A century ago, Napans celebrated the end of World War 1 and the return of local soldiers with an elaborate, three-day-long Independence Day extravaganza. Filled with the traditional holiday fare and features, the local 1919 Fourth of July festivities also offered a rare and novel attraction: airplanes.
The celebration began on the evening of July 3 at the East Napa Park, the present-day Napa Valley Expo. The Napa Daily Register reported, “The attractions of the Curtis Carnival Company will be thrown open to the amusement-loving public. There the merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, etc., will be found doing business all evening.”
The newspaper added, “The entertainment will all be of a wholesome nature.
The observance of the holiday itself commenced at 10:30 a.m. with an extremely long parade. It began in downtown Napa and ended at the East Napa Park. The parade entries included several marching bands, both local and regional. They performed primarily military and patriotic music. Countless decorated vehicles carried local politicians, business people, members of service clubs and organizations. They were followed by the local firefighters and their vehicles.
The 1919 July Fourth parade also featured some unique entries. For instance, the Delaney Cyclery had a float displaying “old bicycles, like the kind grand pa used to ride, together with modern bicycles.” The Register added, “The float attracted much attention.”
The spectators also enjoyed and admired an equestrian entry. The two young children of Mr. and Mrs. A.B. Spreckels, accompanied by their equestrian instructor, Gordon L. Smith, rode Spreckels Stock Farm thoroughbred horses in the parade. (The Spreckels property once stretched from Foster Road to the Napa River.) The little jockeys received considerable applause and cheers from the crowd.
The procession also featured the young women members of the local War Camp Community Service chapter. But, the most anticipated and stirring patriotic entry was the Goddess of Liberty float with Martha Clarke of Napa portraying Ms. Liberty.
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The parade was followed by a program of patriotic song and speeches held at the East Napa Park. With those recitations completed, the fun began with “‘Out-of-Door-Sports,’ such as racing and jumping and hurdling. They gave the youngsters rare fun during the afternoon.” The article continued, “There was also dancing free to all in the Pavilion.”
The evening of July 4, 1919 was as eventful as the daytime festivities. The Register reported, “The holiday’s celebration closed with fireworks and a grand ball at East Napa Pavilion. An immense throng of dancers were present and the merry-making lasted until a late hour.” The final event for the three-day celebration was yet another dance. It was held on Saturday evening July 5, 1919.
The Register noted, “Over $600 was taken in at the ball.” Those funds and other revenue generated by the celebration were ear-marked for establishing an auto-park campground in East Napa as well as other community improvement projects. The event organizers, the Auto and Aeroplane committee of the Napa Chamber of Commerce, were lauded with great and enthusiastic appreciation for organizing such a grand Independence Day celebration.
Napans were even more thrilled with the chance to “Visit the Clouds,” said the Register. For an entire week, two large airplanes carried locals aloft to view their hometown and valley from a bird’s-eye vantage point. But, the article did not report the location of temporary landing field for these planes.
But the newspaper did that report both pilots had extensive flight time and had served in the military during World War I. They were employees of the San Francisco- based Pacific Aviation Company. The Register added, “The company is the first civilian aviation company to operate on the Pacific Coast since the government lifted the ban on civilian flying a few months ago.”
Although many locals knew the two planes were to be a part of the festivities, they were pleasantly surprised by the sensational announcement of their arrival. As the parade’s Grand Marshal, Napa County Sheriff Joseph Harris, commenced the patriotic promenade, “the aeroplanes circled overhead. It was one of the most brilliant scenes ever seen in Napa,” the Register wrote.
Regarding the extended local holiday observances, the Register wrote, “Napa joined in the celebration of the nation’s natal day with the enthusiasm of a happy and patriotic people — rejoicing in the realization that the great world war is over, that peace has come at last, and that the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are assured to us once more.”