- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
There will be fireworks tonight, July 4, in St. Mary’s City and across the Patuxent River in Solomons, and on Saturday, July 5, in Hollywood celebrating America’s independence.
But the celebration of the Fourth of July has a spotty history in St. Mary’s County. In some years it went by without notice.
St. Mary’s County government did away with its decade-long festival and fireworks at the fairgrounds in Leonardtown five years ago, leaving the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department to pick up the slack, as it will again Saturday night.
Almost 100 years ago, it took the coming of a world war to stir up patriotic feelings on the Fourth of July in St. Mary’s County.
Aloysius King, editor of the St. Mary’s Beacon newspaper, wrote in an editorial June 29, 1916, “The patriotic celebration to be held in Leonardtown on July 4th should bring out a goodly number of people. For a number of years the observance of Independence Day has been neglected in this section and now that earnest efforts are being made to fittingly commemorate the great occasion of our birth as a nation, everyone should participate.”
Relations between the United States and Germany were deteriorating at the time. The United States would join the European war (later known as World War I) in April 1917.
Back in St. Mary’s County, King wrote before the Fourth of July celebration in 1916, “the affair gives promise of surpassing anything of this kind hitherto attempted in Southern Maryland.” The program in Leonardtown that day included an automobile parade with 15 cars, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a baseball game between La Plata and Leonardtown, followed by fireworks that evening.
King called it “the greatest civic celebration seen in Leonardtown.”
The year before in 1915, stores in Leonardtown were closed on Monday, July 5, to observe Independence Day. There was also a fireworks display in town that evening.
In 1900 and 1899 there were no Fourth of July celebrations in Leonardtown, nor in 1895, though there were fireworks at Colton’s Point that year.
In another editorial printed on June 29, 1882, the Beacon’s editor at that time, Francis King, said, “Though the glorious 4th is not quite as glorious as it used to be, and is developing less and less of interest every year in the popular heart, still we hope never to see it pass altogether unrecognized.”
King wrote “orations, flags, fire-crackers and whiskey are not essentials of a celebration.” Instead of boisterous celebrations, he suggested instead a quiet neighborhood picnic would suffice “for the usual uproar.”
Such a day “breaks the monotony of daily farm labor, sweetens farm life, and perpetuates ... a grateful and patriotic public sentiment,” he wrote.
In 1880 the Beacon noted there had been little recognition of the Fourth of July in Leonardtown except for a few flags put out in front of homes.
Fireworks were held at the Piney Point Pavilion for the Fourth of July in 1877, the Beacon noted. There was also a celebration there in 1869.
In 1876, a centennial celebration of the United States was held in St. Mary’s County with the dedication of the memorial to the Confederate dead at Point Lookout. St. Mary’s, a part of slave-holding Southern Maryland, was heavily sympathetic toward the Southern cause during the Civil War.
About 4,000 died at the prisoner of war camp for Confederates established at Point Lookout during the war and the state of Maryland later paid for the memorial near the old graveyard. The memorial was dedicated on July 4, 1876. “It is expected that the Cemetery visitors ... will join in the celebration at the Point and thus the ‘blue and grey,’ after long and bitter estrangement, will meet and mingle as patriots and brothers on a day and spot sacred to the noblest memories of freedom, civil and religious,” the Beacon wrote.
Immediately after the Civil War, there were celebrations across the county for the Fourth of July in 1865, the St. Mary’s Gazette noted. (The Beacon had its name changed during the Civil War.) The paper observed “the lion and the lamb lying down in peace together,” for the Fourth.
In modern times, the July 4th Freedom Fest got its start in 1989 as the main event for the St. Mary’s County Alliance for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, hosting fireworks at the county’s fairgrounds. It lasted 10 years. After years of complaining by Daniel H. Raley, then a county commissioner, that it was a waste of money to blow up tax dollars in the sky, he and his colleagues agreed in 2009 to stop funding the event. County government was spending $10,000 annually for the fireworks themselves.