Recalling the Roots of Local Fourth of July Celebrations
Journeys into River Edge
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite American days (along with Thanksgiving).
As was the case with so many aspects of our lives, Independence Day and our local traditions took a hit during the starting waves of COVID. Now, as efforts continue to get past the challenges of that period, many are looking forward to a traditional River Edge Fourth. Having felt its absence, many of us are not ever going to take it for granted again.
Turns out that the Fourth has held a special place in the hearts of locals for a long time
One of our community history books describes the holiday as it was around here over a century ago – celebrations in both River Edge & Riverside as it was called from 1894 to 1930:
“The Fourth of July celebration was eagerly anticipated by the townsfolk. The Parent Teachers Association was instrumental in organizing an orderly observation of the national holiday out of concern for children being injured by fireworks. Practically the whole town came out to celebrate the day with floats, races and games for all ages, baseball, dramatics and square dancing at night” (Uminski, page 97).
The Herrick family is one of the founding families of River Edge. Edward C. Herrick’s parents moved to River Edge in 1892. He was one of the few native sons still around when the 1964 history of the community was written.
“It used to be a custom”, recalled Herrick, ”for every family in the good old days to buy fireworks and shoot them on the 4th of July. It was not a good thing, but the kids had a wonderful time om the Fourth of July”.
“There were personal injuries suffered because of careless handling of the fireworks”, continued Herrick in a chapter entitled “The Good Old Days”,” until the propaganda wave hit the whole country, for a safe and sane Fourth of July. The sale of fireworks was abolished by local ordinance. It was hard to give up the enjoyment which all kids enjoyed”.
(Editors Note: The history of making fireworks illegal in New Jersey dates back to the 1930s. A total of 936 people in New Jersey were injured by fireworks in 1936, the most of any state. The toll caused a widespread call from groups like the American Legion, Benevolent Order of Elks, and the Bergen County Catholic War Veterans to ban fireworks. Lawmakers listened and the state Senate and Assembly unanimously passed legislation to ban fireworks. Then-Republican Gov. Harold G. Hoffman signed the bill into law)
Another place in that history book goes into a bit more detail about the change from private fireworks to community celebration:
“The community celebrations came into being to replace the fireworks displays put on by individual families and their children. The celebrations were big attractions and the major event of the community. The daily program included athletic events for the youth, free ice cream and soda to all children who participated in the celebration”.
“The American Legion canvassed the town residents for money to sponsors July 4th celebrations. When the members of the American Legion Post encountered difficulties in raising money on a house-to-house canvass, the borough officials recognized the need to continue the community celebrations of July 4th. (Uminski, page 128)
In recent years the celebration locally has often been described as a hometown reunion. To many of us images and memories of past Fourths accompany us to these modern day celebrations along the parade route or at Memorial as they occur in real time. There is a time enduring aspect to the day, as the quotes above taken from that River Edge history confirm.
Info Source: The History of River Edge, 1693-1064, by Sigmund H. Uminski, Hauser Printing Company, 1965
Photo image credit: “Fourth of July 4 Parade – 1923” – Source: Musket, Anchor and Plow – The Story of River Edge, by Naomi & George Howitt, Arno Press, 1976.