Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia
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Are you going to the 4th? Many persons can remember being asked this question as the Fourth of July approached. "Going to the Fourth" in the early years of Scott County more than likely involved an excursion to the County Seat in Gate City, the Natural Tunnel, or a community celebration in each township.
As we approach Independence Day 1980, we decided an ideal way to celebrate was with an Old Fashion Issue. Included in this week's edition are photographs, newspaper clippings dealing with historic events, as well as community tidbits containing many familiarnames. An article written by James Wood recaptures life in Mendota from 1924 to 1930. Another article details the history of banking in the county.
Searching old newspaper files for information proved to be a very interesting and enlightening experience, as did contacting various individuals for their assistance. Needless to say, our appreciation is extended to these persons including Harry Bowling, Kenny Fannon, James Fink, G. A. Johnson, Charlotte Nickels, Bob Gay, Bill Taylor, Frank Wolfenbarger, Mrs. Otto Peters, Mrs. Flo Smith, Lloyd Gilley, and Harry Wolfe for the negative of the Rufus Ayers home. (Hopefully we didn't leave anyone out! )
The first account of 4th of July activities in the county dates to 1912. A big day in Nickelsville was planned by the Masons, Odd Fellows, and the Red Men. A newspaper article stated elaborate preparations by the three great Orders insure the greatest day that Nickelsville had ever known in the way of celebration and interest of the public.
Scouring the 1928 edition of the Gate City Herald, an upcoming July 4th celebration was described as being a "monster celebration". An all day picture show, "In Old Kentucky", wrestling match, street parade, baseball game, tennis matches, horse shoe matches, fox chase, plus other games were listed as featured attractions as were a public speaking and singing contest. Prizes for these various events ranged from $5 in the wrestling competition to $25 for the baseball winners. The expense was borne solely by the business firms in Gate City "in appreciation of the liberal patronage extended the business houses of Gate City in the past" .
The following week, the paper noted "one of the largest crowds of folks that has assembled in Gate City for many years" attended the 4th of July celebration. The town was appropriately though modestly decorated with the Stars and Stripes, the article stated.All-you-eat-drink for a nickel pink lemonade stands were found on every corner and a spirit of carefree fun soon prevailed.
In 1937, rain kept most Scott Countians away from Gate City on Saturday and Sunday, July 4th, but on Monday a great number flocked to the county seat. The day was observed in an orderly manner with Sheriff Quillen reporting that "about the expected increase in customers came his way for the combined holiday and weekend." The news article pointed out " .. a few of the population overdid their enthusiasm and landed in the local baside (jail) where they awoke next morning sadder and wiser."
Use of the Natural Tunnel as a site for Fourth of July celebrations dates to the early 1920's. Old railroad correspondence obtained from Kenny Fannon contained a May 10, 1922 letter from the Appalachia Fourth of July Celebration Committee requesting the Southern Railroad run an excursion train out of Bristol to the Tunnel. Southern replied they could not operate excursions to the Tunnel because their Transportation Department; advised the tunnel conditions, with respect to handling picnic parties there, were dangerous. Three or four years earlier, Southern operated some picnic excursions to the Natural Tunnel, but discontinued the practice.
Two Duffield area residents recall attending 4th of July celebrations to the Tunnel. Mrs. E. E. (Nannie) Smith, age 71, says the day was packed with fun and fellowship, plenty of good home-cooked foods, and tours of the tunnel and Lover's Leap highlighted the day."We traveled to the tunnel by car," she says. "We always had an old jelopy of some kind."
Audley Fraley says the event was a big celebration of the year. He recalls as a boy of around 8 years old, attending the picnic with his mom and dad in a wagon, as did most of the other folks. "You had to catch a train to Gate City so most people didn't get that far away from home," he said explaining why such large crowds attended the celebrations at the Tunnel.
On one such gathering, a man descended Lover's Leap on a rope, he recalls. Audley's wife, Wave, recalls attending 4th of July picnics in Rye Cove held in a field owned by Will Ashworth. "I was too little to take part but I enjoyed watching everyone else take part in the games," Wave says. The games were usually a greasy pig race, sack race, hog calling contest, and greasy pole climb. The highlight of these events was the baseball games, Audley noted.
One of Wave's most vivid memories is the old wooden ice packed barrels containing ice cream. Portions of the rare treat were dished out in big squares, she says. "We didn't have freezers so ice cream was a big thing," she says, Audly pointed out the only time anyone had ice cream was during the winter. "We cut blocks of ice from the branch to make homemade ice cream," he laughs recalling many nights spend around a fireplace eating the tasty dessert.
4th of July picnics were more than a celebration of Independence day, Wave noted, They were a time in which family reunions were held. "You saw relatives and friends you hadn't seen all year," she said. "People just didn't get around much in those days."
Southern Railroad later began picnic excursions to the tunnel. In 1931, special rail rates were arranged by the Red Men of Southwest Virginia (a fraternal order) and Southern for an all day 4th of July picnic. This event included a radio broadcast by WOPI of Bristol, a unique feature for that period. prominent speakers on the day's program were Professor Cecil D. Quillen who gave a history of the tunnel and Charles H. Rollins, editor of the Gate City Herald. Approximately 1,500 persons defied thunder showers to attend one of the largest July 4th celebrations at the Tunnel.
As more motor vehicles appeared on the scene, buses provided a convenient means of travel, replacing the trains. During the war years in 1944, a bus transported many area residents to a July 4 picnic at the Tunnel. The day's activities featured Robert Christian and his Lonesome Pine Ramblers and a radio broadcast.
No account of Fourth of July celebrations would be complete without the inclusion of the American Legion Carnival held in nearby Kingsport. As early as the mid 1930's, full page ads detailed this big annual attraction which continues today. Many area residents attend the carnival and participate in the parade.
Independence Day celebrations on a county wide basis have sadly faded, as have a number of popular events, such as the County Fair at Dungannon.
Following the traditions of former business firms, local merchants are featuring special buys for the 4th of July in this week's paper.
From Scott County Herald-Virginian, July 2, 1980