There are so many stories to tell of the glories of Belleville a Century ago. Still,
we must avoid focusing overly-long on just one time period in a town whose
history dates back to the 17th Century . With that thought in mind, we will
close our series, "100 years ago", with this present offering. Never-the-less, there will continue to be new material added,
as it becomes available, on our sister site,
, where you will also find additional photos that would not fit here in this
Blog as well as popular music from 100 years ago played on period victrolas and
in the near future, other memorabilia.
It is all the more appropriate to close out the series now since it has
focused on the year 1912 and we here in this time are seeing the closing hours
of our year 2012.
Today, we will turn a
nostalgic eye to that grandest of all town celebrations; "Belleville
Day". Civic pride was so strong then
that one could almost see it glow in the dark.
The townsfolk were always willing and eager to celebrate themselves ,
who they were and what they had done. There existed a group of exuberant
citizens who called themselves "The Belleville Celebration Association.". This group assumed the responsibility of
organizing one of the town's most important events, the highlight of each year,
the celebration of "Belleville
Day". In addition, they published a
booklet explaining to the world in
general and to citizens in particular, why Belleville had a right to be bursting with
pride. The names of the 21 members of the Association's Executive Committee may
ring familiar tones in the memory banks of some of our older citizens. A photo of them still exists (shown below).
From left to right, top to bottom there
was; John Abbott, Ira Shattuck, John
Denike, George Bechtoldt, Edward Livingston, John Burke, Thomas Fleming, Henry
Haigh, Joseph Williams, Andrew Bagnall, Ida Kane, Mrs. William Otter, Dr.
Joseph C. Winans, Mayor Lyman Dennison, Anna Scaine, Anna Glennon, Walter
Gilby, Robert Crisp, Henry E. Wilson, Alfred Cooper and Joseph McCarthy.
The booklet they produced, 40 pages long, is a marvelous snapshot in time of our town
as it appeared to them 100 years ago, including photos of leading citizens,
industries, businesses, municipal buildings, civic buildings, churches and
entertainment venues. Then there were articles describing the town's past,
present (1912) and anticipated future. here are some excerpts :
It went on to tell of our postal service which
delivered mail twice a day throughout the town and three times a day in
We are told of four highly regarded public
elementary schools plus a high school department (located in School No. 3 in
1912) and a large parochial school.
Belleville Day, itself, was a sensational day of
activities and recreation. It began with
a parade starting at 2:00 P.M. sharp.
The parade, after trooping its way through major streets in
town, would make its way to Hillside
on Washington Avenue
near Greylock Parkway.
Then the fun would begin. From 3:30 P.M. 'til 5:30 P.M., there was a field day of
athletic events such as;
- 75-Yard Dash for girls under 18 years of age.
- 60-Yard Egg Race for girls under 14 years of age
- 220-Yard Dash closed to Grammar School Juniors of Public and
Parochial schools under 5 ft. 1 in.
- Half-Mile Run open to working boys
- Three-Legged Race; Distance 100-Yards
- One-Sixth Mile Closed to High School Boys
- 100-Yard Sack Race
- One-Mile Run, open
- Two-third Mile Relay Race for Firemen and Police
- Two-third Mile Relay Race for Belleville Clubs
Prizes included gold watches, silver and bronze medals for
individual events and silver cups for relay races.
After the games, arrangements had been made for a
"First Class Supper" at the Hillside Park Restaurant beginning at
5:30 P.M. until 7:00 P.M. After supper, one hour and fifteen minutes
was reserved for speeches. There must
have been a lot to say about Belleville! Avoiding the speeches was unlikely because
townsfolk would have wanted to get the best possible seats for what followed. A
vaudeville show, the most popular form of entertainment in those pre-television
days would hold the crowd's rapt attention as the evening part of the show
began to unfold. Even then, the day was not over. There would follow an
enormously popular event, a world class Wild West Show. The arena would have been filled with the
pungent odor of gun smoke, the shouting and shooting of cowboys and Indians
along with numerous western style variety acts. Entertainment of this kind
continued until 10:30 P.M. For those who preferred less boisterous
entertainment, there had begun at 8:30, about the same time as the vaudeville
show, a reception and formal dance at the Park's pavilion. The dance lasted 'til midnight. If all of this were not enough, there was Hillside
Pleasure Park itself, host of all these entertainments, with its very many
rides, games and side-shows.
Here we are in the 21st Century, 100 years later. Yet, we don't really have to imagine how much
fun it might have been for our fellow citizens of 1912 because Belleville, while different
in many ways since then, still experiences great civic pride, still knows how
to enjoy a town party as each year we turn out in large numbers for our annual
"Just A Party" event every September. The excitement and large
numbers of participants at our own party gives us a pretty clear picture of
what our civic ancestors were enjoying back in the "good old days".
The old townsfolk were making history a hundred years ago;
so are we today. Let's create history
that will cause townsfolk a hundred years from now to look back at us with awe,
amazement and admiration.
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