated States of America.

It was written that, “Our town was decked out in grand holiday attire – the fine, large national flag over the courthouse, and thousands of lesser ones on every building, fluttering in the breeze, in connection with the flying banners, the joyous shouts and greeting of the people who at that early hour thronged the streets, showing the fire of our revolutionary sires had not been quenched, but burned with patriotic ardor – all this, with the recollections of the glorious past, when liberty was proclaimed to the world by the incidents of Independence Hall and the signers of the Declaration of Independence, stirred the hearts of our people, and its events will long live in their remembrances as the first, grand centennial day of our glorious country.”

At an early hour, people from the country came pouring into the streets of Hillsborough on horseback, in buggies, carriages and wagons “in such numbers that the idea of getting them into one grand procession was abandoned … consequently, the numerous cavalcades were urged to go directly to the fairgrounds, and the procession was afterward made up of the civic societies, the military, bands, etc.”

The Committee on Decorations was reportedly extremely successful. In response to their “request our citizens all decorated their residences and places of business, and we deem it justice to say that we never saw a town that presented so grand and beautiful appearance as our town did on the occasion of our first Centennial Celebration. The two principal streets were spanned by mammoth streamers each, on the north, south, east and west sides of which were inscribed in flaming letters, ‘Hillsboro Welcomes Her Friends.’”

Over at the fairgrounds, at the entrance was a fine evergreen arch decorated with flags, on which was inscribed the motto, “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” Over the speakers’ stand, with many beautiful flags, was the motto, “Keep the Memory of Independence Day Green Forever.”

By 9 a.m., the largest portion of the vast crowd had arrived in town and at the fairgrounds. At 9:30 a.m., Chief Marshal William H. Glenn, with his assistants, C.T. Pope, William C. Newell and John B. Hays, “commenced the arduous task of forming the procession on the public square. After great labor they succeeded in getting the procession in line, which was one of the really fine features of the day.”

The Hillsboro band led off the parade, followed by a carriage with the orator of the day, historian, president of the executive committee, secretary and the mayor. The Liberty Guards were next in line, and the procession seemingly went on and on – the Leesburg and Mowrystown bands were there, along with decorated wagons with children and a large concourse of pedestrians.

It was written that C.S. Bell, “the well-known enterprising and public-spirited proprietor of the Hillsboro Foundry, had one of the finest displays in the procession, in the shape of a wagon enclosed on the sides and ends with white muslin, on each side was painted a handsome facsimile representation of the old Liberty Bell in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, with the motto, ‘Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.’ Inside the wagon were hanging eight gilt bells of different tones, as to form an octave in music, and produced very good music as the procession moved along” as Edward Meek played patriotic tunes on the novel musical instrument.

The parade route went north on High to Beech; east on Beech to East; north on High to Main; west of Main to West; north on West to John; and west on John to the fairgrounds.

As the Centennial Fourth parade in Hillsborough moves along, let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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