Independence Day Celebration

Blog Post #23

by Jane Van Ryan

On July 4th, America will celebrate its 240th birthday. There will be fireworks, picnics, and family gatherings all over the country to mark the signing of the Declaration of Independence and America’s courageous decision to split from Great Britain and become a sovereign nation.

Fireworks as seen from Mabry's Hill

The Lost Fiddle String Band

On Mabry’s Hill, up to 200 ticket holders will feast on barbeque, enjoy live music by the Lost Fiddle String Band, and tour Mabry-Hazen House. The festivities will culminate with Knoxville’s annual fireworks show, which is particularly beautiful when watched from the top of Mabry’s Hill.

The hill is named for the Mabry family, which built the historic Mabry-Hazen House in 1858. The Italianate structure was inhabited by members of the Mabry and Hazen families until 1987 and later turned into a museum.  Although it’s not clear precisely how the Mabrys and Hazens observed July 4th, there were plenty of newsworthy events that occurred on Independence Day during their years at the residence.


On July 4, 1863, Confederate forces surrendered to Gen. Grant at Vicksburg after a six-week siege. With the last Mississippi River Confederate stronghold in Union hands, the Confederacy was split in two and cut off from its western allies. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, both the Union and Confederacy were mourning their losses in the Battle of Gettysburg, which had ended the day before on July 3rd.

On Independence Day in 1881, Americans were learning about the assassination attempt against President James A. Garfield. He had been shot as he entered a railway station in Washington, D.C., on July 2. The wound proved to be mortal, and he died on September 19th.

On the annual holiday in 1882, an estimated 2,000 Teton Sioux Indians began “The Last Great Buffalo Hunt” on reservation lands in North Dakota. About 5,000 buffalo were killed, following the slaughter of as many as 60-75 million buffalo by white hunters.  By 1883, nearly all of the free-range buffalo were gone.

On July 4, 1911, a devastating heat wave was being blamed for the deaths of 380 people in the United States. According to reports, the temperature in Nashua, New Hampshire had reached 106 degrees.

In 1918, American troops were fighting alongside Australian soldiers in the Battle of Hamel in France. It was the first time U.S. soldiers had fought under non-American command and that wireless communications devices were used. The battle, which lasted 93 minutes, pushed back the German forces.

On July 4, 1932, while America was in the depths of the Great Depression, government agencies, companies, and other organizations were discussing a plan to cut the working hours of their employees. It was believed that by reducing their hours, more people would remain employed, and perhaps those looking for work would have a better chance of finding jobs. The Knoxville school system already had cut the pay of the city’s teaching staff, including Evelyn Hazen who had worked as an English teacher at Old Knoxville High School.

On the same date in 1944, U.S. soldiers and allies once again were engaged in battle against German forces in France. Just a month before, they had embarked on the most massive military deployment ever constructed—the D-Day invasion to free France and the rest of Europe from Hitler’s iron grasp.

On Independence Day in 1959, the 49th star was added to the American flag when Alaska was given statehood. In 1960, the 50th star was added when Hawaii became a state.

On July 4, 1967, U.S. Marines were advancing on North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam’s Quang Tri Province during Operation Buffalo. The operation ended on July 14, with an American victory.

On July 4, 1982, Knoxville was hosting millions of visitors from around the globe at the World’s Fair. President Ronald Reagan opened the fair on May 1 with singer and TV personality Dinah Shore who was the mistress of ceremonies. As the gates opened, visitors watched performances by Ricky Skaggs and Porter Wagoner. Every night at 10:00 p.m., fireworks lit the sky over the Sunsphere dome.

Fireworks will take center stage this July 4th this year, too. Anyone interested in enjoying the annual Independence Day celebration and watching the fireworks from Mabry’s Hill should call 865-522-8661 for ticket information.