Column – Fireworks still a sight to see in Isle of Wight

Published 5:47 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Who doesn’t love a fireworks display? Probably a very few folks, but if you’re among them, don’t advertise it because enjoying a good old fireworks display is one of the few things in this country that most of us can still agree on.

And at no time of year are fireworks more important than celebrations of our independence as a nation. After all, our difficult-to-sing national anthem celebrates “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” during the War of 1812 as proof of that independence.

Most of us have attended a major fireworks display at some point in our lives. Years ago, many county residents went annually to Fort Monroe for the Army’s yearly display or, since the 1970s, have watched the annual Harborfest fireworks. Even if we don’t fight the crowds for such events, many of us vicariously enjoy one of the extravaganzas that are televised each Fourth of July, 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That said, it doesn’t take a major fireworks exhibit to get the patriotic juices flowing. In fact, most of us are just as happy to drag a lawn chair or blanket, along with mosquito repellent, to some local viewing spot to see what our community offers in the way of pyrotechnics. 

That’s because local fireworks displays are, without question, among the most cherished local public events across the nation, including Isle of Wight. When the Board of Supervisors was on one of its economy kicks some years back, the suggestion was made that the annual Windsor and Smithfield fireworks displays be canceled, thus saving the county a few thousand dollars. 

The idea produced its own fireworks display. County residents made it perfectly clear that the minimal amount of money spent on the annual displays was small potatoes compared with many other county endeavors. The fireworks displays were enjoyed by thousands and must be preserved. And they were.

Local fireworks displays have been a tradition for nearly a half century. The first one on the south shore of the James was in Crittenden, organized and paid for by the Crittenden Eclipse Ruritan Club in conjunction with the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial. That display became an instant success and continues today, still a favorite among local pyrotechnic enthusiasts.

Isle of Wight produced a fireworks display in 1984 as the culmination of its 350th anniversary celebration. 

Smithfield businesses, spearheaded by Carroll E. Keen Jr., raised funds for a small display on the Pagan River in 1988. Longtime county Parks Director Alan Nogiec agreed to organize the event. He got members of the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department to volunteer to shoot the fireworks, and for a couple of years they ignited fireworks with emergency flares.

The volunteers took training to become certified pyrotechnic operators and within a couple of years had built an electronic firing system.

The Windsor Ruritan Club began sponsoring a fireworks display there in 1991 and, in 1992, Isle of Wight County began funding fireworks for both communities and hired the nationally known pyrotechnic firm of Boom Boom Zambelli to produce the programs.

Once the county assumed responsibility for funding the fireworks displays, they were pretty well guaranteed to occur each year. Traditionally, the Windsor display has coincided with a community celebration that includes a potluck meal on July 4. The Windsor event and the one still sponsored by the Crittenden Ruritans are about as close to an old-fashioned Fourth celebration as you will find.

Smithfield doesn’t tie its fireworks display to anything else, and it has traditionally been held on July 3.

Timing of the events has recently become something of a dilemma for both Windsor and Smithfield. The fireworks displays were canceled in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic, and when they resumed in 2021, the county couldn’t get a professional pyrotechnic firm for the traditional dates. Thus both Windsor and Smithfield have had fireworks on July 2, as they will this year. Windsor wants to get back to its Fourth of July display and Smithfield would like to return to the 3rd, which had become quite popular locally.

Isle of Wight Tourism Director Judy Winslow said the county and towns are working toward scheduling displays on their traditional dates, but fireworks vendors are in high demand for dates around the 4th. Meanwhile, July 2 is when we’ll see local fireworks displays in both towns.


Is July 2 appropriate?

A final note: July 2 is an altogether appropriate date for celebrating. It was on July 2, 1776, that delegates to the Second Continental Congress voted for independence. Some delegates signed the Declaration of Independence two days later, on July 4, and that’s the date affixed to the declaration. It was not fully signed until early August.

John Adams believed that July 2 would be remembered as Independence Day, since it was on that date that the Congress had voted to approve a resolution of independence. The date on the Declaration won out, however, and July 4 became Independence Day. 

Ironically, both Adams and the Declaration’s author, Thomas Jefferson, died on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after delegates began signing a document that declared our independence, but could have become their confessions of treason had things worked out differently.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is