Dating back to when Utah was still a territory, Utah County residents have celebrated freedom and Independence on the Fourth of July. Throughout those years, some elements of the celebration have changed, and some have stayed the same.
The Fourth of July celebration in Provo is recorded as being celebrated far back as 1877 -- nearly 20 years before Utah became a state. There were years when the parade was not held -- during World War II and the Great Depression, for example -- but the parade has been a staple of Utah County's Independence Day celebrations for more than 100 years.
Provo's celebration has always typically been the central point of all celebrations in Utah County, though through the years other cities, including Spanish Fork, Springville, Lehi, Pleasant Grove, American Fork, Eureka and Payson celebrated their own smaller versions of the celebrations.
Here are some interesting Independence Day celebrations that were held throughout the years in Utah County.
1891 - Pre-state celebrations
Before Utah was officially named a state, Provo residents still celebrated the Fourth of July with a parade, 13-gun salute, ringing of all bells, a program at the Provo Tabernacle, games, a ball and fireworks.
The parade included bands, National Mounted Guards, Masonic Order, Odd Fellows, Martial Band, the fire brigade, cars, school children and teachers, citizens on foot and all old soldiers.
The program at the Tabernacle included a reading of the Declaration of the Independence, the presentation of the “Star Spangled Banner” an Oration by Elmer B. Jones and additional addresses and music.
The city hosted games at West Square including a potato race, sack race, foot race, an old man’s race, climbing the greasy pole, wheelbarrow race and a young ladies’ race.
In the evening, balls were held at Provo’s Opera House and at the Lake Resort, followed by a fireworks show presented from a boat on Utah Lake.
Lehi also hosted Fourth of July celebrations that year with a flag unfurling, procession, songs, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, speeches, a grand ball and fireworks. They also hosted their early-morning cannon firing, a tradition that still stands today.
1911 - A 'sane' Fourth
In 1911, Provo hosted a “sane” Fourth of July, which was described in the Provo Enquirer (the forerunner of the Daily Herald) with the statement: “"Provo's first sane Fourth passed with about as much excitement as the annual croquet tournament of the New Jersey Ministerial alliance."
The celebration featured a children’s parade, no firecrackers and races.
But the trend didn’t last long. By 1912, the city had picked up the larger celebration again.
In 1912, the Provo Semi-Weekly Herald wrote, “While it will be a safe and sane celebration, it will by no means be a tame affair.”
That year, the larger-scale parade was held, with sports programs in the afternoon (which consisted of a soccer game and running races).
1918 - World War I Fourth
The city hosted what it called a “Big Baby Parade” which included a World War I tank. They also hosted amusements on the lawn of the Provo Tabernacle. The main feature of the day’s celebration was a patriotic pageant that was held the afternoon of July 4.
The day also included songs, music and a program of speeches in the park that evening with a Provo woman appearing as the Goddess of Liberty.
1930 - Great Naval Battle
In 1930, the city hosted a continuous program that ran from sunrise until well after sunset. The program included a firing of salute, bands marching around the city giving informal concerts, a parade, a patriotic program featuring United States Senator Reed Smoot held at Pioneer Park, children and boys’ sports program and what was called the “Great Naval Battle on Utah Lake” were held.
While Provo was the center of the county at the time, hosting many of the larger scale July 4 celebrations other cities did have their own celebrations.
Payson was the lone southern Utah County city to host a July 4 celebration, in conjunction with the Tintic Standard Day Celebration on July 5. The celebration included a parade.
1937 - Panorama Show starts
For the first time, Provo planned a “Panorama” show at BYU Stadium to celebrate the fourth.
The program was held July 5, as the celebration lasted three days because the Fourth of July landed on a Sunday. The program included “the finest acrobatic and contortionist show ever displayed in Provo.” The show also included the Hood Trio from Hollywood and four Tooele girls performing.
1942 - 1945 - World War II wartime celebrations
In 1942, the United States celebrated its first wartime Independence Day in 24 years, and Utahns saw changes to their traditional celebrations.
Many employees in the state had a “vacationless” day, including workers at war plants, federal government employee, ordinance plants, supply depots, steel workers and other war industries in Utah. Even mail delivery continued.
That year, the Daily Herald wrote that Provo and Lehi hosted the “most ostentatious” celebrations in the state, though even they were scaled back from previous years. Provo hosted its annual parade and horse races at the Utah County Fairgrounds. The show at BYU’s stadium that had been held for several years was not held.
Lehi hosted the finals of its professional rodeo. Springville held a patriotic program and had sports competitions. Spanish Fork held a “stay-at-home” celebration, encouraging its residents to stay in Spanish Fork to enjoy a simple band concert and patriotic meeting.
In 1943, Independence Day celebrations were more muted as gas rationing and “overworked public transportation systems” limited traveling, according to the Daily Herald report.
Provo’s Independence Day celebration was called off because of shortage of manpower, materials and accommodations. The Daily Herald said that the the city would be “virtually closed up on Monday, July 5.”
Instead, smaller celebrations in other Utah County cities drew local residents.
Payson hosted a religious and patriotic service, a parade, band concert, relay races, softball games and a dance. Springville hosted a patriotic program, ball games and sports for children. Lehi also hosted its Lehi Round-Up program that included rides, its rodeo, miniature parade.
In 1944, the holiday had little fanfare again, as few firecrackers or noisemakers were available to Utahns. Gasoline rations limited traveling for the holiday, and many cities cut their programs. The Daily Herald wrote that “hundreds of city dwellers squandered their precious rations for brief jaunts to nearby canyons, beaches or fishing waters.
