For Ballston Spa Life
Reflection of Independence Days Past
As the country pauses once again to reflect the sacrifices that were made by our forefathers, it is worth noting that some of the largest celebrations in the town’s history have occurred on Independence Day.
The first large-scale July 4th celebration was the semi-centennial in 1826. The day started with a salute from the so-called “trophy gun,” seized from the British Army under General Burgoyne, and the ringing of bells around Ballston Spa. One of the village’s largest parades took place later in the day, which included 37 of the last surviving Revolutionary War veterans. This would be the last parade in which veterans from the War of Independence would be gathered together in such numbers.
A huge float measuring 42 feet long named the Temple of Industry also attracted much attention. It represented the rapid industrial development that had taken place in the country since its birth 50 years before. Thirteen yoke of oxen representing the first thirteen states pulled the float along, which carried thirteen emissaries of the most important industries.
The centennial celebration in 1876 began on the night of July 3rd when all of the residences and businesses in the village were adorned with patriotic decorations. The following day was ushered in with the ringing of bells and the firing of the national salute. Around noon everyone gathered at the Sans Souci Hotel on Front Street to enjoy music and singing, followed by the Historical Address given by Judge George Scott. In the evening there was one of the largest fireworks displays to date.
Ballston Spa and the rest of the town of Milton has always answered the call to arms with patriotic fervor. When news came that the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, a large number of men came forward to join the United States Army. A few young men said that they wanted to volunteer but had nothing to leave their family, so several prominent business owners, including grist mill owner Eli Settle, cotton mill owner James Cook, and tool factory owner Isaiah Blood, donated their own money to the men’s families.
It was later learned that a former Ballston Spa resident, Lieutenant Abner Doubleday, was credited with firing the first shot of the war in defense of the Union. He was part of the garrison charged with defending Fort Sumter from attack by Confederate soldiers operating out of Fort Moultrie. Doubleday went on to attain the rank of Brevet-Major General.
Although President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, even the local Democrats came out in support of the Union, including State Senator Isaiah Blood. Blood, who owned the massive Ballston Scythe, Axe & Tool Works, was called upon to furnish a Massachusetts company with “battle axes,” or short swords that could be used for clearing brush as well as hand-to-hand combat.
Blood’s patriotism did not end with supporting freedom during the Civil War. He also enjoyed celebrating every Fourth of July in grand style. Blood and about 150 of his employees would put on white pants, a red shirt, and black caps and belts to march in a procession from his mansion in Bloodville down Maple Avenue to the Methodist Church in Ballston Spa. There the Declaration of Independence would be read followed by an oration. The company then marched to the Sans Souci Hotel where Senator Blood treated everyone to dinner. In the evening they made their way back to his mansion for refreshments.
July 4, 1898 was celebrated at the County Fairgrounds as the Spanish-American War was being fought. Reverend Charles Pelletreau of the Christ Church took charge of the festivities in order to raise money for the comfort of the volunteers who were attached to the Saratoga Citizens Corps. Thousands of people turned out for the event, which raised about $1,200, which today would be about $30,660.
Parts of this article were excerpted from the book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley: A History of Manufacturing in Ballston Spa, New York” by Timothy Starr. The book is available for sale at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa.