175 years ago, Gaines celebrated 4th with ball, cotillon dance

Posted 3 July 2023 at 7:52 am

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 3, No. 22

This shows an invitation to a July 4th event 175 years ago, which coincidentally, also fell on a Tuesday.

Bonfires and bell-ringing marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777.

Within a few years, every town and village honored the date with speeches, parades, picnics, bonfires and fireworks.

In 1848, the village of Gaines celebrated Independence Day with a Ball, a dance event held at the Assembly-Room, music provided by Hamilton’s Cotillon Band.

The graphic on this attractive invitation features two mermen, each entwined in ferns, heralding the event. Several different fonts are used in the text.

A cotillon was a group dance popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was a social dance performed by four couples and a forerunner of the square dance. The first and third couples, then the second and fourth couples danced a sequence of geometric figures. It was a lively event, no doubt.

At that time, Gaines was a busy and prosperous settlement. Landmarks of Orleans County noted that in 1835 the village had seventy houses and more than 400 inhabitants.

There were four lawyers, two physicians, one saddler, two tailors, one painter, four blacksmiths, one cabinet maker, three tanneries, three wagon shops, three scythe factories, an ashery, four dry goods stores, two groceries, four shoe shops, two hotels and an academy. No doubt, this invitation was also extended to the residents of the nearby hamlets: Fairhaven, Gaines Basin, Eagle Harbor.

While cotillon dances are no longer in vogue, fireworks have long been a staple of July 4th celebrations. The village of Lyndonville hosts a spectacular show each year. Interestingly, the Medina Tribune, July 11, 1861, reported that a beautiful display of fireworks had been held in Lyndonville “on the anniversary of our National Independence.”