Party Like It's 1776

12+ ways to pregame Independence Day in America’s most patriotic town

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For 233 years, Bristol has celebrated the Fourth of July. Ever since Reverend Henry Wright founded the celebration in the late 18th century, Bristol has become an annual epicenter of national pride. Rev. Wright himself was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, which had ended only two years earlier. To compare, the Bristol Fourth of July Celebration is nearly four times as old as the state of Alaska.

As every resident knows, this diehard tradition is just one reason Bristol has been called “the most patriotic town in America.” All year long, tourists marvel at the red, white, and blue paint that divides traffic and the colonial architecture that graces the town center – just a glimpse into Bristol’s true colors that explode on Independence Day, when hundreds of thousands flock to local sidewalks to take in that legendary parade.
“We’ve got it down pat,” says Michele Martins, chairman of the parade, with a knowing chuckle. “Pretty much we’re duplicating what has worked in the past.”

The Bristol Fourth of July Celebration lasts three weeks, starting on Flag Day and ending with a spectacular fireworks show on the evening of July 3. In between, you can partake in concerts, competitions, ceremonies, and even the Fourth of July Ball. Here’s a sampler of the events you can cheer for this month.

1. No parade would be complete without its tiara and sash. Find out who will be named Miss & Little Miss Fourth of July at the 69th annual pageant (May 25) at Mount Hope High School Auditorium.

2. Yes, kids still race stock cars built out of wood boxes, and they’re still a blast to watch. Catch the Orange Crate Derby on June 9 on Bayview Avenue.

3. The Celebration officially begins on June 14: Bristol celebrates Flag Day with music, a special ceremony, a proclamation from Town Crier Michael Reilly, and an epic raising of the flag, complete with speeches and a live choir.

4. The Bristol Stomp (June 15) was a popular block party back in the 1950s and ‘60s, but the tradition went dormant for decades. Revived in the past couple of years, the Stomp actually has a unique dance style named after it.

5. The Fourth of July Ball takes place midway through the festivities (June 21), and attendees can celebrate in style at the Herreshoff Museum. Show off your formalwear, enjoy a cocktail hour, witness the Grand March, and cut a rug with the DownCity Band.

6. Browse for gifts and souvenirs among 30 stalls at the Summer Craft Fair, hosted by the First Congregational Church on June 22.

7. The Reverend Canon Elizabeth Habecker will host an Interfaith Service (June 30) at Mount Carmel Parish.

8. Rockwell Amusements brings its tents and rides to the Carnival at Bristol Town Common (June 26-July 4). Stroll the midway, nosh on some cotton candy, and see if you can win a prize.

9. Explore Bristol on foot – for 13.1 miles – as part of the Independence Rhode Race (June 29). Racers run along the water, all the way through Colt State Park, and finish at Independence Park in the middle of town.

10. Turn viewing fireworks into a night-cation by enjoying them from out on the water. Seastreak offers round-trip ferry service from Providence to Bristol that takes you within safe viewing distance of the spectacle. It’s a unique experience, perfect for anyone wishing to avoid crowds. Visit their website for schedule and pricing.

11. The Herreshoff Marine Museum hosts events all year long, and its prime location on the Bristol waterfront makes it perfect for watching the parade. Tickets aren’t cheap, but breakfast and lunch are included for viewing events (July3-4).

12. The opulent grounds of Linden Place are the perfect place to eat outside, and July is the perfect month to spread a blanket on the grass. Participants in the Fourth of July Picnic get bleacher seating for the parade, a continental breakfast, and picnic lunch, plus special seating.