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Terra Alta: Celebrating Independence Day for 91 years

By CYNTHIA McCLOUD

The Preston County News & Journal

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. – Independence Day 1935. A young man with a piercing gaze wearing a newsboy cap and three-piece pinstripe suit poses by one of the tall oak trees in the Terra Alta Community Park. Behind him, a crowd of men and women in their Sunday best, many in hats, dot the grounds.

Young people sell chances to win a cash jackpot in this photograph taken July 4, 1935 in Terra Alta by Walker Evans, who documents the Great Depression for the federal government.

Walker Evans, a photographer working for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, captured that and other images at Terra Alta’s Fourth of July celebration in 1935.

In its 91-year history, Terra Alta’s Volunteer Fire Department’s Fourth of July celebration has been held at different venues in the community. The event is a fundraiser for the Terra Alta Volunteer Fire Department.

“Originally it started in the 1920s,” said Chief Rob Kirk. “In (former resident) Betty White’s book (“The Past is the Key to the Future: A History of Terra Alta, West Virginia, and Its Vicinity”) she says early observances were held at Terra Alta Lake.

“I can trace it to Washington Avenue,” Kirk said. “When the fire department was located there beside the Terra Alta Bank, the festival was held on Lower Street,”; the locals’ nickname for Washington.

When the fire department moved to State Avenue (W.Va. 7) in the middle of town, the carnival moved to the town park. Kirk doesn’t know the date.

Resident Jim Teets remembers growing up in the 1940s when his grandfather, E. S. Evans, brought rodeos to town on the Fourth of July. Evans owned the Ford dealership, livestock auction, and other businesses.

“The wild horses, steers for roping and bulls for riding would arrive on the railroad and be unloaded into the stock pens that were just east of where Shorthorn’s is today,” Teets said. “They would then be driven to the city park like an old-time cattle drive, where they were kept in pens to be used in the rodeo. E. S. was a personal friend of the rodeo operator, so I got to ‘hang’ with some of the cowboys and their families. I really enjoyed those times. I think the ticket prices were 10 cents.”

In more recent history, carnival rides were set up in the park. Kirk said the large trees created a safety liability, but a bigger hindrance was the lack of 3-phase electric service.

When the fire department moved to its current location across from Terra Alta/East Preston School, the carnival moved to the adjacent parking lots and field, where a demolition derby was a popular attraction. This year’s fair begins tonight and ends Saturday.

More activities will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 4 in the town park, bordered by William and Maple avenues and Cranesville Road/North Toy Street.

A few years ago, some Terra Alta residents, longing for the old days, started a complementary one-day event: the Old-Fashioned Fourth of the July in the Park.

“It was sort of a Homecoming for people,” said Penny Kelly of Terra Alta Betterment Inc., which works on beautification and other community projects.

It coincided with the town’s high school reunion, she said.

 

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