Small Town Change Is A Big Deal

Here’s a helpful Jeopardy tip. If you ever see the answer…

This town in the State of Rhode Island has the oldest, longest running 4th of July Parade in the country.

The question is…

What is Bristol. (Now good luck with the rest of the categories!)

Bristol is a picturesque harbor town that screams New England. It has a pretty harbor pictured below and as a result, great seafood. It’s a relatively quiet town where things go at its own pace and everybody is your neighbor. Come the 4th of July, everybody’s related!

Not a bad place to grow up.

Since 1785, The Bristol 4th of July Celebration has been the pride of its born and raised. The population explodes from 20,000 to 100,000 entertained by BBQ’s, beer, a carnival on the Town Common, and fireworks all over. It’s as nostalgic as it gets in this new millennium.

Here, you don’t need a bigger boat.


For my readers outside of Rhode Island that may not be as attached, do yourself a favor and start making plans for this summer!

The crown jewel of the week is the annual 4th of July parade. It’s the town’s claim to fame. It’s tradition. People buy property along the route for this occasion. It’s an event that requires its audience to claim their spots along the route before the crack of dawn. Otherwise you better know somebody, have a boat, or get comfortable at home watching the telecast. But like most traditions in today’s world, nothing seems to stay the same forever.

Last week the event’s organizers decided to shorten the route from about 2.5 miles to 2, citing the length, heat and lack of water an issue for performers. Naturally this was met with disdain and as a fellow Bristolian born and raised I have to concur but for a different reason.

I participated in this parade for 4 years with the Mt. Hope High School Marching Band.  I like hundreds of Bristol’s youth proudly made it around the entire 2.5-mile route and we did it in the same wool uniforms we wore for the fall football season. It wasn’t until my junior and senior year we got summer uniforms.

Some people still couldn’t make the whole thing.

I say that not to brag about how much tougher my band mates or I were than others. I want everyone to know I’m speaking from experience. I know how long and hot that parade route gets. People get dehydrated and drop out because of the heat and their entire day is ruined.

Even at the tender age of 16 I often wondered what would be so hard about having a water station available for participants halfway down the route? But I’m sure somebody smarter than I looked into it and decided that would be impossible.

This is why I’m all for shortening the parade route.

Why not? That just leaves more time for fun stuff like the BBQ and firecrackers. And yes, performers can get out of the heat faster. But if the heat is that big of an issue, I just have a few questions.


  1. Why don’t you have a water station? But more importantly…
  2. Why did you cut out the part of the route with the most shade?


Seriously I know I’ve been out of town for 12 years but last time I checked the beginning of the parade at Benjamin Church Manor is the shadiest part of the route. The sun stays behind the trees and towering historic houses of Bristol whose owners happily host parties all day.

It’s when you get to Guiteras School, the new proposed start, that you’re exposed to the heat with no shade at all. Then you go back into the shade of downtown Bristol until you’re in the blazing sun again at the Lobster Pot and the Herreshoff Museum. That’s where the fewest people are and come noontime it’s the hottest part of the day.

So trade Herreshoff for Benjamin Manor if you want to shorten it and practically 90% of the route is covered in shade.

Oh and adding a water station might be helpful.

Here’s another crazy idea. Start the parade earlier. Oh the performers have to be there earlier? Personally I’d rather take a nap than deal with heat exhaustion but maybe that’s just me.

Everybody’s already down on the route by 6:00am to get their coveted

For a true Bristol 4th I recommend these little guys. You can dig for them yourself in the harbor!

parade spots. Start it at 9:00 instead of 10:30. Then by the time the hottest part of the day comes around the parade’s totally over. And we’re all at our respective 4th of July parties for the afternoon eating burgers, little necks and stuffed quahogs with a cool, refreshing beverage of the distilled variety.

But I’m sure there’s a reason why those ideas are impossible just like having a water station on the route.

Change isn’t always welcomed and when you alter a tradition not everybody’s going to like it. But that perspective comes with a responsibility. If you’re going to alter a tradition with good intentions, at least be smart about it. A 230-year-old town heritage and symbol of national pride deserves at least that.

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