One hundred and eighty-two years ago, a Sunday school teacher in Manayunk launched a Fourth of July parade and picnic celebration that would eventually become a beloved neighborhood tradition.
What Samuel Lawson started is now known as the “Independence Day Parade of Churches and Sunday Schools and Synagogues” and includes neighbors from Roxborough, Manayunk, Wissahickon and Andorra.
“He was a school teacher from England and he began having a parade and a picnic for his Sunday school class,” said Linda Marie Bell, president of the 21st Ward Fourth of July Association, which organizes the parade.
On Wednesday, July 4, the parade will kick off at the corner of Manayunk Avenue and Lyceum Avenue at 9 a.m. and will travel three blocks up Lyceum to Ridge Avenue.
This year, parade attendees will bid a final farewell to three closing Roman Catholic churches: St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Lucy’s and St. Josaphat, which are all set to close on July 1.
“Three of the churches marching with us will not be represented next year, because the Archdiocese decided to close them,” lamented Bell. “It’s sad, but they are merging with other churches and they’re still a part of this community. This parade will always, always continue,” paused Bell, “in some capacity, it will.”
St. Mary of the Assumption, located at 176 Conarroe St., has been a Manayunk staple for 163 years. As the leader, that church chose the parade theme, a Bible verse sighted as Luke 2:14, that states: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people of good will.”
Celebrating independence, family and religion
Parade sights will include a parade of antique cars, a horse-drawn cart and some churches will showcase a decorated float which will incorporate the Fourth of July theme as well as the selected Bible verse. Displays in the past included red-white-and-blue decorations and participants donning colonial garb.
Activities will include a public reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Pledge of Allegiance. The Star Spangled Banner will also be played by The Florence Braddus Band. Many other local bands will perform in the parade, including the Cameron Highlanders bagpipe band.
The winner of the “21st Annual Samuel Lawson Fourth of July Essay Contest,” Jarod Durkin of St. John the Baptist, will walk in the parade for his essay entitled “Why We Celebrate the Fourth of July and What It Means to Me.”
The 10th annual “Patriotic Quilt Raffle” will feature a home-crafted lap quilt that is 45 by 58 inches. Raffle tickets are $1 each or 6 tickets for $5. The drawing will be at 1 p.m. at Gorgas Park and the winner will be notified by phone.
“The quilt has an Americana design,” said Bell.
At 2:30 p.m., guests are invited to the Roxborough Presbyterian Church, located at 8230 Ridge Ave., to listen to a band and choir performance that will include blue grass music and a patriotic sing-a-long.
Free coffee, donuts and “lemonade in the shade” will be available at Roxborough Baptist Church, located at Ridge and Lyceum avenues. Bell recalls attending the same parade and picnic at Fairmount Park while growing up in Roxborough.
“I remember having a tin can with a string attached around my neck – we all had them,” said Bell. “Back then you recycled everything and we needed cups to fill up with lemonade at the picnic. The parade is such a great and historical part of our community.”
In honor of Joseph Mangano
This year’s parade is dedicated to Joseph “Joe” C. Mangano of St. Lucy’s parish, who was grand parade marshall from 2005 to 2009 and passed away in early June.
“This year Joe will watch the parade with Samuel Lawson, the parade founder,” said Bell, “he really loved this parade.”
Participating congregations include: St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic, St. Lucy’s Roman Catholic, St. Josaphat Roman Catholic, Green Lane United Methodist, St. Timothy’s Episcopal, St. Alban’s Episcopal, St. Mary’s Episcopal, St. David’s Episcopal, First Baptist Manayunk, The Salvation Army, Roxborough Baptist, Wissahickon Presbyterian, Roxborough Presbyterian, Mishkan Shalom Synagogue, Galilee Baptist, Ridge Avenue United Methodist, Living Savior Church, Pilgrim Presbyterian, Holy Family Roman Catholic, Leverington Presbyterian and St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic.