By Serra Muscatello
CAMBRIA - The 140th Annual Fourth of July Patriotic Program returned to Wagner's Grove for its festivities this year.
Staff photo by Serra Muscatello
Georg Marti unveils the historic plaque marking Wagner’s Grove as the site of the original Cambria 4th of July celebration, which was held for the 140th consecutive year this year.
The Fourth of July celebration had been held from 1871 until the early 1960s - some 90 years - on an idyllic piece of country land called Wagner's Grove, not too far from the village of Cambria. The land is owned by the Dave and Carol Strenge family.
The programs for the last few years had been held in Cambria at the town hall.
Many people gathered for this year's Fourth of July celebration held Monday afternoon.
A historic marker unveiling and dedication for the new Wagner's Grove monument was held at the beginning of the program.
The opening ceremony was held at the site of the old bandshell. (The bandshell did collapse eventually).
The event not only featured a historic marker dedication and a patriotic program but it also highlighted a Cambria School Reunion.
People enjoyed listening to poetry and sang patriotic songs together. There were other people who shared their memories and traditions about the annual patriotic celebrations held for so many years in Wagner's Grove.
"There's a lot of history here," said Paula Marti, who serves on the program committee. Marti also helped write and edit a book called "Return to Wagner's Grove - Cambria Fourth of July Celebrations 1871-2011."
Marti said this is really "a remarkable story of a precious tradition to think that they celebrated (Fourth of July) here for 90 years."
People would come to the early Fourth of July celebrations in wagons pulled by oxen and horses. The folks would bring picnic lunches to enjoy with their families and friends at Wagner's Grove.
"They were very politically aware," said Marti, "They had carnival games ... gun shooting. races ... horse races ... and a merry-go-round here."
Poetry reading was also an important part of the Welsh heritage.
The communities of Cambria, Butternut Valley and Judson were home to the largest settlement of Welsh immigrants in Minnesota.
LaVola (Walters) Lewis remembers how her father, Earl Walters, would go out to Wagner's Grove and help pick up sticks, branches and even clean up cow pies in preparation for the Fourth of July celebrations.
Lewis lived in Cambria until she married in 1953.
"My grandpa would pay me to cut mustard out of the oats field," said Lewis, "I took a sack with me and filled the sack with mustard. He'd pay me so I'd have spending money (at the Fourth of July celebration)."
Going to the Fourth of July celebration at Wagner's Grove - "It was the thing to do in the summertime."
John Lloyd, of Plymouth, said his father had a stand where he would sell ice cream during the celebrations.
"Soda was sold in a stock watering tank," said Lloyd.
Folks could have their choice of orange, grape, cream soda, root beer and sometimes strawberry, said Lewis.
"It was a nickel a bottle," said Lewis, "You could buy Eskimo Pies (chocolate-covered ice cream) for a nickel."
The kids would play in the creek but you had to be at least 12 years old to play down there, said Lloyd and Lewis.
The afternoon concluded with a community sing-a-long, fancy cake auction and an old-fashioned hog roast.