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Fourth of July in SLO County: A photo album

A horse-drawn carriage parades through SLO in 1910. The Mission can be seen in the background. More photos »
A horse-drawn carriage parades through SLO in 1910. The Mission can be seen in the background. More photos » History Center of San Luis Obispo County

On July 4, 1910, there was more than just excitement in the air.

Seven years after the Wright Brothers first took to the sky, Hillary Beachey, brother of well-known aviator Lincoln Beachey, was poised to become the first person to take a plane over San Luis Obispo.

After exhibiting his 600-pound biplane in an empty Higuera Street lot, Beachey lifted off for a brief flight (there were some mechanical issues), making San Luis Obispo history.

But he wasn’t the first to soar above the city. As The Tribune reported in 1890, a man going by the moniker Professor Baldwin arrived by steamer in late June of that year, prepared to lift off in a large balloon on Independence Day.

Those two events, of course, aren’t the only interesting Fourth experiences. On July 4, 1899, the Pacific Coast Railway put on a special excursion train, bringing people to San Luis Obispo from as far away as the Santa Ynez Valley, doubling the city’s population that day. (Another balloon ascension was featured.) And on July 4, 1928, Camp San Luis opened to great fanfare, featuring a parade, 30 rounds of boxing, and dancing (but, as far as we can tell, no balloons).

For the most part, however, Independence Day is a relatively predictable holiday with locals and tourists attending parades, watching fireworks and patriotically downing hot dogs.

To get a feel for how the Fourth was celebrated in past years, we asked Erin Newman, the chief administrative officer at the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, for some photos depicting July 4 celebrations through the county over the decades. Then we supplemented those with photos from our own archives. Join with us as we look at Independence Days of yesteryear.

Click here for some tips on photographing fireworks.

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