What America and Madera have in common

May 29, 2020

Madera County Historical Society

For its first 50 years, Madera’s 4th of July celebrations were its most festive events, as this 1904 scene shows.

The history of Madera is intimately tied to the history of America. Their birthdays are celebrated on the same year, and that fact has created a magnificent opportunity for our community. Let me explain with an idea I got from my mentor, Professor Thomas F. Andrews, Ph.D.

 

I was telling him recently that I wanted to finish writing the History of Madera that the Tribune published in 2007. It ran for a year under the title of “Pulse of Madera,” and covered our first one hundred years, 1876 to 1976. I explained to Andrews that I really wanted to finish that history by writing the rest of the story — the next 50 years, 1976 to 2026.

 

My teacher thought about this a bit and then bounced back with a bombshell of an idea — one that I would like to pursue if I can get some help.

 

He pointed out that when Madera was founded in 1876, America was celebrating its centennial. Then 100 years later, when Madera was celebrating its centennial, America was celebrating its bicentennial. Then came the kicker — I am embarrassed that I didn’t see it right away. In 2026, when Madera is celebrating its 150th birthday (Sesquicentennial), America will celebrate its 250th birthday (Semiquincentennial). Then he shared what I call an inspiration. Write the history, he said, of Madera, 1876-2026, and tell how and why Madera has changed in the past 50 years. Then suggest what that means for the 2026 celebration and the future of Madera.

 

Andrews went on to say that he thought the important point to get across is that the horizon of history is always moving, just as one’s perspective of it is changing.  The past is the past, but history is constantly changing and how we see it is changing with the passing years — the farther we get from the past the more clearly we tend to see it.

 

He finished up by asking if there was some way that we could use my writing of Madera’s first 100 years (1876-1976), which is also America’s second 100 years?  Could this be used to help launch a meaningful, community-wide approach to the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and Madera’s 150 birthday in just six years from now?

 

I thought about these things and then remembered my own mortality. It is possible I will still be here in 2026, but it is also possible I might not. I will soon be 80 years old. I shared this thought with my mentor and he responded with another idea. He inquired if there was some way for me to fill in most of the past since 1976 as a way of pointing towards 2026, thus leaving an indelible mark for others to follow in a celebration of Madera’s 150th Anniversary on the 250th Anniversary of America’s Independence.

 

The very idea of it all is causing me palpitations.

 

Over the next few days, Andrews continued to reflect. He shared with me a couple of other thoughts he was having in this connection. He said he remembered two major themes that emerged in the Bicentennial.  First, there was a focus on local history and the gathering of biographical information during the year before and the year after 1976. Secondly, from 1975-1977, there was something of a bridging of the generation gap between age groups in America, which brought the older and younger generations together. Also, oral history flourished during those years as did the volunteering of young people to work at local historical societies by providing physical labor.

 

So, thanks to Dr. Andrews, my head is spinning. I never had a hometown until I came to Madera. Between bouncing around from town to town in Florida and my time in the Air Force, I never felt like I was really a part of any place. Then I came here to teach, and this became my hometown. I began to study our history with my students. In 1992, I began writing about Madera in the Tribune, and put out a couple of local history books. Whatever time I have left, I want to finish it here, and that’s why I am excited about the prospects of a new project.

 

I have begun the research into Madera’s history from 1976 to the present. As we get closer to 2026, I will continue to write. In the meantime, Chuck Doud and I are discussing some other possibilities for celebrating Madera’s 150th.

 

I notice that we aren’t the only ones thinking about 2026. The D.A.R. recently posted the following: “We stand on the eve of a grand commemoration. In July 2026, the United States will mark its 250th anniversary – and the D.A.R. is preparing to celebrate in a big way!”

 

Ok, fair enough. Madera can join them, but we’ll be celebrating the history of both a town and a country.

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