One of the things I love about Bath is the effort that is put into celebrating the Fourth of July.

The parade, the book sale, the bands, the carnival, the art show, the bed races, and the other activities draw people from all around. We all take pride in the event, for good reason.

And yet, the celebrations of yesteryear often put us to shame.

Imagine being at Old Home Week in 1900, for instance, which was a special event designed for people who had moved away from Bath to come home and visit. As reported in “Owen’s History of Bath” (1936), you would have been welcomed back to town on Thursday, Aug. 9, with a speech by the mayor and the reading of poetry.

Then the action began on Friday morning with a huge parade, which included the military, civic organizations, trade groups, and churches. Afterward, you could make your way to the river to watch a series of yacht and launch races.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it was time to head to Library Park. Three years before the Wright Brothers took their first flight, you would have seen a rare sight indeed: men rising into the sky in a hot air balloon.

What came next would probably stay with you for the rest of your life: one of the men jumped out of the balloon and dropped toward the earth, until releasing a parachute (probably folded and held in his arms) and gliding the rest of the way down.

A grand reception and concert followed at the Alameda, which was a large open public building near Center and Washington Streets.

Saturday began with another wonderful sight: the battleship Texas steaming up the Kennebec for a visit. Next you could watch the launching of a five-masted schooner at the Percy & Small shipyard. All the other shipyards opened their gates to visitors, so you could witness the twilight of wooden shipbuilding in Bath, or head to Bath Iron Works to see the modern steel vessels under construction.

That night you would head to the river again for another type of parade, this one a parade of yachts in the water, covered with decorations and bright lights. This was followed by a fireworks display.

On Sunday you could tour the battleship Texas, or attend one of the special church services, banquets, and concerts that wrapped up an unforgettable weekend.

Other celebrations in Bath were even grander.

When the Carlton Bridge was built, for instance, there was a pageant with thousands of participants dressed as Vikings or Pilgrims. The 300th anniversary of shipbuilding in 1907 was another huge party.

If I had a time machine, though, I would be hanging out at Old Home Week in 1900 instead of writing this article.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook. You can reach him at [email protected].

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