BRISTOL, R.I. — One of Rhode Island’s most iconic Patriotic celebrations is making a full return this year.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced organizers of Bristol’s annual Fourth of July parade to scale back the event, which typically draws thousands to the town’s historic streets. Instead of the usual spectacle — with US Navy sailors, floats, marching bands from around the country, and state politicians walking — they substituted a subdued, vehicle-only procession.
Michelle Martins, chairwoman of the Bristol Fourth of July Committee, promised that the nation’s oldest Independence Day parade will be a “full celebration” this year.
Fireworks will take place on July 4 at 9:30 p.m. at the Bristol Harbor. The following morning — Monday, July 5 — the annual ringing of the bells will take place in all town churches at 6 a.m., followed by patriotic exercises starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Colt Memorial School.
The 2.5 mile Military, Civic, and Fireman’s Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m., at the corner of High and Hope Streets.
Preliminary events leading up the parade have already began, said Martins, starting with a spring breakfast at Bristol’s VFW Post on May 26. Several other events have already been planned, including a 14-day concert series, a carnival, and a half marathon.
Events will run through Sept. 23.
The town’s annual Fourth of July celebration began in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and of the First Congressional Church, conducted the new country’s first Patriotic exercises.
The official Military, Civic, and Fireman’s Parade was first held in the early 1800s, according to the planning committee, though no one knows the exact year. Local lore says that it evolved from the procession of community members walking to Patriotic exercises.