When was the first Fourth of July fireworks display in Union County?

By By Dick Mason The Observer July 02, 2012 02:35 pm

Fireworks were used to celebrate the Fourth of July in Union County at least as far back as 1876. 

A book by Doris Huffman, “Oregon’s Flamboyant Fourth 1876,’’ makes reference to an evening fireworks display that was conducted in Union that year to celebrate the United States’ centennial. 

The fireworks display preceded a Fourth of July ball at Union’s old Centennial Hotel, one which may have been the biggest local social event of the year. The ball was attended by 101 people. An advertisement for the ball stated that it would “eclipse anything of the kind ever given east of the Cascades.’’

The ball and fireworks display were two of many things done in Union, then the county seat, to celebrate the United States’ Centennial. Activities began with a program that started at 10 a.m. It featured prayer, music played by a local band and toasts. The program also included an unscheduled talk by a women’s rights advocate, which created a stir,  Huffman wrote.

A 95-pound Centennial cake was cut into 1,000 pieces and served at the conclusion of the program. The cake was 8 1/2 feet in diameter and 32 1/2 inches high.

The appearance of the Liberty Car, a float pulled by four black horses and  decorated with flags, wreaths of flowers and evergreens was another Centennial celebration highlight in Union. The Liberty Car featured a woman who portrayed the Goddess of Liberty and 38 girls who represented the states of the Union, Huffman wrote.

Huffman’s book, published in 1976, provides descriptions of counties in Oregon celebrating the Centennial. 

The author wrote that several Grande Ronde Valley residents had traveled to Portland to attend a larger Centennial celebration. To reach Portland by July 4, travelers boarded a horse-drawn  coach in  Union on June 26 and rode to The Dalles. The Union residents then boarded a steamship for Portland.