For many years, Fourth of July in Richmond has meant Fireworks on Roosevelt Hill in Glen Miller Park. But in the late 19th century, Richmond’s newest park would play host to a military gathering that was one of the biggest celebrations of Independence Day to date.
In 1880, Col. John F. Miller, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad in this area, purchased the old Hawkins farm east of Richmond and set about transforming the area into a park. Because the land had a creek flowing through it which formed a small valley, or glen, the area became known as Glen Miller. In the summer of 1881, Miller invited the Fourth Regiment of the Ohio National to make camp in the new park, and it was such a popular event that it was expanded a few years later.
The Second Regiment of the Indiana National Guard held an encampment on the grounds from July 1-7, 1884. This included nearly a week of festivities, which of course, included the 4th.
Friday the 4th started with overnight storms which dampened decorations, but not enthusiasm. Before the scheduled parade, the Indiana guardsmen marched to the Depot to meet the several dignitaries and special guests. The Governor of Indiana, Albert G. Porter, arrived, escorted by the Clinton Guards, of Franklin, Indiana. Governor of Ohio George Hoadly, also arrived with his family and staff, because the First Regiment of the Ohio National Guard was due on Sunday. Senator Daniel Voorhees was the scheduled speaker for the program later in the, but matters of State kept him in Washington, so he had to cancel at the last minute. Gen. Lew Wallace, at that moment serving as US minister to Turkey, was another prominent guest.
The parade left downtown and headed east to the park, which was already set up as a military camp, but also as a sort of fairgrounds, with many stands selling food and drink. The newspapers estimated that anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 excursionists came to Richmond that day to witness the parade. By all accounts, it was a huge success because in addition to the many military units, most of the social societies of Richmond participated. The program at Glen Miller included speeches by the two state governors, and the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence. The rest of the day was spent with military demonstrations, and the evening was filled with several military balls.
On Saturday the 5th of July the assembled soldiers staged a “sham battle” in the fields just east of Glen MIller on the parade ground, presumably the location of the current golf course. The “Rebel” forces included many members of the Sol Meredith Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, men who only 20 years earlier had been actual soldiers in actual battles. There was a great deal of artillery and small arms fire, with all blanks, of course, and eventually the “Union” forces planted the flag in a “Rebel” trench and marched the “prisoners” back to the encampment. Everyone dispersed to prepare for the upcoming dress parade.
On Sunday, the First Ohio regiment arrived for a visit, but this was a day of rest and few events were scheduled, beyond a large dress parade. Even so, the crowds were estimated to be even larger than those on the 4th, with many special trains coming from Ohio.
The whole event was a massive success, and that success may have been a factor in the City of Richmond purchasing John Miller’s land in early 1885 to make a new city park.