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Ashland is the place to party on July 4

Ashland Fourth of July Parade Grand Marshall, Marge Glidden, led the procession with characteristic style and panache, in a gleaming silver 1956 Thunderbird driven by her daughter, Susan Glidden Francesco. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
July 06, 2011
ASHLAND—Thousands of visitors throng to the streets of downtown Ashland, the geographic center of New Hampshire, throughout the July 4 holiday weekend every year. Each year, the party gets better and better, and 2011 was no exception.

Take it from Don LaTulippe.

"These were the best fireworks I have ever seen," reports LaTulippe. "They were excellent, and I have been watching them here in Ashland since 1987."

What is a Fourth of July parade in Ashland without daring, weaving bicycle antics from beloved local musician Art Harriman and Ashland's own favorite son, the C’man's Alex Ray? Fill them with delicious pancakes and watch them go! (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
Town Administrator Paul Branscombe was, characteristically, effusive about the success of the event, celebrating the fact that revelers selected Ashland as the number one fireworks display in the region in a WMUR poll.

Gerry Cochran and her family couldn't have agreed more. Though some folks, like Ashland's beloved matriarch and this year's parade Grand Marshall, Marge Glidden, prefer to watch the show from a safe distance, atop Highland Street for example, where the roaring boom and thunder is buffered a bit, others, like Cochran, love to feel the full impact right in the center of Town at the Ashland Ballfield.

Cochran and her friend, Katie McSwiggin, said they like to be right were the action is, on the tennis courts in the park, where the show was "awesome" and "it seems like the fireworks are right on top of you."

They were not alone, as a potentially record-breaking crowd showed up for the July 3 extravaganza despite slightly murky weather that, in the final analysis, didn't seem to dim anyone's enjoyment.

July 4, however, dawned brightly sunny, hot and humid by mid-day, with temperatures rising with the excitement as the annual Independence Day festivities got underway downtown.

The day always starts with the ever-popular annual Common Man Pancake Breakfast, beginning at 7:00 a.m., so the crowds are always happy and well fed as they line the parade route in large groups, hours ahead, in eager anticipation.

The parade did not disappoint, as seemingly countless contingents from local businesses, social organizations and civic groups gathered in the lower village for the start of the procession through town, led by this year's Grand Marshall, Glidden, in a stunning, silver 1956 Thunderbird, driven by her daughter, Susan Glidden Francesco, the car's proud owner.

Francesco jokes that the classic car, a gift from her grandfather in 1975, was a major factor in enticing her husband Peter into wedlock the following year. But the ploy seems to have worked, as Peter and Susan recently celebrated 35 years of wedded bliss with a skydiving adventure and a lot of gusto.

Glidden said she was delighted to be chosen as this year's Grand Marshall, though she thought that the honor might have been reserved for someone a bit older! But Glidden is a towering force in the community, where she has happily resided since 1942, and has surely more than earned her distinguished place in the proceedings.

Her entourage was followed by none-other than the sporty Willys jeep carrying Ashland's beloved Aunti Henrietta, driven by her husband, Walter Earl, and circled by wildly be-flagged bicyclist and beloved local musician Art Harriman. To top off the escort, Ashland's own legendary Common Man founder, Alex Ray, could be espied, as is traditional, deftly weaving in and out of traffic atop a unicycle, American flag streaming in the breeze.

"This parade means so much to the community," said Aunti Henrietta. "All of us pitch in to help make it happen. That's what it is all about in Ashland on the Fourth of July."

To add to the dazzle, each year, the parade is joined by the skilled motorcyclists of the Shriner's Dektash Mini Patrol, performing dizzying feats of driving, dashing around in circles on their tiny red minibikes. In case you wondered, they get excellent mileage despite getting quite a workout in their many summer appearances across the lakes region. It all looks like a lot of fun and games, but the Shriner's are well known for their very serious and successful charitable work, supporting 22 children's hospitals, including 2 burn units, around the country.

The parade featured many creative and spirited entrants, from a dancing contingent in red from Jazzercize in Plymouth, to an "American Dream" float, complete with a model Victorian home and a vehicle in the driveway in a lovely, presumably local neighborhood as depicted by Deb Perdu of Elaine Hughes Real Estate.

For the more nomadic of dreamers, Shaun Smith, his wife Julia and his daughter Kailee, aged 12, from Ashland, followed in a beautifully restored, bright red antique VW van, equipped with a fully installed rooftop tent that they have used to travel on vacation from Mount Moosilauke to Maine. Smith says he refurbished the vehicle that he found abandoned off Route 175 several years ago.

But for historic significance and simple nostalgia, you can't beat Gordon Potter's fully restored, 1939 vintage John Deere farm tractor, driven proudly this year by his grandson, Kevin. The tractor, a piece of local history, has resided its entire lifetime on the Burleigh Farm in Holderness, where Potter has worked for over 50 years. In its day, it provided yeoman service, plowing, raking hay, chopping corn and cutting firewood, but now Potter brings it out once a year for public inspection in the Ashland July 4 parade.

But that was not the only tribute to Ashland's long and meaningful history. A major highlight of this year's parade was a float bearing Ashland's new Town Administrator, Branscombe, and the historic

factory bell from the L.W. Packard Mill. The bell, dislodged for the first time just last week from its long and storied career in the historic Mill building, rang for workers at the factory since sometime in the 1820's. It was cast in Paul Revere's factory by H.N. Hooper, and has been generously donated to Ashland by the Glidden family. It is currently the subject of an ambitious community-wide campaign to raise funds so that it can be installed in Memorial Park downtown, for all of Ashland to enjoy and remember its heritage. The bell will also make an appearance in the Holderness 250th Anniversary Parade on Aug. 6.

"The hope is that next year, it will not have to be in the July 4 parade," said fundraising organizer Sherry Downing. "If all goes according to plan, it will be ringing in Memorial Park by then."

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