by Evan Spring
The upcoming celebrations for Worthington’s 250th anniversary may seem a bit extravagant. Festivities will continue five days, from June 29 to July 3, with a pot luck dinner and dance, outdoor music, exhibits, art shows, a parade, fireworks. Are we dreaming too big for a small town? Not if we look back fifty years to the grandest celebration in Worthington’s history: the 1968 bicentennial.
The bicentennial celebrations lasted no less than eight days. (The 1868 centennial event was just a single day.) Planning began two years in advance, with Henry H. Snyder, age 73, as general chairman of the steering committee. Fundraisers included a dance, barbecue, benefit auction, two talent shows, and a fashion show. Renovations to spruce up Town Hall included refinishing the floors and stairs, paneling the town officers’ room on the second floor in mahogany, and installing new furniture, fire exits, fire escapes, and wall-to-wall carpet. Town residents were browbeaten to make their houses presentable. The town never had to appropriate public funds, though most events had admission prices and questions were raised about spending, accounting, and overcharging.
In any case, what was the payoff for all this effort? Let’s take a look, day by day.
Saturday, June 29: Anniversary Ball and coronation of the Queen
For the bicentennial’s opening gala, Town Hall was decorated in homage to the Lafayette Inn, the 75-room resort at Worthington Corners that burned down in 1931. A large mirrored ball was suspended from the ceiling. The side lawn held tables under a tent, with plant arrangements in sap buckets to be sold afterwards. Emerson “Emmy” Davis, the caretaker of Town Hall, played the part of innkeeper and asked guests to sign the register. Because of space restrictions, only 150 pairs of tickets were sold, plus a few single tickets. Dress was in period costume or semi formal. A posted notice warned that violators of decency, decorum and upright conduct were liable to be “visited with Stocking, Pillow, Whipping” for crimes including burglary, drunkenness, profaning the Sabbath, disorderliness, singing profane songs, blasphemy, idleness, malicious gossip, or unbecoming carriage in children, servants and apprentices.
At 9:30pm the five nominees for Bicentennial Queen, all just graduated from Gateway high school, each made their grand entrance with an escort. They carried nosegays of rosebuds across the stage and took their place on the red carpet. Emcee Chet Dragon detailed their interests and aspirations. A sealed envelope was opened and the Queen was announced. The judges, all from out-of-town to avoid favoritism, had chosen 17-year-old Kristin Majkowski. The runner-ups would serve as her “court” throughout the week.
Sunday, June 30: Church services, art exhibit, flea market, barbecue, game supper
A special commemorative service at the Congregational Church in Worthington Center brought three former pastors back to the fold. An additional service honoring Russell H. Conwell took place later at the Methodist Episcopal Church in South Worthington. An electric organ was brought in, and Conwell’s granddaughter Jane Conwell Tuttle introduced hymns sung by contralto Edith Hathaway and her daughter, soprano Charlotte Hathaway. Many attendees came in historic costume, and ushers took the collection wearing swallow-tail coats.
The art exhibit, antique flea market, and barbecue took place at Sena’s Sales Barn, with 40 local artists exhibiting over 200 paintings. The gate prize was airfare for two to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. The game supper at the Drummers Club in South Worthington had a disappointing turnout, with only 32 of 100 tickets sold.
Monday, July 1: Conwell School exhibit and Bicentennial Concert
In the afternoon the Conwell School unveiled an exhibit of photographs, arts and crafts of old Worthington, and the evening event was a Bicentennial Concert directed by Robert and Rolande Young Schrade in Sena’s Sales Barn. Later that year the Shrades would inaugurate their renowned summer music festival, Sevenars, in South Worthington’s Methodist Episcopal Church.
Sena’s Sales Barn was used for auctions (and potato storage in winter) but the walls were freshly painted and the acoustics were reportedly good. The evening was hot, but a ceiling fan had been installed. A Steinway grand piano was loaned by Jane Conwell Tuttle, and the Queen and her court served as ushers. The program included works by Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Edward MacDowell, and Debussy. At the intermission Rolande Young Schrade introduced her new composition The Worthington Bi-centennial March as a sing-along. Proceeds benefited the bicentennial steering committee.
Tuesday, July 2: House tour and theatrical presentation, The Quilting Party
A booklet with map was sold for a self-guided tour of 35 Worthington homes of historical and architectural interest. According to a newspaper preview, “many homeowners were reluctant to open their homes for public tours in view of the number of house-breaks here in recent years. None of the houses described in the book will be open and all will be viewed from the road.”
