‘The free state of Rappahannock’

Mr. and Mrs. William Carrigan certainly knew how to throw a birthday party: not only for their neighbors in Washington and fellow citizens of Rappahannock County, but for the entire country.

For years the Carrigans graciously opened their beautiful Avon Hall property for all to come together and celebrate Independence Day. The town of Washington, in turn, hosted the craftspeople and concessions that lined Gay Street from one patriotic end to the other.

The Carrigans at Avon Hall Courtesy of the Rappahannock Historical Soceiety

There was something to be enjoyed by everybody: children’s games, pony rides, hot air balloon rides, auctions, book sales, white elephants, antique automobiles, free movies, art shows, costumed pageants, bluegrass music and dancing.

And talk about food: bake sales, ice cream stands, and sidewalk cafes kept busy dishing up barbecue and lamb sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers, cake and pies, washed down with iced tea and lemonade.

The local 4-H clubs were also on hand to introduce a variety of their finest four-legged friends, among the more memorable a pair of dairy goats who were happily “receptive to petting” while munching — and fertilizing — Washington’s grass.

And before a loud and colorful fireworks finale at dusk there was the reading of the Declaration of Independence and patriotic speeches by leading citizens of the town and county, including newspaper columnist James J. Kilpatrick and two-time U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

“Reports of the earliest Fourth of July celebrations are little different from those held every year in Washington, Virginia,” McCarthy once noted. “My earliest recollections of Fourth of July celebrations included decorated floats — generally hayracks drawn by horses, the pride of their owners, with the risk of an occasional runaway.”

The late politician was proud of Rappahannock, its people and history. He recalled being told, “If one is living in Rappahannock County, he is not living ‘down’ in Virginia, but ‘out’ in Virginia; that Rappahannock County is commonly referred to by established Virginians as the ‘free state of Rappahannock.’”

McCarthy was especially passionate about farms and farmers. One year he listened to to a Fourth of July speech by a farmer-turned-politician who sought to assure his neighbors that politics wouldn’t change him: “I look like a farmer. I talk like a farmer. I act like a farmer. And, by heck, I am a farmer. And, by heck, I am an American.”

About John McCaslin 448 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.