All of America feels a swell of pride on the 4th of July. But the little town of Bristol, RI has a particular claim to that pride. The residents of Bristol have been hosting the longest uninterrupted stretch of parades celebrating the 4th of July in the United States – for 222 years. That distinction has earned Bristol the nickname of “America’s Most Patriotic Town”.
Each and every year since 1785, the town and its residents have steadfastly conducted their tribute. Neither war, nor Great Depression, nor threat of bad weather has canceled the event. Attending the Bristol, RI parade has been a tradition for hundreds of families in Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts, generation after generation. The parade and related events now draw a crowd of about 100,000 people each year.
During America’s bi-centennial in 1976, the parade was reportedly watched by a crowd of more than a quarter-million people. The normal population of Bristol, RI is 23,000.
According to the Bristol Fourth of July Committee (which has approximately 100 members, 23 of them lifetime) the parade this year will begin at 10:30 a.m. If you expect to get a good seat ,you are advised to arrive before 8:00 a.m. Daybreak would be even more advantages. The Committee is made up of volunteers who put in thousands of hours to pull together all of the surrounding events, as well as the main parade.
A Drum and Bugle Corps Competition has been part of the celebration for the past eighteen years. Top Drum and Bugle Corps from all over the United States and Canada now come to vie for top honors. As with most home town celebrations, there is a beauty pageant. Not only one beauty pageant, but two. One for Miss Fourth of July and one for Little Miss Fourth of July. In addition, there is a formal ball, an essay contest, a photo contest and a button contest.
Adding to the fun and excitement is a Fireman’s Field Day, live concerts, a footrace, orange crate derby, vintage baseball game and numerous suppers and clambakes. A number of events have a charity focus including a new float in the parade this year whose riders will be cutting hair as they drive along. The hair collected is for “Locks of Love” which provides hairpieces and wigs for disadvantaged child cancer patients.
Twenty-two floats, twenty-three bands (from as far away as Edinburgh, Scotland) and assorted officials, colonial costumed marchers and the pageant winners will all be part of the two-hour salute to liberty. Classic and vintage cars will figure prominently as well. To see a complete rundown of events and people visit the July4thbristolri.com web page.
Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy is expected to be part of the parade. Kennedy, along with town and state officials, even helped a local Brazilian exchange student get his Visa extended a week to allow him to experience this American tradition. The student has seen Brazil’s “Carnavale” parade many times, but this will be his first 4th of July Parade in Bristol.
Attendees will, of course, be treated to a spectacular fireworks display on the evening of July 3rd.