The Quilting Party, staged at Town Hall, was a three-act play written and directed by Eva Fairman, the 82-year-old chairman of the Worthington Historical Society, who also played the lead role of Dinah. The play imagines the backstory of an actual keepsake quilt made in 1917 by members and friends of the Worthington Grange and exhibited at the Conwell School during the bicentennial. Each block in the “autograph” quilt was embroidered with the name of its maker, except for one “mystery block.” In the play, a group of ladies convene in Dinah’s home to complete the quilt in a log cabin pattern. In the climactic scene, the maker of the mystery block is revealed as young Cora Bligh, an actual person. (In 1968 Bligh was living in Los Angeles and could not attend the bicentennial.) Nostalgic musical numbers were worked in, and according to one account, “The highlight of the evening came when Harry Bates, 83 years old, the last member of the old Worthington orchestra that played for so many dances here, sat down at the piano to accompany Jerry Robinson [on] ‘Yes, Sir, She’s My Baby.’”Attendance was standing room only, and afterwards Mrs. Fairman was presented with a bouquet of red roses.
Wednesday, July 3: Youth Day and Musical Revue
The children’s parade included the boy scouts, the girl scouts, the 4-H Club, and other youth groups. Children under six dressed as storybook characters, and children six to twelve dressed as historical figures, with prizes in each category.
The Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue at Town Hall also went by “The Variety Show” or “Appearing Soon at the Casino,” a reference to the Casino dining and dancing hall that burned down in 1931. Pat Nugent and her committee supervised 22 acts, starting with a grand march to Rolande Young Schrade’s aforementioned Worthington Bi-centennial March. Jean Humphrey featured her ballet pupils. Sally Wood directed a minuet by girls in formal gowns. Adults joined in with a “can-can by some of the village matrons” and a “men’s ballet including some of the town’s leading citizens.” Demand for tickets was so intense that a second show was added on short notice.
Thursday, July 4: Beard contest, chicken barbecue, baseball game, fireworks
The beard contest, chicken barbecue, and baseball game were hosted by Worthington’s Rod and Gun club. 500 meals were served. Emmy Davis took home the statuette for best beard, while best trimmed beard went to Laurence L. Mason, longest beard went to Joseph W. Sena, and scantiest beard went to Arthur Q. Smith. For the baseball game, the bearded ones formed a team and handily defeated the clean-shaven.
The fireworks, described by a newspaper as “one of the largest fireworks displays in the history of Western New England,” attracted an estimated 10,000 spectators.
Friday, July 5: Horse draw and two dances
The horse draw (also known as a “horse pull”) took place at “Golden Horse Meadows” (near the Golden Horse restaurant) on Route 112 below Sam Hill Road. The event drew 23 teams from five states, though some teams were mired in soft ground. Generations divided for two dances that evening: an “Old Fashioned Square Dance” at Town Hall, and a “Teen Agers Dance” with rock ’n’ roll at Sena’s Sales Barn.
Saturday, July 6: Grand parade
Attendance at the Grand Parade was estimated by police at 18,000 to 20,000 people – more than 27 times the entire population of Worthington. The parade lasted more than two hours, with around 45 floats, several antique cars, and 17 bands, including the Westover Air Force Band. The route extended from the health center on Old North Road past the Corners to the junction of Route 112 and Radiker Road.
Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Francis Sargent headed the state delegation, which also included Secretary of State John Davoren. Other dignitaries included U.S. Representative Silvio O. Conte and Northampton Mayor Wallace Puchalski. Worthington’s three selectmen and Emmy Davis rode in a shiny black stagecoach pulled by two horses. Many viewers were impressed with the Connecticut governor’s high-stepping horse guard.
Scenes depicted on the floats included a smithy at his forge, women braiding rugs, an auction (Sena’s Sales Barn), a sugar house (Windy Hill Farm), an old schoolhouse, and a church with a marrying parson. Parade-watchers could choose between buffet lunches at the Drummers Club, the Golden Horse restaurant, and the Worthington Golf Club.
According to a newspaper account, “One neighbor of Mrs. Harry W. Mollison reports that the Mollison cows were quite moved by the music of the bands in Saturday’s parade. She tells of how they would kick up their heels and carry their tails high each time a band passed by.”
Sunday, July 7: The shave-off
The bicentennial officially concluded with the Saturday parade, but a Sunday “shave-off” for the beard contestants at the Drummers Club served as the epilogue. John Penn, a barber from Huntington, gave the beards a preliminary clipping, with Brooks Carpenter as timekeeper. Safety razors were furnished by Fred Emerson, and awards for cleanest shave in the shortest time went to Arthur Rolland (first), Ernest Nugent (second), and Albert Nugent Jr. and Courtney Wheeler (tied for third). Meanwhile, the townspeople turned to disassembling bleachers, returning the portable toilets, and picking up litter.
All of this was accomplished fifty years ago, when Worthington’s population was just 658, half what it is today. Surely this year, for Worthington’s 250th anniversary, we can once again rise to the occasion. After all, the next parade will probably have to wait until Worthington’s 2068 Tercentenary. I was born in 1968, and don’t plan to stick around that long.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Evan Spring, a jazz historian and freelance editor serving as WHS president, lives on West Street with his wife Zoë and son Perry. He was an editor of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies and Journal of Jazz Studies, and for 23 years hosted a jazz radio program on WKCR-FM New York. His research focus is the New York jazz scene of 1955 to 1964.