Spirited 19th-century competition led to Nevada City and Grass Valley alternating July 4th parades
Special to The Union
Special events and parades tend to come and go, but one constant in Nevada County ís long history has been rousing Independence Day celebrations.
During the gold rush, several nearby mining camps competed for bragging rights each July Fourth, but eventually it narrowed down to Nevada City and Grass Valley.
Throughout the 19th century, with the neighboring towns often holding concurrent parades and always trying to outdo each other, a key to attracting large crowds was having a noted speaker, one who could hold the audience’s attention for an hour or longer.
On July 4, 1872, Governor Newton Booth was Nevada City’s Orator of the Day, eliminating any meaningful celebration for Grass Valley. And in 1900 it was Irving Scott, whose Union Iron Works in San Francisco had built the battleship Oregon, the steel-hulled hero of the Spanish-American War.
An estimated 9,000 cheering spectators lined the parade route that day to see Scott wave from his decorated landau carriage.
Grass Valley, meanwhile, frequently hosted competing July Fourth activities, vying with Nevada City for speakers and parade entrants.
Naturally, the rival celebrations began to increase in cost, and in 1901 the two towns spent a combined $5,300 on Independence Day revelry, a huge sum at that time.
In the spring of 1902, however, the nascent Nevada City Chamber of Commerce met with Grass Valley officials and an agreement was reached ensuring non-competing parades in the two cities on alternate years.
This Friday, then, will mark the 106th time the communities have willingly alternated July Fourth parades.
And although Nevada City enjoyed its own fireworks show until 1984, all post-parade activities are now held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
The parade will roll down Broad Street at 11 a.m. sharp, with former Nevada City councilwoman and county supervisor Christine Foster and her husband, Nevada City Treasurer George Foster, leading the way as 2008 grand marshals.
Steve Cottrell, a longtime resident of Nevada City, has been teaching and lecturing on Nevada City history for nearly twenty years.
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