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Committee lauded for great 150th birthday observance

If you missed Saturday’s Sesquicentennial, you missed a really good time.

Granted it was scorching hot, but there was so much to do and see and it basically went off flawlessly thanks to a lot of hard work from the Baker County Historical Society and the event committee.

Chairman Larry Rosenblatt and his committee are to be congratulated for a job well done. To the casual observer, it seemed to go off without a hitch and everyone seemed to have a really good time. I’m sure Larry and his crew of volunteers were on pins and needles the whole time. I hope they got a chance to enjoy themselves a little.

There was plenty to be proud of in the celebration and I think that a lot of people left the festivities glad that they live in Baker County. I know I did.

It kicked off with a wonderful parade that truly was a cross-section of what the county is all about.

The opening ceremony was stirring, with one of the best flyovers I’ve ever seen, from WWII-era T6 trainers. As the flyover went by there was a stirring version of the National Anthem from Sara Beth Gerard and God Bless America from Marcelle and Bethany Richardson and a release of red, white and blue balloons against the cloudless sky.

One of my favorite parts of the early festivities were the presentations on local honorees Emily Taber, Peg McCollum, Gene Barber and Elgin Barnes. They were informative and very touching testimonials about people who made a great difference in this county and will not be forgotten.

Leading up to the celebration I wondered how well it would work to have venues and events here and there around the central downtown hub on 5th Street. It proved to be a terrific idea.

A short walk from the main area took you to the quiet ambience of St. James Episcopal Church where you could view the collection of artworks by the late local artist and historian Gene Barber.

If you wanted to get out of the heat for a while you could sit in the First Baptist Church and listen to the fabulous gospel sing. There is so much talent in Baker County.

I can’t say I was surprised, because as a drama person I know the kind of talent pool we have here, but it was really on display from start to finish. Beginning with the performance by Southern Joy at the main stage and ending with Steve Branch and Dean Scallan, there wasn’t a dip in the quality of talent all day long.

I particularly enjoyed Southern Joy, and if you haven’t heard them, you’ve missed some great contemporary gospel. The Combs family can really harmonize.

Even the karaoke section featuring local amateur talent was impressive. We’ve all heard good karaoke and bad karaoke and this was the good stuff.

I previewed a scene from my Sesquicentennial production of Baker County, Fla. 1861-1961, which will be performed in January at BCHS. That was fun and got a good response.

The BCHS history department sponsored “golf cart tours” of historic homes and landmarks in the area and offered tours of the Old Jail. Churches had displays on their history, too.

It was heaven for me as a history buff. One of my favorite exhibits was the replica of the CSA submarine Hunley on McIver Street. It was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, when the tiny submersible rammed and sank the US Housatonic in Charleston harbor in 1864. What a testament to ingenuity, and it was fun to see kids crawling all over it and peering inside the 15-foot long vessel.

My only wish was that more people would have taken the spirit of the Sesquicentennial to heart and dressed for it. During the Centennial of 1961 and the Macclenny and Glen St. Mary centennials during the 1980s there were a lot of folks who costumed, grew beards and generally embraced the moment. Though the celebration was well attended, it would have been nice to see more folks dress up for it.

I had a wonderful time and again congratulate the organizers who worked so hard to make it a success. It’s a shame we have to wait another 50 years to do it again.

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