Here’s a quick little trivia quiz. In what year was the first joint Lewiston-Auburn Fourth of July celebration held?

It was 1948, and it was a big event with an intercity all-star baseball game in the morning at Walton Field in Auburn, and a fireworks display at the Maine State Fairgrounds in Lewiston. The display was reported to have lasted for an hour and a half.

The crowd at the fairgrounds grandstand was estimated at 25,000, and it took half an hour at the end of the program for all the cars and pedestrians to clear the grounds.

I was only 9 years old, so I can’t vouch for those reports because my family did not attend Fourth of July festivities at the fairgrounds.

Why should we? Our farm is on the Auburn side of the Androscoggin River, directly across from the fairgrounds. A seat at the edge of our hayfield was a perfect spot from which to view the spectacular displays.

Our special site for viewing the fireworks was no secret. Over the years, local residents knew they could park along the side of North River Road and along the east side of Stetson Street for excellent views.

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Around sunset on the Fourth of July, the cars would begin to arrive. Lots of families had favorite parking spots, so they were the earliest arrivals. Some brought seats and others spread blankets for evening picnics. There may have been a hundred cars along that stretch of road as darkness fell. Every car’s occupants seemed to get acquainted quickly with families in nearby cars, and those nearest to our house would walk over to chat.

In those days, the Fourth of July was a full day of family activities. My aunt, uncle and slightly older cousin would make an annual trip from Connecticut. The previous day, my father would drive the farm truck to the ice house on Newbury Street to purchase a sizable block. It was a once-a-year chance for me and my younger brother to see that marvelous building where ice blocks careened down ramps to customers who had one special goal — homemade ice cream.

Back at the farm, my father cracked off manageable chunks of ice and put them in a burlap bag. Then, with hammers and clubs, we set to pulverizing the ice.

My mother had been busy preparing the creamy mixture that would become the world’s best vanilla ice cream. The metal container and its hand-cranked paddles were placed in a wooden tub and ice chips mixed with rock salt was packed around it. All of us young boys took turns on the crank until our arms ached and the frozen delight was ready.

Of course, the highlight was the evening’s fireworks. A prelude of fireflies indicated that the show across the river would soon begin. It started with one rocket streaking upward and exploding in color . . . then another and another, with the sharp boom delayed by a couple seconds.

When the finale’s dazzling crescendo of sight and sound began to fade, headlights began to shine in the darkness as cars headed for home. For a country road with barely a dozen cars a day, it was a seemingly endless procession past our house on that special night.

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The Lewiston Evening Journal’s account of the 1948 L-A celebration listed many activities for youngsters. First was a children’s bicycle parade from Lisbon Street to the fairgrounds, led by Lewiston Motorcycle Patrolman Paul Levesque. Then about 30 boys and girls competed in a song and dance contest. In a six-inning baseball game, called because of rain, the Lewiston All-Stars with Harry Lizotte and Norm Parent (longtime Lewiston High School football coach) trounced the Auburn All-Stars 11-3.

There were many other choices for holiday fun in the L-A area. Bear Pond Park in Turner, then in its heyday, had seaplane and speedboat rides along with its merry-go-round, Ferris wheel and rollerskating.

Simpson’s Beach at Taylor Pond was another popular destination. 

Dances were held throughout the area. The previous night (July 3) the fairgrounds hosted Tony Pastor and his Columbia Recording Orchestra. And the fun kept rolling along.

After the fireworks, the Lennie Lizotte Orchestra played at the Dancetime Hall at the fairgrounds for a midnight-to-4 a.m. dance. Tripp Lake Pavilion at Poland also held a midnight-to-dawn dance.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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