SUBSCRIBE NOW

Red, white & Bristol: Nation’s oldest Fourth of July celebration goes on, with adjustments

Marci DeWolf
More Content Now
Ashland Times Gazette

Bristol, Rhode Island, is known for the oldest annual July 4 celebration in America. Its rich history and passion for everything red, white and blue earned its fame as America’s most patriotic town. Each Independence Day thousands of spectators attend the parade that honors civil servants, military and fire personnel in the community.

This year — due to constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic — the 235th celebration will be a “drive-by” all-auto parade. Local bands will play, but there will be no marchers. Starting at 8:30 a.m., the annual star-spangled spectacle takes the parade route and ends at the town common for patriotic exercises.

“Bristol is open for business. All restaurants and lodgings are now up and running,” said Jeff Hirsch, co-chairman of Explore Bristol, the town’s tourism arm. “We expect most attractions to re-open in July.”

The town’s respect for the past runs deep. Hope Street is painted in red, white and blue stripes running down the middle. Nearly every house flies an American flag, while red, white and blue bunting covers porch railings. Pillows on the white wicker chairs of front porches are adorned with messages such as “Home of the Brave.”

For three centuries, the shores of Bristol have framed a way of life for those who love to travel, fish and explore. This deepwater seaport is named after the town of Bristol, England. It has museums, historic homes, a waterfront and 20-plus restaurants all packed into a small town (pop. 22,000) in the smallest state in the nation.

Narragansett Bay is a dramatic backdrop for Bristol’s wildlife preserves, parks, bike paths and quaint seafood restaurants. The stunning 14-mile East Bay Bike Path hugs the shore to Providence, the capital.

Magnificent architecture abounds. The historic district is lovingly preserved with homes from the 1800s and wide, tree lined streets.

Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum is one of the finest garden estates in New England, with 33 landscaped acres and a 45-room English-style 1908 manor house filled with antiques and artwork. Visitors often spend hours touring the grounds and mansion.

Located in the center of town on Hope Street, Linden Place is the crown jewel of the historic district. The 1810 mansion and sculpture gardens are open to the public for guided tours. The rich and powerful have graced the ancestral home of the DeWolf (no relation to the writer) and Colt families for more than two centuries. Presidents, industrialists and Hollywood celebrities were guests here, including the actress Ethel Barrymore. The mansion seeks to reopen soon; get information at lindenplace.org.

Bristol is the quintessential New England waterfront town. It is also a thriving arts community, abundant with a wealth of literary and cultural resources. A broad network of artists, writers and musicians have found a home here.

In keeping with social distancing practices, Sculpture on the Lawn is an outdoor exhibit by the Bristol Art Museum displayed on the front lawns of Linden Place Mansion and the Bradford-Dimond-Norris House on Hope Street. The exhibits run through Labor Day Weekend.

The 1792 Bradford-Dimond-Norris House is an elegant bed and breakfast and historic landmark known for its hospitable innkeepers.

Quahog chowder and fried clams are among the New England delicacies served at the Lobster Pot Waterfront Restaurant and Bar overlooking the bay. Don’t miss the stunning art gallery on the premises.

Bristol is halfway between Providence and Newport. For updates on July 4 activities, go to fourthofjulybristolri.com. For Bristol tourism info, go to explorebristolri.com or call 401-253-9100.