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A Celebration Like Never Before
Jean Jones
Staff Writer for The Bridgeton Evening News

The 250th anniversary of Cumberland County has been celebrated in many ways in 1998, perhaps more intensely than any other milestone in the county's history.

Beginning with the kickoff in January, when 500 people enjoyed a night of performances highlighting the ethnic diversity that has fueled this county's progress, there has been a series of events celebrating education, religion, senior citizens, agriculture, and industry and tourism. They culminate in a grand July 4 event in Bridgeton, which will end in late afternoon so residents of Vineland and Millville can return to their own communities for evening programs and fireworks.

The 250 Celebration Commission decided soon after its formation to sponsor the kickoff event and the July 4 celebration, but the private sector has been encouraged to plan events for the other themes and continue through the rest of the year. Dr. Frank DeMaio has said that Vineland will hold its own event in November, also highlighting ethnic diversity but with professional entertainment, rather than local talent.

Mel Brody and Dave Price, co-chairmen of the commission, agreed that commission members worked well together bringing many different perspectives to the group.

"I think what dictated everything we planned was the ethnic groups that have come year in 250 years," said Brody. "Just as the county was built on ethnic diversity, so was the commission. We just took it a little further. Everybody on the commission had input as to how the event should be celebrated."

Price agreed, adding that commission meetings were informal and the diversification provided checks and balances.

I don't know where you can go for so much history," he said. "Here you have the Underground Railroad, our own 'Boston Tea Party' and Liberty Bell, the Japanese-American relocation and the White Russians and Ukrainians who came here from Europe. It's a microcosm of history living in our own community."

Price said the commission developed what was already here, making the community aware of the cultural richness of the county.

No record was found of a centennial celebration in 1848, though there may have been one. The year of the sesqui-centennial, 1898, was also the year of the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor and the subsequent Spanish-American War. Celebrations did not appear to be a priority that year.

In January 1948, J. Meade Landis reported that the county did not plan an observance, but after Millville had a three-day exhibit of historical artifacts at Trinity Social Hall in March, honoring the anniversary a little late, a group got together and decided to mark the event on July 4. The celebration later was postponed to Sept. 25, and it was worth the wait.

That Saturday began with a two-hour historical tour by bus, visiting sites in Deerfield, Bridgeton, Shiloh, Roadstown, Greenwich, and Sheppard's Mill, via Bridgeton Transit buses.

A parade at 1pm had numerous floats, bands and marching units -- so many that it lasted three hours. The county's Liberty Bell was places on one float and it rang at intervals during the parade. Monday's newspaper said 80,000 people watched.

President Harry S. Truman could not attend, but Secretary of Agriculture Charles Beannan spoke on the topic with which he was most familiar -- the nation's farm program.

Musical entertainment in the evening began at 8pm and brought out a crowd of 10,000 to listen and sing along. At 10pm, "a pyrotechnical show surpassed any heretofore seen in South Jersey" filled the sky for one hour. The first piece to be lighted spelled out "Welcome to Cumberland County's 200th Anniversary." The fireworks represented the special contribution of Vineland-Landis Township to the celebration. Parade marshal Col. Warran S. Hood also was a Vineland resident.

There is no parade for the 250th, because of the difficulty of getting participants on the Fourth of July. Careful planning has allowed this anniversary to be spread over the entire year, to widen the focus and to reach many who might not have been able to attend a one-day event. This approach also has allowed many more people than commission members to be involved.

"Kim Wood did a fantastic behind-the-scenes job," he said of the county's Director of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. "Too often, the names people read in the newspapers 50 years later are not the names of the people who did the real work."

In addition to Brody and Price, commission members who have served for all or part of the year are: Bob Rose, Bill Schabacker, Maria Perez, Glenn Nickerson, Freeholder Chuck Griffiths, Suzanne Merighi, Penny Watson, Laura Aldrich, Don Keen, Sam Clark, John Zagari, and De Errickson.

Taken from The Bridgeton Evening News;
250 Years of History Special - 6/26/1998