For 150th celebration, Belleville parade headed east

News-DemocratJune 28, 2014 

In a photograph from the 1964 Belleville sesquicentennial (of a parade, naturally) the automobiles were driving around the Veterans Memorial Fountain, headed from east to west.

That raised the question of when the parades started going from west to east, as is the norm with the annual Shriner Circus and Santa Claus parades today.

Rummaging through the papers from 50 years ago, I found out. Actually the 1964 celebration in early September was the exception.

A story in the Belleville News-Democrat explained that one of the various committees decided to have the parades move from east to west, just as the early settlers would have come to Belleville from the east.

The two parades in the week-long celebration "will form at Main and Oak streets and disband at Main and 20th streets," the paper explained.

The first parade was a float parade, made up of 17 decorated entries and 15 musical units.

Preparations apparently went slowly as before the celebration the sesquicentennial organization asked for help.

"More volunteer workers are being sought to complete work on the floats," the News-Democrat wrote. "The current appeal is for women to assist in the decoration which is being carried out at the Old Orbon Foundry."

The men, who apparently had no decorating ability, were tasked with other responsibilities.

"All males of the community who have been cultivating beards in connection with the sesquicentennial also are being urged to participate in the parade," the newspaper noted.

Or maybe they were being saved for the next week when vehicles were on parade.

"More than 50 mobile entries, most them old automobiles, will be on display," said the newspaper. The vehicles will be "... accompanied by 16 musical units (one more than the float parade somehow) and selected floats in the Sesquicentennial Modes of Transportation Parade."

I guess if they went to all the trouble of building them, they figured they might as well get good use from them.

The motorized parade cut short the customary length, only going from Oak Street to Sixth Street, rather than continuing on to 20th Street.

The entire event was considered a success.

"There were bands and pretty girls, men with fancy and rough beards, colorful floats depicting the city's 150 years, rides, music, dancing, singing, games, food and lots of beer," the newspaper noted. "There were art shows, displays of antiques and collections and a bus tour of Belleville's familiar and not-too-well-known landmarks."

The closing weekend also featured the Illinois State Historical Society annual convention at Augustines and for further thrills, "The Belleville Stamp Club threw open the doors of the YMCA building for its Sesquicentennial Stamp Show."

There were four performances of the pageant "From These Our Roots," at the new exhibition hall at the Belle Clair Fairgrounds with a cast of nearly 600 including the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra and schoolchildren singing German songs.

There was a three-day health fair at Fischer's Restaurant and a three-day street fair with a roaming German band.

The street fair was "better than we expected," according to the chairmen of the event.

To remember the occasion, people were able to purchase the official sesquicentennial souvenir booklet "Reflections."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series of occasional columns that will appear on Belleville's history in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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