When the Fourth of July parade rolls down West King Street on July 4, 2019, trucks, cyclists and walkers will literally be following in the footsteps of history from a century before.
Until recently, that history was contained to just writings, but pictures believed to have been taken on July 4, 1919, along with Watauga Democrat archives from July 10, 1919, show that year’s Fourth of July parade was a big to-do.
“The photographs have always been in my family,” said Leroy Coffey, who has worked to identify the date the photographs were taken.
The photos were taken by Coffey’s father, Hernando Leroy (H.L.) Coffey, who was 19 years old at the time and lived and worked in Winston-Salem.
“He was way ahead of his time for how poor as he was,” Coffey said of his father.
Coffey said his father had purchased the camera the year before. Along with the pictures, the camera will also be on display at the Jones House on Thursday, July 4, during the town’s festivities.
While there’s no direct confirmation of the photos being from the July 4, 1919, Boone parade, Coffey said his father purchased the camera in 1918 and moved to Detroit in 1923. A review of Watauga Democrat archives show no records of a parade in Boone around the Fourth of July from 1920-1922.
The photos did not appear in the Watauga Democrat, as the newspaper did not print many pictures at the time. And there were no hints to the date of the photos until Coffey said his wife did some research and found two letters in the July 10, 1919, Watauga Democrat and a postcard from the time showing the Appalachian Training School — formerly Watauga College and what is now Appalachian State University.
The photos show a procession going east on what is now West King Street, kicking up dirt the entire way, and turning left on what is now College Street, according to Coffey. The photos show local students, women’s groups and local World War I veterans. If from 1919, the marching veterans would be less than a year removed from war following the Nov. 11, 1918 armistice that was signed to end the fighting.
“There were several counties involved,” Coffey said. “There were gentlemen riding horses and people walking.”
According to another Watauga Democrat letter by an unnamed visitor, the 1919 Boone Fourth of July parade also featured American Civil War veterans, 56 years after that conflict had ended. Watauga Democrat archives in successive years have notes of events to honor surviving Civil War veterans.
According to a letter in the July 10, 1919, edition of the Watauga Democrat, tables measuring 400 feet in length were lined up to feed the thousands who attended the parade.
The letter was written by H.W. Horton, who later constructed the building at 611 W. King St. that now bears his name as the Horton Hotel.
“Boone, the metropolis of northwestern North Carolina and the most famous because it is named for, and on the trail of the pioneer Daniel Boone, and also its altitude being the highest of any county seat east of the Rocky Mountains, has never in her history had such a crowd within her gates as assembled here today to honor the returned soldiers of the World War and other wars,” Horton wrote.
The parade was under the direction of Appalachian Training School (spelled “Appalaching” in the letter) Professor I.G. Greer, according to the letter, assisted by “three aides from each township.” The parade went from the courthouse at 10:30 a.m. and moved toward the Appalachian Training School.
The procession of patriotic floats, local businesses and various groups ended at the “picnic grounds,” which Coffey believes is where Belk Library and a parking deck currently are located, and listened to a patriotic speech from Alfred Lee “Major” Bulwinkle of Gastonia, a WWI veteran who later served in the U.S. House of Representatives for a combined 27 years.
The visitor described Bulwinkle’s speech as “touching every patriotic nerve.”
A dinner spread cooked by the housewives of the county was spread over a series of tables 400 feet long, according to the visitor’s letter, which fed 6,000 people with much food left over.
“There was no McDonalds or Burger King back then,” Coffey said.
H.L. Coffey and his wife Gladys Moretz Coffey later moved to Detriot and then moved to Watauga County in 1946.
Leroy Coffey’s uncle, H.C. Moretz, will be one of the World War II veterans acting as a grand marshal in the 2019 Boone Fourth of July parade. Moretz’s daugther Veronica Johnson has been organizing living WWII veterans to be in the parade.
The Boone Fourth of July parade has undergone many changes over the years. For a time, the Daniel Boone wagon train would act as the town’s Fourth of July parade, according to Boone Mayor Pro-Tem Loretta Clawson, then was restarted after the late former Boone Mayor Velma Burnley took office in 1989.