Easton is one of three locations where the Declaration of Independence was first publicly read in July of 1776, and it’s the perfect historic destination for your next Pennsylvania getaway. The city offers something for everyone from seeing the contemporary sculptures along the Karl Stirner Arts Trail to taking scenic rides down the Lehigh Canal on the Josiah White II Canal Boat. All visiting families should stop by the Crayola Experience, which is four level facility complete with 26 vibrant and interactive crayon-themed exhibits. Plus, it’s the home of the world's largest crayon.
Heritage Day has celebrated Easton’s direct involvement in the founding of America since the event began in 1976. The family-friendly event is free to attend, and it will take place July 9, at locations across the Downtown area. The festivities begin with a reenactment of the original parade, which will escort an actor playing Robert Levers (original reader) to the town square. Attendees will then get to see a historical reenactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, close to the site of the original reading. A variety of reenactors will be walking the event grounds, providing attendees with facts and opinions about late 18th Century life. Talented local acts will perform live music ranging from acoustic rock to Americana. Traditional artisans will also be on-hand, demonstrating the tools and techniques used during the Colonial Period. Families will find great activities for kids like pony rides and puppet shows, and a spectacular fireworks show will help to close the event. We got the opportunity to interview Diane Bower, Chair of the Easton Heritage Day, to learn about this great all ages event.
RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.
DB: In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was written, Congress ordered that it be sent to all 13 colonies, and horseback riders were sent out with the document. Congress also proclaimed that it should be read aloud to the citizens (many of whom couldn’t read or write). On Monday, July 8, 1776, it was read to the public in Trenton, New Jersey as well as Philadelphia and Easton, Pennsylvania. Robert Levers, an Eastonian and a member of Congress, read it in the “great square” in the center of our city. The readings were the beginning of the “4th of July” celebrations we all love. Every year, we reenact that reading in the same spot where Robert Levers stood. It’s living history at its finest!
RAL: How long has the event been running?
DB: Heritage Day began in 1976 as part of the country’s Bicentennial Celebration, and has continued ever since.
RAL: How many annual participants do you draw?
DB: Last year we estimated a crowd of 45,000 – 50,000 during both the day and night activities.
RAL: What demographic does your event attract? Children? Families? Couples?
DB: We pride ourselves on being “everybody’s festival.” There literally is something for everyone.
RAL: Take me through a day at the event.
DB: Heritage Day is two festivals in one. History during the day from 11:00 am - 5:00 pm, and then a great big 4th of July-type party along the riverfront from 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm. It’s family-friendly, and there’s something for everyone.
During the day, great music, great food, activities for the kids, and of course, living history is on display. We have reenactment groups from virtually every war or conflict in American history. There are also traditional artisans who dress in period clothing and explain their craft to attendees.
One entire block is designated for kid’s activities, with pony rides, puppet shows, games, crafts and even a fire truck!
There’s a bugler at the top of our Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Centre Square. At a program called Be The Bugler, our Mayor Panto teaches the kids about the importance of the bugler in war times. The kids all receive a plastic bugle and with the help of a real uniformed bugler, the kids and Mayor attempt to imitate the calls they hear. We’re never sure who enjoys it more – the kids or the Mayor!
There are two stages for music featuring both period music, and very popular local musicians. And it’s free!
This year, the Budweiser Clydesdales will be part of the celebration and will lead the Patriot Parade down to the riverfront. The parade starts out with the Mayor and the kids, and everyone joins in and walks the two blocks to the riverfront. The parade signals the end of the history portion of the day and the beginning of Easton’s big party!
At night in two different park venues - more music, more food, games for the kids and the best fireworks in the Lehigh Valley.
RAL: What will attendees find for dining options?
DB: In addition to our many food vendors, Easton is home to some of the most fantastic restaurants in the Lehigh Valley.
RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?
DB: The Grand Estonian Hotel and Lafayette Inn are great options, and all the usual hotel chains are within a few miles.
RAL: What does this event mean to the community?
DB: This event serves as the 4th of July celebration for Easton. A fun fact is that we don’t celebrate on the 4th like the rest of the country. The Sunday closest to July 8 is our holiday, and we celebrate with Heritage Day.
RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?
DB: Yes, the City of Easton and the Economic Development Director use our festival as part of the overall economic development plan. We hope that 45,000+ visitors will gain a positive image of not only our city as a fun place to visit, but perhaps even a great place to live.
RAL: Why should people come to your event?
DB: Our event gives visitors the chance to take part in the reading of the Declaration of Independence in the same spot it was read 241 years ago. From enjoying the architecture of 18th Century buildings to eating some great foods, we offer something for everyone.
For more information about the Easton Heritage Day, please visit the event website.