It was once a small family affair, a chance for relatives and close friends to come together and celebrate America’s birthday.
It was a day of flag waving, foot races, softball, good food and great times. And while some things have changed over the past 100 years, the heartbeat of the Maxwelton Independence Day Parade has remained the same. It’s about community, said Doug Green, a longtime Maxwelton beach property owner, and is a reflection of a simpler way of life.
“It’s just good ole’ fashioned, clean fun,” he said.
One of the parade’s organizers, Green is also the great-grandson of Peter Howard Mackie, one of four brothers who founded the event and developed the community more than a century ago. The Mackie brothers — Dave, TS (Theodore), James and PH (Peter Howard) — purchased 960 acres in the area, the Maxwelton Beach and Farm Tracts, and started the parade in what’s largely agreed to be 1905.
The date is derived from Record stories written decades later. The first parade was held 18 years before the newspaper started in 1923, and a fire wiped out the publication’s archives in 1934.
According to George Mills, an amateur historian of the Maxwelton area, what records do exist suggest the event was organized as a way to bring attention to the new development, but it was also the family’s way of honoring Independence Day.
“They were very patriotic people and wanted a celebration of the Fourth of July,” Mills said. “So, they did a parade.”
While the details of the early years have been lost, such as who attended and what they did, it’s been largely an annual event ever since. There were years when it was cancelled, particularly during wartime — that’s why Saturday is the 100th parade, not the 110th — but it’s seemed to only grow in popularity over the decades. Today, it’s practically a South Whidbey tradition.
If this weekend is like recent years, attendance may number in the thousands, according to Bob Brooks, coordinator for the Maxwelton Community Club, the organization that puts on the parade today. Spectators don’t register, so that’s just an estimate based on the walls of people who typically line the street between Swede Hill Road and Dave Mackie County Park.
And being a milestone year, Brooks said he’s a little worried about what Saturday will bring.
“We just hope we haven’t over advertised,” he said. “If we get another thousand people, it will be a real challenge.”
The parade begins at 1 p.m. Public parking is available at the park, in a field on Maxwelton Road just north of the intersection at Swede Hill Road and at the Little Brown Church on Maxwelton and French roads.
While the parade today is a packed and busy affair, many still remember it as a smaller event.
“It wasn’t always this way,” Mills said. “Back in the 1950s just about everyone was related in one way or another, so there was always a family picnic afterwards.”
The parade would typically start earlier in the day, so a potluck would follow. Then came the foot games and egg toss, both of which continue to this day, followed by softball matches and later fireworks. There some years, such as those right after the end of World War II, where it was a real party with people sleeping on the beach.
“It was an all-night affair,” said Mary Sue Lile (Kinskie), a Langley High School graduate who remembers attending the event in the late 1940s. Her earliest recollection was of a year where she and her siblings wore chicken outfits made by her mother.
“I remember coming home after school and seeing all these chicken cutouts and thinking, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ ” Lile said.
That was pretty common then; parade floats were rare and most people marched in costumes or outfits that were homemade. There were a few other differences too, such as the inclusion of horses in the parade.
“It was simple life, and I guess the parade reflected that,” she added.
Incidentally, Lile is related to Mills — they’re “first step-cousins.” She has a few years on him and she still remembers the younger man chasing after her and few of the other older children saying, “Wait for me, wait for me,” said Lile, with a chuckle.
And of course there were the games, such as the now discontinued softball matches. Teams would come from all over, she recalled, including “big strapping boys” from Mukilteo. People rooted for their favorite teams, and it was a big part of the day, she said.
For others, it was all about the foot races. That tradition, along with the egg toss, is still carried on today but there are some differences. Instead of ribbons, the victors walked away with riches: first place winners received a quarter, 15 cents was awarded for second and third got a dime.
“I was fortunate to always finish in the money,” laughed Green, who organizes the games today.
All children at the event also got a dime just for showing up. Combined, “you were rolling in the dough” Green said. Most of the spoils would be spent at what was then Cross Grocery across the street from the park where a quarter would buy an entire bag of candy.
Sweets are still a big part of the magic of the annual event, but instead of being won they’re passed out for free by parade participants. Last year, several returning children showed up with homemade candy catchers. Resembling butterfly nets, they were constructed of old tennis rackets, plastic bags and lots of tape.
So, while some of the details have changed over the years, many of the long time attendees agree the event is just as special as ever. It’s a celebration of Independence Day, yes, but it’s also a reminder of days gone by, a period when everyone knew each other and came together periodically to enjoy each one another’s company, Green said.
“It’s a throwback to that kinda life.”
And in a time when the world seems to just keep getting bigger and busier, with neighbors growing ever more distant, that’s never been more important, he said.