The inaugural Fourth of July celebration and commemoration at the Battle of Wyoming in 1878, featuring President Franklin Pierce, made the Wyoming Monument the hot spot for future Independence days.
But folks in the Pittston area, especially North Pittston, Duryea and the Triboro area, already had their own Fourth of July tradition revolving around the Caledonian Games on Everhart Island, which began in the 1860s.
But wait, what were the Caledonian Games and where is Everhart Island? The Caledonians were a social organization for Scottish-Americans. The Pittston Caledonian Club celebrated American Independence Day with a day of “Highland Games” beginning after the Civil War to the early 1890s.
As to where was Everhart Island, Duryea historian Bernie Stiroh said, “There is no definitive answer.” As best as can be determined, Everhart Island was a large piece of land from Duryea to Pittston Junction. It was called an island because it was between the Lackawanna River and the old Pittston Canal. Over the past 125 years, topography changed, the canal was filled in and the area was flooded several times. Today the area is a swamp. But in its heyday, Everhart Island was a party spot.
The July 4 Highland games were the biggest annual event on the island. In 1870, the Yatesville Brass Band, the McClellan Rifles, the Eagle Hose Company, other clubs and the Caledonians in Highland costumes marched at 8:30 a.m. through Pittston to the Lehigh Valley Depot where trains waited to take people the launch point for boats to ferry to the island. Stiroh estimates the boat ride was only 20 to 50 feet, depending on water levels. Boats also left from the bridge over the canal near Coxton Yards. Admission was 20 cents.
The Games kicked off with a communal Scottish Reel, a traditional folk dance before program of track and field events such as “Putting the Stone,” “Throwing the Hammer” and the “Tossing the Caber” where men threw a 16-foot, 100-pound wooden pole. The Caledonians gave cash prizes for first and second place, usually $1 to $3, except for the marquee event of the mile run, with $20 for first and $10 for second. Twenty dollars in 1870 had the buying power of $500 to $600 today.
In 1873, a baseball game was part of the festivities. The Lone Star team, one of the earliest organized teams in the Pittston area, played The Pride of the Valley. The Caledonians accepted bids for food and drink concessions for the games. Large stands and elevated grandstands were erected.
Everhart Island was rented for other events. The earliest event found was a Harvest Home Celebration in 1855. It was described in the Evening Gazette as “a feast for 500.”
The biggest party ever on Everhart was an Irish Nationalist event in 1873. Ten train cars from Scranton and Carbondale and eight from Wilkes-Barre arrived in the morning and they kept coming until it was estimated by the Gazette there were 10,000 on the island. The crowd overwhelmed the four large concession stands. There was music and dancing and a speech by Meagher Condon who had been in prison in Manchester, England.
The bridge to the island from Duryea was too small for events, but was used by families for reunions and by church groups for picnics. In 1897 six members of a Duryea family were seriously injured with broken limbs and head injuries when a tree branch fell in a wind storm.
By the turn of the 20th century, Everhart Island’s popularity was waning. In 1904, both Rocky Glen Park in Avoca and Valley View Park in Inkerman, built by the Laurel Line, were opened, hastening the end of Everhart Island as a go-to party spot in the Pittston area.