Franklin County marked America’s birthday last week with festivities, fireworks and fire relief.
Carrabelle got the ball rolling on Monday evening, July 2, with a well-attended evening of parties and fireworks, including big celebrations at the Carrabelle Boat Club, and live music and snow cones at the offices of the Carrabelle Chamber of Commerce.
The city paid for the fireworks, and decided to conserve its money by having them on Monday, when it costs $5,000, as opposed to on Wednesday, when it would have been three times that amount.
“Every place along the river was packed,” said Mayor Brenda La Paz. “It went very well.”
The city of Apalachicola did its usual thing, which was to make the July 3 Independence Day Eve its day of mass festivity.
The annual parade, from Lafayette Park to Riverfront Park, was especially long this year, full of politicians eager to be a part of the exuberance. Charter captain Charles Wilson, a Vietnam vet who has organized the annual veterans picnic for years, led the parade aboard a fire truck as the grand marshall.
The day was hot, and visitors enjoyed the ice cream booth, staffed by volunteers from H’COLA (Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola) who were among the more than 50 volunteers who helped make the massive event a success. A partnership between Gulfside IGA and Tabernacle of Faith provided the ice cream for the free social after the parade.
Merrill Livingston, director of the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and the Arts, oversaw an afternoon of free kids art activities at the HCA, which was bustling with children creating art in expression of the meaning of Independence Day.
The evening’s festivities got underway with Gordon Adkins crooning “God Bless America,” and Angeline Stanley singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” but the highlight was a fundraising effort on behalf of the victims of the June 24 Lime Rock Road fire.
Apalachicola Main Street board member Lisa Johnston introduced Dr. Larry Sterling, pastor of the Eastpoint Church of God, for a moment of reflection and to lead the crowd in prayer. “As we celebrate tonight, we’d like to pause to remember our neighbors in Eastpoint who were impacted by the catastrophic fire last week,” she said.
Sterling gave a message of hope, pointing out that even in the midst of tragedy miracles can be found.
Following the prayer, Main Street Board Chair Jim Bachrach was joined on stage by board members Torben Madson, State Rep. Halsey Beshears, Apalachicola resident George Mahr, and Sheriff A.J. Smith. After each placed a $100 donation in the collection bin, Madson implored the crowd to join those assembled on stage to open their hearts to give generously to the fire relief effort.
Volunteers dispersed through the crowd, collecting almost $4,000 in just 30 minutes. “We didn’t even have to ask,” said Bachrach. “People were coming up to us wanting to give. It was really amazing to see people pulling together to help like that.”
Johnston said “a woman came running up and said to me, ‘I'm from Georgia, and I want to help,’ with a $20 bill in her hand. Locals and visitors contributed much to this relief effort.”
The Bo Spring Band also contributed several hundred dollars from their tips and money earned from selling t-shirts and CDs at the event. Main Street board members and staff contributed additional funds to round out the $4,000 for the relief effort.
As keynote speaker, Beshears urged the crowd to set aside animosity and adopt a manner of unity and civility as Americans. “Be respectful of other people’s opinions even if they differ from your own,” he said. “Be mindful of the military and be appreciative of their service. I thank God every day for the freedoms that we have.
“Going to Apalachicola for the Independence Eve Celebration is one of my family’s favorite memories of the year. What a great time and a great place to be on the eve of our nation’s birthday,” he said.
Apalachicola Main Street this year introduced food trucks to the event, and they turned out to be a success. In addition to AJ’s food truck and Kelley’s Coastal Kitchen, both local, the trucks included Temperley’s British Eatery and Haole Pino Hawaiian-Filipino Island Cuisine, both from Panama City, and Rankin Tacos and Big Easy Snowballs, both from Tallahassee.
“We had very positive feedback from event attendees and the food truck owners,” said Main Street Director Augusta West. “They all sold out and are already asking to come back next year.”
Following an incredible fireworks display, all paid for out of private donations, the party continued throughout town into the night.
On Wednesday, St. George Island held its annual Independence Day parade, complete with squirt guns, but no water balloons. A fireworks display on the beach closed out the three days of festivities.