The small town of Independence, Ore. was named an All-America City in 2014.

Independence Day in Independence, Ore.

The summer of 1998 was my first in sleepy Monmouth, Ore. Best known as the home of Western Oregon University and the west coast’s last dry town, Monmouth had a permanent population right around 7,000 people in the late 1990s, but you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a few of them on a typical weekday.

I lived in a small duplex one block south of Main Street. On the morning of July 4, my roommate and I opened our curtains to discover cars parked end-to-end and people streaming en masse down our typically quiet street.

Certain the zombie apocalypse was upon us, we turned on the television for further instructions. Instead of warnings from the Emergency Broadcast System, we found the local television channel introducing the annual Western Days Parade.

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It would be nearly 20 years later before I actually attended the parade in person. Small-town Americana is on full display as kids on bicycles and makeshift floats pulled by pickup trucks make their way down Main Street and through neighboring Independence before arriving at Riverview Park on the banks of the Willamette River.

Main Street in Monmouth, Ore. after the Western Days Parade.

Main Street in Monmouth, Ore. after the Western Days Parade.

Independence Day celebrations have a long history in Independence. The first recorded July 4 event was held in 1903. The all-day affair began at 9 a.m. with a parade of nearly 30 floats followed by a “Grand Barbecue.” The competition heated up in the afternoon with tug-o-war, pie eating contests and baseball games. A “Grand Ball” finished up the evening.

The event was also the first time many locals saw an automobile in person. The “horseless carriages” shuttled visitors between downtown Independence and Pioneer Park just under a mile away.

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The celebration hasn’t changed much in the 114 years since that first event. The 2016 Western Days spanned four days with thousands of visitors coming in for the 5K fun run, parade and riverfront festival. Two nights of top-notch fireworks—funded through the hard work of year-around community fundraising efforts—anchor the holiday festivities.

The Independence Enterprise wrote after the first July 4 festival, “…the celebration of 1903 at Independence has set a new standard, a comparison to which will be drawn, and the highest compliment to be paid to any to come will be: It equals the splendid demonstration held at Independence in ’03.”

The community of Monmouth-Independence continues to set the bar high.

Special thanks to Peggy and Shannon at the Independence Heritage Museum for historical information about Independence Day in Independence, Ore.

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