The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

July 4th, 1900 - A Celebration To Remember

By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012

Issue: July, 1984

"We climbed a grassy hillside on our way to the Ballard, Fourth of July Celebration." The old man leading the way was a Civil War veteran and the five year old youngster by his side was his grandson. The time was the 4th of July in the turn of the century year, 1900. "The sight we saw when we topped the hill was awesome. From our vantage point we could see covered wagons lining the roads heading for the celebration. They were coming from Woolwine, Floyd, Vesta and up the "river road" from Meadows of Dan."

Covered wagons were converging on the celebration grounds from every direction and there, before the widened eyes of a five year old, flew the first American flag he'd ever seen. It was homemade by Susie Hylton and hung from a tree that Ben, Ed and Tom Hylton had climbed and trimmed the limbs from. In order to keep the flag standing out, they had attached a sapling to the top of it and left it sticking out past the other side of the flag pole tree and this they had counterweighted with horseshoes. Five year old eyes were noticing all the details.

That time of the year most all the mares had colts, "And there must have been fifty of them, all running and playing together." Many had arrived early and were camping near the chestnut orchard where the celebration took place. The five year old and I, through his memories, saw many "firsts" today. Our first sewing machine, our first banana, our first drum and fife corps and our first American flag.

A fellow named Davis was running for governor and he made a speech. He said, "I've spoke to great audiences but this is the first time I ever spoke to acres of people."

There were people milling about everywhere we looked and excitement filled the air. There were only two holidays back then, Christmas and the Fourth of July. Snow usually kept folks drifted in at Christmas and the Fourth of July offered about the only opportunity people had to get together and really celebrate each year. And celebrate they did! Everyone came from miles around to the chestnut orchard at Ballard for the Fourth.

The five year old was my guide for this trek back to 1900. His name is Fred Clifton and he lives at Vesta, Virginia today. I've stood on top of the hill he described and as he told me of his trip to that hilltop, on his way to the 1900 celebration, I could see the covered wagons and hear the drum and fifes.

I'd like to thank Mr. Fred for the best Fourth of July celebration I've ever attended even if it was 47 years before I was born. Thanks, Mr. Fred!