A Hilltown tradition marches on: Chesterfield’s 70th Fourth


For the Gazette

Published: 07-05-2017 10:20 AM

CHESTERFIELD — The sun shone brightly Tuesday morning as throngs of people, including Congressman Richard Neal, lined South Street and Main Road in Chesterfield. They wove American flags, and cheered when the blare of a police siren signaled the start of the town’s 70th anniversary July 4th parade and festivities.

The theme of this year’s parade was a “Hilltown Tradition,” a concept that parade marshal Gil Smith exemplifies.

A lifelong resident of Chesterfield, Smith has made the Fourth of July parade a tradition since he attended the town’s very first parade as a child in 1947.

“Back then it was smaller than today and it went around the parade route twice,” he said.

Over the years Smith has gone to this event 65 times. This year as marshal, he proudly led the parade in a white and turquoise 1955 Chevy Bel Air convertible.

Smith served with the Fire Department for 49 years, finishing his career as fire chief. He has also served on several town boards and committees, worked as the building inspector, with the Police Department, was a member of the Grange for 59 years, participated in the 4H Town Committee, and served as a Little League baseball coach.

A new face in the lineup this year was Neal, the Springfield Democrat who received enthusiastic applause as he walked in the procession.

“This is an impressive event,” Neal said. “It is very nice to be here, this is small-town America and that goes hand in hand with the Hilltowns.”

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Neal said he typically alternates attending Fourth of July parades between the East Longmeadow and Pittsfield each year.

Neal’s appearance in Chesterfield came after a group called Indivisible Williamsburg took out an advertisement in the Gazette in June stating that it had been over five years since Neal had reached out to various Hilltowns and asked him to “stop playing hard to get. Come visit. Let’s talk.”

When asked if he would be visiting the Hilltowns more often, Neal said that he would like to, and that he makes every attempt to respond to each invitation he gets, though his schedule often makes it difficult to get to all of the places to which he is invited.

“I have 735,000 people in 80 cities and towns and I am in Washington four to five days a week,” Neal said.

Another politician, state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, marched in a contingent with the Chesterfield Select Board, waving and greeting paradegoers with a broad smile.

“I never miss this parade,” Kulik said. “It is a real Hilltown tradition and it is the biggest Fourth of July celebration in Hampshire County.”

Stilt walker Trevor the Games Man gave out high-fives as he zig-zagged between children and adults enjoying fresh popcorn and handmade ice cream while they watched the contingents make their way down Main.

Bagpipes from the Holyoke Caledonian Pipe Band, jazzy tunes of the Brass Republic and the patriotic selections from the Florence Community Band were big crowd-pleasers.

“This is one of the nicest parades that we do,” Rick Wallis of the Holyoke Caledonian Pipe Band said, noting that the group has marched in this parade for the last decade. “We look forward to this every year because it is such a friendly community.

The parade also included officials, members of police and fire departments from the surrounding towns, the Hampshire County Riding Club, the American Legion Post 224 Legion Riders, a large contingent of classic and antique cars, and Dana Kellogg, the 17-year-old Chesterfield resident who is the youth world cup champion in luge.

The parade itself, however, is only part of the celebration in Chesterfield.

The Fire Department kicked off the morning with a pancake breakfast, something the department has done for the last 25 years. Fire Chief David Hewes said some 300 people gobbled down hotcakes Tuesday.

People also flocked to the chicken barbeque stand, as they have done every year since 1952.

“My father, Forrest Curtis, started the first chicken barbeque 65 years ago,” said Mary Jane Miller. “This family tradition continues with third and fourth generations cooking again this year.”

After the parade, many enjoyed relaxing or dancing on the Town Hall lawn to the big band sounds of the Heritage Pops Orchestra, a band that has played at the event for over 12 years.

It was easy to find paradegoers who made the event part of their annual celebration.

“I have been coming to this parade for 40 years,” Mary Ann Coleman, former chair of the parade committee said.

Cummington residents Joan and Ernie Strong said they have been attending the parade for “many years” and even though it has gotten bigger, it still retains that special “small town feel.”

“That is what we love and that is why we come,” Joan Strong said.

Others were not only new to the parade, but new to the United States.

Every year the UMass Donohue Institute brings a group of visiting international students to the parade. This year over 60 students from 18 countries attended.

“This was very fun. We come from Pakistan and they don’t have things like this in my country,” said Fatima Batool of Quetta, Pakistan.

Batools companion Masooma Qasim said she was very impressed with how “friendly everyone has been in America. We really like and enjoy this country,” she said.

A new addition to the festivities this year was the classic car show.

“We always have so many antique and classic cars in the parade that we thought why not have a car show where people can actually get a good look at them,” parade organizer Ed Severance said.

Elsa Sullivan, 32, of Easthampton, said she had heard that Chesterfield was the place to be on the Fourth of July.

“This is a sweet, picturesque, small-town celebration that I have never been to, but now I plan on making this an annual event,” Sullivan said. “It’s very family friendly and welcoming and people just seem really happy to be a part of it all.”

Parade organizer Carol Jolly said she was happy with the weather and the large turnout.

“We do this every year, rain or shine, but this is the perfect day for a parade.” Jolly said.