The quiet Independence Day observations continued in 1945 “tempered by the realization that thousands of men are fighting for a world-wide independence,” the Daily Herald wrote.
Many workers at Geneva Steel reported to work as usual, though some were given their first Independence Day holiday since 1940.
There was a tight ban on fireworks. The only celebration held that year in Provo was a patriotic observance in Pioneer Park, though Lehi held it’s annual rodeo and other celebrations were held in Springville and Payson.
1946 - Peacetime celebration
The celebrations resumed in 1946 when Provo resumed its annual parade, this year with a theme of world-wide peace. The evening stadium show also returned. They also hosted water sports at the Provo boat harbor, children’s sports and a baseball game.
1950 - Parade changes
Provo’s 1950 Fourth of July celebration included a parade that moved from 400 West and Center Street to 800 North and University Avenue. The parade included 10 bands, cannon fire, 40 floats. It was the first year that commercial firms were allowed in the parade, though they were not allowed to have floats, only automobiles.
In the evening, the city hosted a ball game at Timpanogos Park and the Panorama show at the BYU stadium. The stadium show featured Miss Utah doing her Oriental Nautch dance, the winning floats from the parade and a large fireworks show.
1956 - Freedom Festival is born
For the first year, Provo’s Independence Day celebration is given the name of “Freedom Festival,” a title that remains today. The name was chosen by a committee of judges, who selected from 3,800 suggestions from Provo residents.
That year, the Panorama Show featured Igor Gorin, The Booglers, Val Crossley, Billy Grace, Texas Rose Bascom, The Brighamettes, and Dick Ballou’s Show Band.
1968 - Parade expands
The Freedom Festival, which was hosted by LDS Activities, Inc. — a group of six stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — expanded to five days in the 1960s.
In 1968, the parade was 19 blocks long with the theme of “I Pledge Allegiance.” The Freedom Festival also included the annual Panorama Spectacular, with local singers and actors Steve Covington and Jerry Elison starring. Other events included a regatta at Utah Lake, a horse show at the BYU rodeo arena and a bazaar.
1976 - Bicentennial Celebration
In 1976, Utah County residents celebrated the Freedom Festival’s Panorama ’76 — the bicentennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The annual Panorama show included nearly 500 local residents, and featured reenactments of events that shaped the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Some of those events included scenes like the Boston Tea Party, British troops marching on Concord and Paul Revere’s ride.
The Freedom Festival also included the grand parade, children’s parade, a pancake breakfast, a bazaar, carnival, horse show, patriotic service, boat races, film festival and art show.
Cities in Utah County including Orem, Pleasant Grove, Spanish Fork, Payson, Springville, Lehi, Alpine and Nephi joined cities from around the nation in a bell ringing to honor the 200th anniversary of the signing of that important document.
Utah Valley Hospital also named the Bicentennial Baby — the first baby born on July 4, 1776 to receive special gifts including a savings bond.
1983 - PG begins annual fireworks show
In 1983, Pleasant Grove began its annual fireworks show. It was originally held at Pleasant Grove High School Football Field, and was called the “first-in-ages fireworks show in ‘ole’ P.G.”
1988 - Panorama becomes Stadium of Fire
The traditional Panorama show took on the Stadium of Fire name in 1988. That year, the event was called Alan Osmond’s Stadium of Fire and was sold out. Highlights of the show that year included special guests Rich Little, Mary Hart, Emmanuel Lewis, the Osmond Brothers and the Osmond Boys.
Parts of the special that year were included in a television special that aired on ABC.
Other events at the Freedom Festival that year included the Balloon Fest, the children’s parade, a mountain bike race, golf tournament, patriotic service, the Heritage Triathlon, Freedom Run, the Freedom Festival Grand Parade, America’s Fiddle and Bluegrass Festival, fireworks at Kiwanis Park and a youth dance.
The Stadium of Fire grew in popularity in the 1990s with popular acts including Wayne Newton in 1990, Andy Williams and Phylicia Rashad in 1991, The Beach Boys in 1992, Kenny Loggins in 1993, The Oak Ridge Boys and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1994, Barbara Mandrell and Jay Leno in 1995, Donny Osmond and Kurt Bestor in 1996, Natalie Cole and The Jets in 1997, Huey Lewis and the News in 1998 and Gladys Knight with All-4-One in 1999.
1998 - Fireworks show at Thanksgiving Point begins
Lehi’s Fireworks show was moved to Thanksgiving Point in 1998, where it has been located for 21 years now.
The Stadium of Fire brought some big names, and some not-so-big names in the 2000s, including Alabama in 2000, Sawyer Brown in 2001, Toby Keith in 2002, Martina McBride and Sean Hannity in 2003, Reba McEntire and Sean Hannity in 2004, Mandy Moore and Lonestar in 2005, Taylor Hicks in 2006, Brooks & Dunn and Glenn Beck in 2007, Miley Cyrus and Blue Man Group in 2008 and the Jonas Brothers in 2009.
Over the past decade, the Stadium of Fire has brought acts including Carrie Underwood in 2010, Brad Paisley in 2011, The Beach Boys in 2012, Kelly Clarkson and Carly Rae Jepsen in 2013, Carrie Underwood in 2014, Journey in 2015, Tim McGraw in 2016, Little Big Town in 2017, OneRepublic in 2018 and this year’s act, Keith Urban and Chuck Norris.