4th of July in Granby

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Photos courtesy of Salmon Brook Historical Society

A Fourth of July celebration in front of the original South Congregational Church.

A hundred years ago, Granby had the reputation of having the best 4th of July in the Farmington Valley. The town was also famous (or infamous) for the noise and mayhem produced by the “boys” of Granby.

Old newspaper clippings provide a look into Granby’s 4th of July celebrations through the years. In the early 1800s, over 200 people would gather “under a pleasant bower” to hear music, speeches and to drink multiple patriotic and political toasts, as well as toasts to old Granby and its beautiful women.

In 1845, the Whig of New England reported on the “intention of the boys of Granby to celebrate the anniversary of American independence. Every preparation was made to render this celebration as interesting as possible. A committee of arrangements, a Marshall and toastmaster were appointed. About half past two in the morning, the boys began to fire cannons. They continued to fire fireworks until sundown, when they dispersed.”

After the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Granby held a July 4th flag raising, heard fiery speeches and listened to the Granby Brass Band play patriotic tunes.

On July 4, 1868, a solemn ceremony was held to dedicate the new Civil War Soldier’s Monument. People gathered on the Green for a rifle salute and prayers. Then they walked to Stony Hill Grove (present Town Hall area) for music, speeches and a hearty supper.

July 4, 1868, Dedication of the Granby Civil War Monument.

The 1893 celebration included a baseball game, running races and the sale of ice cream. The Canton Dramatic Society put on a play in Cossitt Library Hall in the evening. The Farmington Valley Herald reported in 1894, “The Fourth started in early, and the night racket closed at two o’clock, which is a decided improvement on former years. A bell on wheels and a bass drum were an addition to the usual variety of instruments of torture.”

The paper reported many family picnics in 1913, the largest gathering at the Green home in Bushy Hill (the stone house on Rte. 20). Horse races and a baseball game were held at the Fairground (also on Route. 20 opposite the present parking lot for Salmon Brook Park). In the evening, there were fireworks at the church. 

In 1914, there was a brief article saying there were “no fatalities” in Granby and a big dance was held in West Granby, with about 50 couples. However, in 1915, the boys were busy. “Gilbert Smith has his best carriage on top of earth again and it will be ready to use when repairs have been made to it. Boys ran the carriage down the ‘Feeder’ July 4 and Mr. Smith said he would never get it out of there.”  (The Feeder was a canal carrying water from Salmon Brook to the Forsyth Mill Pond, now Old Mill Pond Village). “Boys, probably not the same ones, took it out and except that the dashboard was broken and one wheel was swollen until it had burst a tire, the family vehicle is as good as ever.”

A carriage hanging from the second-floor porch of the old Loomis Store in 1938.

Granby again made the news in 1916. “It was the one town where there was more noise than common on the 4th of July. The young men of the town seem to have broken loose on that occasion and they kept the church bells in Granby, North Granby and West Granby, ringing for two hours, and they also seemed to keep the noise up most of the night. In Granby Center, they were determined to keep the electric lights on the street off, but they did not succeed as the ropes were finally tied in such a manner that they could not get at them. However, they do not seem to have done any damage.”

World War I put a stop to the noise and pranks. Perhaps these young men were in the Army hearing real cannons. After the War, beginning in 1919 and well into the 1920s, Granby celebrated the Fourth with a carnival, and people came from miles around. The big Green and the wide Salmon Brook Street provided parking for over 300 automobiles. The carnival was set up near the Library, South Congregational Church and the Community House. There was a midway with amusements, ice cream, candy, ice cold soda and hot dogs. Rival teams from North Granby and Granby played baseball. This was followed by an entertainment and a delicious meal in the Community House. In the evening, after the fireworks, the Tuxedo Orchestra from Hartford played for dancing until midnight. 

The 1922 carnival featured a baseball game between married and single men. Then the crowd was entertained with a vaudeville show, supper, fireworks and dancing. All money raised at these carnivals was used to pay off the Community Building debt. By 1923, the carnivals were scaled back and in 1926, the boys were back; “The Fourth of July was observed in the usual manner in Granby, with the boys reminding everyone what the holiday was, with the firing of the cannon and the general firing of fireworks.”

Rousing Fourth Arouses Ire of Some Citizens” was a headline in the 1938 Farmington Valley Herald. “It was a rousing Fourth of July celebration in Granby, the young men of the community let all the inhabitants know that the spirit of youth still believes in noting Independence Day with more than the perfunctory use of fireworks and the family picnic. And the sad part is, that some are unable to ‘take it’ in spite of the fact that boys are only boys after the manner of their fathers.”

“This community long noted for its noisy welcome to the Fourth of July, was a little startled to learn that one indignant resident, not only threatened to shoot at the celebrators who had deposited a small outhouse on his property for a second time that night, but did actually fire his gun. While the shot was not aimed at the boys, it might have accidently hit someone. Other citizens, suspicious of what might happen to moveable property such as lawn chairs, settees and signs, made them secure before the sun went down.”

“The old noisy cannon of a few years back was replaced with a large milk can containing carbide ignited by a fuse. The small cannon presented some years ago when the old one mysteriously disappeared, apparently did not meet the requirements of a real noise maker. Well, the milk can did the trick.”

“Monday morning, E. H. Shattuck of the Loomis Bros. Co. found he was in the wagon business, with one hung over the second story porch railing. It was removed late Tuesday when Charles Allshouse with rope and tackle lowered it to terra firma.”

“For the most part, citizens take the celebration and the pranks in the spirit intended. To do otherwise only baits the boys on to more tricks. This is the only community in the Valley where the Fourth is so noisily welcomed, like the old days.”

In 1987, I asked the late Stanley Forsyth about this escapade. He said it was Harold Cotton who fired the .22 in the air, because the boys (including Stanley) were pushing the outhouse into Cotton’s yard and Harold and his son Henry were pushing back. I also have asked many Granby men about the mystery cannon, but it still seems to be a well-kept secret.

In 1946, fifteen veterans were deputized to patrol in Granby on the Fourth. However, the boys managed to deposit an automobile on a prominent Salmon Brook Street lawn and also set the church bells pealing when everyone was asleep. Older residents said the celebration was nothing compared to when they were younger. “Safe, sane and sad,” said one man.

A gal’s festival was planned for 1949, with a bonfire at midnight July 3rd. On the 4th, a tennis tournament was held on the Green and local organizations supplied food booths. In the evening, a dance with a live orchestra, was held in the new Granby School auditorium.

The wild “boys” of Granby were now adults organizing a quiet, sane holiday and probably not telling their sons about Granby’s reputation and their youthful exploits.