Independence Day festivities in history |

Independence Day festivities in history

Following a tradition dating to the 19th century, this year’s annual celebration of our nation’s birthday begins in Grass Valley with a parade along Mill Street.

The 2007 grand marshal is florist Marie Johnson, the town’s well-known “Flower Lady.” In 1935, the guest of honor was former United States President Herbert C. Hoover. In that year, Dr. Carl P. Jones, of the Jones Hospital family, rode at the head of the parade as grand marshal.

In odd-numbered years, the celebration is held in Grass Valley; in the even-numbered years, Nevada City plays host. Following the parade each year, celebrants repair to the Nevada County Fairgrounds for food, fun and other activities. At dusk, a gigantic pyrotechnic display, visible for miles around, fills the night sky.

Let’s take a look at some past celebrations, beginning with the 1935 event when President Hoover participated.


On the front page the day after that year’s celebration, The Morning Union reported in the flowery, extended journalistic style of the day and in one breathless sentence:

“Grass Valley’s greatest Fourth of July celebration distinguished by the attendance and participation of the only [at that time] living ex-president of the United States, Herbert Clark Hoover; rising to heights seldom achieved previously in presenting a colorful representative parade, which easily possessed the superlatives of longest and most beautiful, drew a throng of county residents and outside visitors last Thursday, universally estimated between 10,000 and 20,000.”

Crowds three to six people deep lined the 15-block parade route. The former president and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, rode in the place of honor directly behind the color guard, grand marshal and the Grass Valley Concert Band.

Others in the car were: Fred Nobs, superintendent of the Empire Mine; Earl Covey, program chair; and Ben S. Allen, Hoover’s friend and associate. Dr. Jack Rector of Nevada City drove the car.

After the parade, Hoover delivered a short patriotic address from a flower-laden platform to a large crowd in Memorial Park. Following the speech, a party of dignitaries and former fellow mine workers adjourned to the Bret Harte Inn for an informal garden luncheon.

Hoover was a mining engineer by profession who graduated with the first class of Stanford University in 1895. With $40 in his pocket, he headed for western Nevada County’s gold mining district in search of a job.

After a string of rejections, he finally landed employment pushing a mine car in the lower levels of the Reward Mine in Nevada City for $2 a day, on a 10-hour night shift and a seven-day work week.

As Hoover tells it in his memoirs: “The Cornish miners on my shift, while a little offish at first, warmed up to teaching the tricks of the trade to the anomaly of a college graduate working at common labor.”

“In two or three months, Tommy Ninnis [his foreman who, in later years, boasted that he had ‘learned Bert Hoover all he knew about mining’] appointed me helper on a drill and I became a real miner,” Hoover wrote.

Many of the men with whom he had worked some 40 years before were present at the luncheon honoring the former president. These men proudly told “Bert” Hoover that he “carried the vote [for president] of every Cornish family in the region.”

Let’s look at three other celebrations, in 1907, 1947, and 1997.


A century ago, there appeared to be a bit more patriotic fervor associated with Independence Day celebration than we have experienced in some years.

Grand marshal for the festivities was Charles H. Taylor, a respected Grass Valley civic leader and mine owner.

At the closing of the multi-day 1907 celebration on July 5, The Daily Union said: “With the last strains of the last waltz, another Fourth of July passed into history at 1 o’clock yesterday morning. Since the earliest days in the county’s history, the Fourth has been celebrated, but never with more enthusiasm and more successfully than this year.”

Following the parade that year, patriotic exercises were held in The Auditorium, upstairs on Mill Street over what until recently was Hedman Furniture. Principal speaker was Nevada County Superior Court Judge Frank T. Nilon, whose speech was preceded by a reading of the Declaration of Independence by F. L. Arbogast and the singing of many patriotic songs including “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became our National Anthem by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1931.

Of the event, The Daily Union reported: “The auditorium was unable to hold half of the audience which desired admittance. … In the hall … the program was rendered in a manner which drew salvos of applause … [which] signified the deep appreciation for the audience for the rare merit displayed [by the speakers and singers].”


In some years, Independence Day celebrations were multi-day affairs. The 1947 Grass Valley observance, themed “49er Frontier Days,” was one of the most ambitious undertaken; it ran four-days from July 3 to July 6.

Events in addition to the traditional parade included the coronation of the Frontier Queen Betty Steele, sponsored by the Grass Valley Elks. A “Gold Days Cavalcade” on July 3 preceded the coronation at Hennessy Field. The queen would be called “Sally of Grass Valley,” which was the title of a song composed for the event and sold as sheet music for 25 cents.

Scheduled during the four days were repeat performances of the Gold Days Cavalcade, a wild west show at Watt Park, now site of the Nevada County Fairgrounds; air show at Gilmore Field, today site of Lyman Gilmore School; a water fight between Grass Valley and Nevada City fire departments, a golf tournament, baseball game, gold panning at 25 cents a pan for gravel and an old-fashioned barbecue. Chiseler’s Gulch Heldorado was held in the Veterans Memorial Building featuring games, dancing, entertainment and refreshments.


A decade ago, grand marshal was Grass Valley’s first female mayor, the popular DeVere (Dee) Mautino, who at the time was recovering from injuries suffered in a traffic accident.

On July 2, The Union reported: “Mayor for two years and grand marshal for a day, DeVere (Dee) Mautino returns to the spotlight this Friday for Grass Valley’s Fourth of July parade.

“Grand marshal for the parade is an honorific position … [she] has participated in parades before, most recently as mayor … during 1995 and 1996.”

The day-long celebration commenced with “Family Fun,” gates to the Fairgrounds opened early at 9 a.m. with the traditional Treat Street, arts and crafts and entertainment. The 100-plus entry parade began promptly at 11 a.m. after which the crowd spent the balance of the day at the fairgrounds. At dusk all were treated to a magnificent fireworks display.


And here we are ready to celebrate our nation’s 231st birthday in the tried and true traditional manner ” parade, food, entertainment, fireworks; then home to relax and recount the enjoyment of watching the parade and fireworks. Some among us will no doubt reach for the anti-acid in an effort to extinguish a raging fire caused by too much good food and drink!


Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor/publisher and author of local history publications available at our local bookstore. Contact him at: or PO Box 216, Nevada City 95959.

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