Although some cities in Montgomery County canceled Independence Day celebrations due to the major storm that hit the area June 29, the small, tight-knit community of Washington Grove banded together to keep its 100-year Fourth of July tradition alive.
Despite broken windows, downed trees and power outages, Washington Grove’s wacky parade, softball game, picnic and costume contest carried on.
“People help each other here. It’s typical of Washington Grove,” said 40-year resident Betty Knight, whose neighbors strung extension cords from their house to hers to keep her cool until she regained electricity.
Debris rerouted the annual parade, but the town still marched. Though the softball game and picnic, which were originally scheduled for July 1, had to be pushed to July 4, there still was time for everything.
“It’s a goofy parade. All the kids dress up and some eccentric adults. It’s all very tongue in cheek,” said Kathy Lehman, Washington Grove town clerk and parade participant since she was 10.
The tiny town of 225 houses started the day with a costume judging and flag raising before marching in a parade, accompanied by the local band called the Maple Lake Muskrat Band and Marching Society of Washington Grove.
Loaded with trumpets, bass drums, saxophones and even a helicon, a precursor to the sousaphone, the band marched through Washington Grove playing patriotic compositions.
Muskrat band director Ellsworth “Elly” Briggs led a group that ranged in age from 15 to 80. He has been directing the band since 1966, and many of the players are his former music students at Gaithersburg High School.
“It’s a fair amount of work for me. I have to make folders and get the music,” said Briggs, 80, who has only missed two parades in his 46-year tenure as band director.
The parade is led by the mayor, who traditionally rides a tractor.
“One year the mayor ran into a fence,” Lehman said. However, this year Mayor Georgette Cole rode a golf cart decked out in patriotic ornamentation.
Once the parade died down the town moved on to its softball game, colloquially called THE GAME.
“If there are too many people, everyone still plays,” Lehman said. “If it’s a little kid, we’ll give him five strikes.”
The day ended at the stone fireplace in Woodward Park where a crowd gathers for an Independence Day picnic.
Hot dogs are served every year, and families bring their pets along.
Other Washington Grove traditions have been discontinued. In the late 1970s, the girls dressed up in ball gowns for a beauty pageant. Then they drove around town and into Gaithersburg.
“It was like we were going to prom,” Lehman said.
Rain or shine, storm or no storm, Washington Grove’s tradition marched on.
“I don’t think of [the Fourth] as some national thing. I think of it as community,” Lehman said.