History takes center stage at Williamsport celebration

July 02, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

WILLIAMSPORT - He was born in what was then a frontier settlement, left at an early age, and later returned to lay out a town and recommend it for a new nation's capital city.

Although President George Washington ultimately settled on a site farther east on the Potomac, Williamsport's current residents believe the town's founder, Otho Holland Williams, still would be proud of their community.

Williamsport kicked off its Independence Day celebration a little early, with a tribute to Williams on Sunday at Springfield Farm. Re-enactors from various periods of Williamsport's history gathered in a shady spot near a home Williams once owned. A brass band played patriotic tunes, and Mayor James G. McCleaf II proclaimed Sunday "Brig. Gen. Otho Holland Williams Day."

Local historian Roger Keller portrayed the Revolutionary War general, telling those assembled how Williams helped divert British Gen. Charles Cornwallis in a "nip-and-tuck" campaign across North Carolina that foreshadowed Britain's ultimate surrender at Yorktown, Va.


Organizer Joan Knode said Sunday marked "about seven years" for the annual Williams tribute. But this year was the first time all the festivities were conducted at Springfield Farm. Earlier celebrations included tributes at the founder's gravesite at Riverview Cemetery. It's also the first time a tea party at the Town Museum followed the ceremony.

Knode said the ceremony was moved to Springfield Farm because it was easier for older participants to get there.

They also thought it was fitting to embark on four days of celebration dedicated to the memory of their very own Revolutionary War hero.

A street dance is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday across from Town Hall, and the town has scheduled a full slate of Independence Day activities at Byron Memorial Park - from a pancake breakfast and 5K run in the morning to a concert and fireworks in the evening.

"I think he'd be proud of the park and the festivities on July Fourth," Knode said. "And he'd be proud of what we're doing at the farm."

Knode said plans are under way to repair the house Williams once owned, which was damaged by fire last year. Town officials hope to have at least part of it open for Williamsport Days in late August.

And while Williams might have been disappointed that his town wasn't chosen for the capital, Keller said choosing Williamsport would have caused the young nation a serious problem.

In the 18th century, the nations that traded with what became the United States couldn't have reached Williamsport easily - their boats couldn't navigate west past the falls on the Potomac.

Seems like a good reason to build a canal.

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