OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Fourth of July had come and gone, but the spirit of Independence Day was alive in Ocean Park on Monday.

The Stars and Stripes fluttered. Buildings were decked out in red, white and blue bunting. Decorated bicycles, floats and musicians paraded down the main drag.

The area’s annual Independence Day and Canada Day festivities were held on July 5 this year for a simple reason. “Because we have church on Sunday,” Sally Poland explained.

Poland is chairwoman of the religion and culture committee of the Ocean Park Association. The organization, which put together Monday’s event, has its roots in the Free Will Baptist leaders who founded the area in 1881 and began the tradition of an interdenominational summer assembly.

During Sunday morning worship at The Temple, participants sang both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “O Canada.”

Residents and visitors continued to mark the holiday Monday with the parade, a concert by the Ocean Park Band, a show by Saco Bay Artists, and square and line dancing planned for the evening.

Ron Young’s embrace of the day was clear from the Stars and Stripes decorating his hat, sunglasses, T-shirt, pants and high tops.

The old-fashioned atmosphere, the friendly greetings he hears while strolling the streets and the feeling that there’s no need to lock the doors are some of the reasons Young likes to celebrate Independence Day in Ocean Park.

“It’s a throwback to what America used to be,” said Young, a Postal Service manager from Providence, R.I. “There are very few places like Ocean Park.”

Cliff Kenney, a friend from college, introduced Young to Ocean Park in the early 1970s.

Kenney and his wife, Nancy, were teenagers when they met at Oceanwood, a summer camp owned by the American Baptists of Massachusetts. After years as renters, the couple embarked on second careers as owners of the Cottage Designs gift shop and settled in Ocean Park year-round.

A deep connection to Ocean Park is a common thread in the fabric of the beachside community.

Some families showed off their Ocean Park roots on clan T-shirts Monday.

Among them were the Whittakers, who this year are marking the 100th anniversary of their summer home, a cottage called Mayflower in recognition of their family roots on the ship.

About 70 members of the family converged on Ocean Park for the celebration. They came from the East Coast, Washington state, England and Thailand. They met up at the cottage for meals and family trivia contests.

They built a Mayflower float for the parade, and the four branches of the family marched with a homemade banner that read: “100 Years of Whits on Winona Ave.”

That family atmosphere prevails at Ocean Park.

“People who have been here every year know each other. It’s year after year,” said Jon Whittaker of Camden. “It’s like an extended family.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]