Independence Day in early Rockford

Fire crackers for sale, Rock River Democrat, June 28, 1853, p.2Here we are, looking forward to celebrating a “Glorious Fourth,” the Independence Day of the United States of America.

July 4, 1837, the citizens of Rockford celebrated with a cannon salute. The “cannon” was produced by drilling a large hole in a blacksmith’s anvil, filling it with powder, and firing. Not just once, but repeatedly. The noise was sufficient to satisfy the citizenry, who added the noise of their guns and pistols.

A hickory liberty pole was erected on East State Street, with patriotic exercises held in Daniel Haight’s barn, located at the intersection of Third, East State, and Kishwaukee. The Declaration of Independence was read, and yes, there was a speech.

The Rockford House,  at Madison and East State Street (where the East Side Centre is today), was not yet completed, but dinner was served there. Tickets for the dinner cost $1.00. Since there were not enough plates for everyone, shingles were used.

Later on, in the evening, a ball was held in the barn. Three violins made up the orchestra. There was only one tune all three of them knew, so “Zip Coon” was the music of the evening.

The Fourth of July, 1845 was the day that the State Street Bridge was opened. The Sunday Schools of the county planned the event, and a parade started from the Methodist Meeting House, lead by the fife and drum corp. After the men were boys “in full uniform with clean white pants and three cornered paper hats.” The members of the various Sunday Schools came next. They all marched through Rockford, over the brand-new bridge to the Court House for the service. After the service, the parade reformed, and marched to a grove. A free dinner was served by the ladies of the various churches. It is said that a thousand people ate at the long tables under the trees. After dinner, it was back to the Court House to listen to a speech. All day long, and into the night, cannons boomed, accompanied by the guns and pistols.

Fourth of July celebrations grew larger. One custom was to fire a thirteen-gun salute at midnight. Then, at sunrise, noon, and sunset, a gun was fired for each state of the union. The liberty pole now reached one hundred feet, topped with a gilt ball, and the flag flew high. The custom of the great dinner continued through the 1850s. In 1853, the first firecrackers were used in Rockford. The advertisement at the beginning of this blog is from the Rock River Democrat, June 28, 1853, p.2, show the first sales for fire crackers in Rockford.