Independence Day celebrations one hundred years ago were often boisterous, noisy affairs. However, the Nebraska State Journal of July 5, 1907, reported a “celebration without noise and the usual Fourth of July enthusiasm,” held the previous day at Lincoln’s Epworth Park. Not entirely approving of such a subdued observance, the Journal called it “a celebration without fire crackers without revolver shooting, without torpedoes and fire-fly, without balloon ascensions and horse races, without fakirs and without red lemonade,” perhaps due to the influence of the Epworth League, the Methodist youth group which held annual assemblies at the park.
Epworth Park, which had its grand opening in 1903, included a large lake, a roofed tabernacle that would seat almost five thousand people, hundreds of tent sites, and more than a dozen streets, most named for Methodist bishops. Electricity illuminated the grounds at night.
Despite the subdued nature of the 1907 celebration, it was deemed a success. More than four thousand people spent the Independence Day holiday at Epworth Park, attracted by a varied program that included competitive sports contests. Nebraska Governor George L. Sheldon was among the featured speakers. “All in all,” said the Journal, “the park furnished a place to spend a quiet, restful holiday for those who elected such a rest.”
Attendance at Epworth Park probably peaked about 1908. After World War I and the rise of the automobile, fewer people visited the park. In 1935 torrential rain, followed by other flooding, washed away many of the buildings, and by 1940, after one last attempt to resurrect it, the park was closed. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications