Pops on the River in downtown Little Rock draws crowds of 5,000 to 7,000 each year. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Category: Cover Story

Celebrating Safely

The National Safety Council offers these cautions for the personal use of fireworks:

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks.
  • Older children should use them only under close adult supervision.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Wear protective eyewear when using fireworks or standing nearby.
  • Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands.
  • Never light them indoors.
  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material.
  • Only light one device at a time, and maintain a safe distance after lighting.
  • Never ignite devices in a container.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of fire.


Make it a festive Fourth

In 1776, John Adams, captured in this painting by John Trumbull, wrote Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade.” He’d later die on July 4, 1826, as would fellow former President Thomas Jefferson. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Founding Father John Adams’ patriotic vision still inspires Arkansans as we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Adams wrote his wife Abigail on the eve of July 4, 1776, that future Independence Days “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

The future second U.S. president (who would later die on July 4, 1826) added, “I am apt to believe that this day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”

It would be several decades before Independence Day celebrations took root in today’s Natural State, as the land was then a possession of Spain. Arkansas’ secession from the Union brought a lull in festivities between 1861 and 1864.

July 4 has remained the date of Independence Day, while other holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day have been shuffled on the calendar to create long weekends. So, it may be surprising that Adams wanted the holiday to be July 2, when the actual independence vote took place before formal adoption two days later.

One feature of Independence Day celebrations took place only in 1776. During that summer, some colonists marked the birth of independence by holding mock funerals for King George III. That symbolized the end of the British monarchy’s hold on America.

Families wait for the Pops on the River fireworks show to get poppin’. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

George Washington got into the spirit on July 4, 1778, the second anniversary of independence, by issuing double rations of rum to all his soldiers. He did the same three years later. That was also when Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4 an official holiday. It became a federal holiday in 1870.

The fireworks that accompanied early celebrations might disappoint today’s audiences.

Pyrotechnics back then came only in orange rather than today’s eye-popping mix of colors. That’s because it took until the 1830s for Italian inventors to open the spectrum by adding metals like strontium and barium to explosive mixtures.

Public fireworks displays — John Adams’ “illuminations” — are scheduled across Arkansas as highlights of the holiday. The pyrotechnics generally start between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Festivities also may include military honors, music, concessions and other fun. Most shows are free, though there may be a charge for seating. Here is a sample:

Pops on the River, Little Rock, July 4. The sponsoring Arkansas Democrat-Gazette expects attendance of 5,000 to 7,000 at Riverfront Amphitheater. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra provides the music.

Russellville will host its rousing fireworks display on July 4. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
The River Valley Community Band performs at the Mayor’s Annual 4th of July Celebration in Fort Smith. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Star-Spangled Spectacular, Camden, July 4. Billed as the largest fireworks display in southern Arkansas, this Ouachita County sky show takes place at Camden Municipal Airport.

Independence Day Fireworks, Hot Springs, July 4. Barges on Lake Hamilton will launch the fireworks near the east side of Arkansas 7 at the bridge opposite the DoubleTree Hotel. The sky show will be synchronized with music on KQUS-FM 97.5.

Fireworks Over the HarborMount Ida, July 4. Viewers can watch from land or by boat on Lake Ouachita at Mountain Harbor’s marina. Daytime events will include a parade and flag-raising ceremony.

An American Salute, Rogers. The Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion is the setting for fireworks accompanied by the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas. Tickets for seating or the lawn may be bought online.

Mayor’s Annual 4th of July Celebration, Fort Smith, July 4. Harry E. Kelley River Park will be the scene of fireworks with music by the River Valley Community Band. Bus service to the event is free as an alternative to finding parking.

Community Fireworks Display, Russellville, July 4. Fireworks will light the sky over Lake Dardanelle in Russellville’s Independence Day celebration, with prime viewing at Old Post Road Park.

The statue of U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves is illuminated by fireworks in Fort Smith. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Fairfield Bay’s Let Freedom Ring fireworks show extends the festivities by taking place on July 5.Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Ventris Trail’s End Resort Fireworks Display, Garfield, July 5. This Beaver Lake resort has been saluted by Reader’s Digest magazine as one of the most pleasant Independence Day locations in Arkansas.

Let Freedom Ring, Fairfield Bay, July 5. Greers Ferry Lake is the setting for the pyrotechnics at this Van Buren County resort community. The daytime highlight is a town parade.

Fireworks Extravaganza, Heber Springs, July 6. Sandy Beach on the shore of Greers Ferry Lake is the location for daylong activities. The night’s fireworks will be choreographed to music broadcast on KSUG-FM, 101.9.

For more Independence Day events, see the Around Arkansas calendar.