Pondering the Past: The Centennial Celebration

Settlers’ Days is once again on the horizon! Marengo has been celebrating the event for 49 years now and according to the organizer’s website this celebration was christened “Settlers’ Days” by Richard Mikyska and Jim Sweet. These days Settlers’ Days takes place in October, but in the early days Marengoans celebrated it August.   I remember as a kid coming to downtown Marengo with friends for the sidewalk sales. It was the one time of the year when the merchants brought their wares out onto the sidewalks and the locals turned out to hunt for deals. It was like a market atmosphere and we all thought it was so cool! There never seemed to be too many deals for the kids so we usually blew our pennies on candy at the Ben Franklin.

Enough reminiscing! This month I’m going to talk not about a celebration a long time ago that wasn’t called Settlers’ Days, but a celebration of our settlers – the Centennial Celebration which was held in Marengo in September of 1935. In the early months of 1935 articles appeared in the Marengo Republican-News discussing a Centennial Edition which was being planned to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the settling of the Marengo area. Marengoans quickly jumped on board and delivered various histories of the area that would be beneficial in compiling the edition. From one of these sources the newspaper announced it learned that Calvin Spencer arrived in the area on September 15, 1835, and announced the official Centennial Day as September 15, 1935.

The Kiwanis Club and the American Legion both formed Centennial Committees and the newspaper began a campaign to push other civic organizations to do the same. By June there were 10 delegates appointed to the Centennial Committee representing the following additional organizations: Junior Women’s Club, Legion Auxiliary, Marengo Home Bureau, Marengo Women’s Club and the M.E. Church. Planning meetings were held at various venues in Marengo, and in late August a Centennial Headquarters was opened in the Community Center.

The Committee furiously worked throughout the summer and finally on September 12th the four day Centennial celebration kicked-off! Some of the events organized were a carnival on Prairie Street, two presentations of a pageant titled “Marengo’s Romance of a Century” held at Shurtleff’s Field, a parade, an “Old Time Dance” and a “Modern Dance” at the Marengo Roller Rink, an “Old Settler’s Program” at Calvin Spencer Park, a “Horse Pulling Contest” at the high school athletic field, a bicycle race, horse shoe tournament and each church held a Centennial religious service. As you can see from this ambitious list of events it was a big party.

One of the major attractions of the celebration was a museum exhibit that was opened at the Community Center. The museum was organized and managed by the Home Circle, Marengo Woman’s Club and the Home Bureau. The museum had on display artifacts and documents related to Marengo history that were loaned by local citizens. Some of the more interesting items were a candlestick used by General Sherman on his “March to the Sea,” a table from the Revolutionary War era, and original paperwork related to the coming of the railroad to Marengo in 1851. The artifacts were considered so irreplaceable that a security guard was hired to watch over the items day and night.

Numbers weren’t mentioned, but the crowds which included current and former citizens turned out in good numbers for the events. The parade held on Saturday afternoon featured Indians on horseback, the Marengo High School Band, a “hi-wheeled bicycle,” the Pioneer train, and characters who had roles in the Marengo pageant.

The Centennial official concluded on Sunday, which was dubbed “Old Settler’s Day” held at Calvin Spencer Park. A major event of the day was the dedication of a memorial to Spencer. In 1855 Spencer donated the land to the community for a park. The memorial is a simple huge boulder with a bronze plaque. The boulder was moved to the park from land previously owned by Spencer. Additionally, the park was rededicated as Calvin Spencer Park which was the original name but according to the newspaper had been abandoned over the years.