In Bristol, Rhode Island, there’s no double yellow line painted down the center of Hope Street, even though the town’s central street is also a state highway. No, the road paint here is literally red, white and blue. That only stands to reason — because this town boasts an unbroken series of July Fourth celebrations dating to 1785, making its Independence Day observances the oldest continuing event of its kind in the nation.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Bristol doesn’t observe the country’s beginnings on a single day. It starts celebrating on the Town Common on June 14, Flag Day — which is, actually, preceded by Vintage Baseball and Old-Fashioned Days on June 13 — and it concludes on July Fourth with the Military, Civic and Firemen’s Parade and, that evening, the Fourth of July Ball. The overall celebration draws some 200,000 spectators to a town of just 23,000 people.
Clearly, Bristol takes its history seriously. This is the place, after all, that was the site of both the first and last battles of King Philip’s War in 1675-76, four years before the town was officially founded. Today the town center, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features impressively well-preserved buildings that speak eloquently of Bristol’s rich heritage
It’s a heritage built on both water and land. Bristol is nearly surrounded by salt water, with frontage on both Narragansett and Mount Hope bays. Bristol Harbor’s active deepwater port supports boating of all kinds; there’s even a kayak trail, and a waterfront bicycle path. The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company on the waterfront built boats for the Navy and America’s Cup yachts. The Herreschoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame is on Burnside Street, and a monument on Hope Street notes the company’s many contributions. Also on Hope is Linden Place, an 1810 Federal-style mansion that’s now a museum of community history.
Many of the shops, restaurants and other attractions on Hope Street reflect the city’s maritime tradition. The Bristol community of today is something to celebrate, too. The city has been named one of the nation’s best places to raise a family by both Family Circle and Bloomberg Business Week magazines.
Fourth of July parade photo courtesy of Manny Correira