By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN From the few photos at the Cokato Museum of Cokato’s Fourth of July celebrations, they appeared to be a large town event around the turn of the 20th century.
Folks came to town dressed in their Sunday best to enjoy a parade and events for the whole family.
Some of the events that took place in 1906 were a girls’ lemon race, a wheelbarrow race, and a free-for-all race.
It is unclear how many years, or even what events took place during those celebrations, as there is almost nothing on record, said Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester.
It may be that the advent of the automobile had something to do with Cokato’s Fourth of July celebrations coming to an end, with many people traveling to other communities or to area lakes to celebrate the nation’s independence.
The earliest known Fourth of July celebrations in Cokato were in 1898, and the latest celebration that is known to have taken place is in 1908.
Going to Annandale
“Annandale was the place to be,” said Marie Komula of Cokato, a resident at Brookridge. “There was a pavilion to dance in at night, and the parade.”
Folks would bring a picnic lunch for noon, and there were so many people, it was hard to find a place to park, she said.
“People came from all over, because they knew it was big,” Komula said.
She also remembers the politicians being out in full force asking for people’s votes.
Jeanette Johnson, a resident of Cokato Manor, who lived near Knapp, north of Cokato, growing up, went to Annandale on Independence Day with her family to celebrate at her aunt and uncle’s home.
Her family would eat dinner at her relatives’ home, and usually stay for the fireworks, where she remembers the mosquitoes being really bad.
“We were always glad to get home safe, because we weren’t sure of the other drivers (driving home after the fireworks),” Johnson said.
Sometimes they would return home early to light their own fireworks at her grandparents’ home, also near Knapp, Johnson recalled.
Spending time at the lake
Bruce Peterson’s family owned a cabin on Lake Sylvia, and his mother’s five sisters and their families came to celebrate the Fourth of July with them.
They spent the time fishing, boating, and later, water skiing.
He did not recall there ever being a community celebration in Cokato, but did remember a close call with a firework in town.
One of his cousins was trying to set off a firework that was supposed to go up in the air and explode.
The firework seemed to be taking too long, so the girl went to see what was wrong with it.
As she was tending to it, the firework exploded, and nearly blew her finger off, Peterson said.
“That happened in the side yard of Joe Harmala’s house,” he said.
Although Audrey Tack thinks Cokato had to have a Fourth of July parade “because they had a parade for everything,” her family went to her cousins’ resort on Lake John near Annandale for Independence Day.
Her parents were friends with Bill and Amanda Nelson, who would go with them to the resort, and it was Bill’s job to pick out the watermelon.
After a delicious hot meal, there was cool watermelon that had been stored in the resort’s ice house for dessert.
“It was stressed that nobody had watermelon until the fourth,” Tack said. “It was shipped up from Texas, and that was the big treat for the Fourth of July.”
The family would go into Annandale for the parade, after a morning of fishing and swimming, recalled Tack.
“The big kids would get to go to the carnival in Annandale,” she said.
The family would sometimes go to town for the fireworks in the evening, but other times they would stay at the resort, where they could see the fireworks from Annandale.
Pop for the Fourth
Emma Nelson of Cokato, and a resident at Brookridge remembers going around to the various towns delivering pop for the Fourth of July events, as well as other town celebrations.
Nelson’s dad owned the Wright County Bottling Works. She does not recall which towns they delivered to for the Fourth of July.
“I had to work in the pop shop as a kid, especially in July, when it was so hot and all the celebrations were going on,” Nelson said.
Because her father owned the pop bottling company, her family always had pop in the house, something that would have been a rare treat to the people at Fourth of July celebrations.