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Forest Park has been the location of the Brazil Rotary Club's Fourth of July Celebrations for many years. Exactly how many years is a little controversial but interesting. In July the Brazil Rotary Club advertised that they were hosting their 69th celebration. Some of the members aren't sure, however, what the count really is.
According to records provided by Rotary member Amos Thomas, the Brazil Rotary was chartered on Dec. 8, 1937, so the first Rotary sponsored 4th festivity would have been in July of 1938. That would account for 67 celebrations.
Thomas's notes show that possibly the first club-sponsored 4th event at Forest Park may have been in 1936, done by a group of Brazil men who joined the Lions Club in February of that year. The following year those same men withdrew from the Lions Club and formed an independent group called the Brazil Service Club.
That club sponsored the 4th celebration in 1937. Later that year the group affiliated with Rotary International and was chartered as a Rotary Club on Dec. 8.
Some Rotarians debated the issue and decided to include the two years of sponsorship of the Lions and the Brazil Service Clubs to the Rotary count because the membership of those clubs was the same group of men who originally chartered the Rotary.
Fourth of July Celebrations with a fireworks display, however, did not start in Brazil with the Lions Club, the Brazil Service Club or Rotary. Thomas's records show newspaper clippings as far back as 1890 reporting on Fourth celebrations.
The Clay County Enterprise newspaper was printed in Knightsville which had a bit of a feud with Brazil. On July 2, 1890, it reported on the upcoming 4th celebration and listed a lengthy and impressive roster of contests scheduled for the day and prizes to be given. The list of unusual categories included, "To the winner of a hundred yard race for cripples only, using two crutches, a straw hat, donated by Sam Siegel." And there was mention of "the grand daylight fireworks."
The following week the Enterprise had this to say about the big day. "The glorious fourth has come and gone. The people were here but the attractions were nil. Aside from the Brazil Cornet Band, Grant Guards and the Bicycle club there was as near nothing as could be gotten. Our people must do better next year or yield the sponge to Pontiac or Reelsville."
It's not known where the celebration took place that particular year. It was not in Forest Park, though, because the park was not established until 1921.
Records show that a land grant was issued by President Martin Van Buren on March 20, 1837, to Preston Morgan containing 35.84 acres of land which is now part of Forest Park and the National Guard Armory.
The land was eventually sold to the Staubitzer family, who allowed people to visit and entertain themselves with picnics and ball games in the scenic, wooded setting. It became known as Staubitzer Grove.
After the Staubitzers died, their heirs were going to sell the property, which had increased to 71 acres. Citizens requested that the City of Brazil purchase the land and make it a public park but the City didn't have the money to do so.
The City School Board purchased 40 acres of the parcel, later selling it to the City. A group of interested individuals and business owners raised the money to buy the rest of the Grove then gave it to the City. The total cost of the 71 acres was $16,000.
Tomorrow: Forest Park is established.