As “Let Freedom Ring” plays from the event sound system, the aroma of fried fish lures a long line of people on the Hope Town Square. Kids impatiently dance in line as they wait for a balloon animal, and neighbors gather around picnic tables to enjoy a fresh lemon shake-up.
Organizers said about 2,000 people flocked to Hope for the 10th annual Old-Fashioned Independence Day, the past eight of which have been hosted by the Yellow Trail Museum.
“You get a feeling of community like I’ve never seen any place else,” said Pat Hall, who recently moved to Hope.
Opening the event was a new tradition, naming of the inaugural Little Mr. Firecracker, Logan Downey, and Little Miss Sparkler, Miya Thompson.
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After that business was taken care of, other children lined their Americana-decorated bicycles along the sidewalk on the outside edge of the square for the annual Kiddie Bicycle Parade.
Brock Harris and his wife Carrie led their one-year-old son Ian for the parade in a wagon bolstering, “When the West was 1.”
Harris, who was born and raised in Hope, is an Old-Fashioned Independence Day regular.
“We always come out to support the town,” Harris said.
And that support is what Town Manager J.T. Doane said makes Hope — with a population of 2,100 — the community it is.
“This is very important to the fabric of the community,” Doane said. “It’s a tradition. It’s something that’s always very well-received. It’s great to feel the warmth of the community.”
The tradition was especially apparent in popular food booths returning each year, such as the Hartsville Fire Department fish fry, sloppy joes and coney dogs at the First Baptist Church of Hope tent, and the Kappa Kappa Sigma booth that served apple pie and ice cream after the apple pie baking contest.
Bakers at Willow Leaves restaurant, located just across the street, produced the judges’ favorite apple pie among seven entries in the adult division. Hope Bailey of Hope won the child division.
Even games featured food, such as the watermelon-eating and watermelon seed-spitting contests, as well as the cake walk.
“It’s a great get together for the town,” said organizer Barb Johnson, a Yellow Trail Museum volunteer and event organizer. “We hope people from outside Hope come and get a glimpse of what Hope is all about.”
Gina Jones of Knightstown in Henry County brought her three children to the festival, where they spent a lot of time riding horses at the carousel across from the park.
The best part?
“I didn’t fall off,” said 4-year-old Destiny Jones, Gina Jones’ daughter. “When we come back here, I’m going to ride them again because that was fun.”
With precipitation in the forecast, the Banister Family Bluegrass Band started early to get their show in — performing favorites such as Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and bluegrass staple “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
Rain held off until about 8:30 p.m., when the skies emptied and festival-goers scrambled for cover.
With a similar script of events for the holiday event every year, the only uncertainty this year was whether the fireworks show would go on as planned.
“People hung around waiting to see what was going to happen,” Johnson said of a few hundred who stayed until the end.
About 50 people waited out the rain in shelter house on the square, while others took cover under business awnings on different sides of the square, visiting with each other as if it were just another opportunity to catch up with friends, she said.
“There was a big crowd at the museum, too,” Johnson said.
Their waits paid off.
At 10:10 p.m., skies cleared enough to put a booming exclamation point on the evening.