The Tiny Town That’s Home to America’s Oldest July 4th Celebration

On the surface, Bristol, Rhode Island is a typical coastal New England town. Situated at the end of a peninsula near the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, Bristol covers only about 10 square miles, and its population is fewer than 25,000. Many of its main landmarks are historic, including a 19th-century lighthouse and the Blithewold Mansion, a gigantic home with beautiful botanical gardens that was built in 1895. It’s also home to Roger Williams University, named for the founder of the state. But Bristol’s biggest claim to fame isn’t a physical landmark.

Bristol’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which takes over the town for the three weeks leading up to Independence Day, is the oldest shindig of its kind in America. (It even predates the Fourth of July being named a national holiday, which didn’t happen until 1870.)

The very first event took place in 1785, and was a decidedly subdued affair. According to town historian Richard V. Simpson, fewer than two dozen people attended a service with prayers, speeches, and singing at the town’s Congregational Church. Today, things have definitely changed. The celebration begins on Flag Day with a ceremony that includes the introduction of Miss and Little Miss Fourth of July (yes, that’s a thing; the winners are chosen in May) and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the next few weeks, there are dozens of quirky small-town events—think orange crate derbies, vintage baseball games, drum and bugle corps performances, and even a carnival—as well as a big fireworks display on July 3.

But Bristol’s patriotism really shines on July 4, when a parade travels two-and-a-half miles through the town. Though the parade hasn’t been without its problems—in 2009, a group called the Rhode Island Tea Party Association was barred from participating—it’s generally a charming affair, with floats, town dignitaries, and a Chief Marshal promenading along the waterfront.

“The celebrations began with less than 20 people and a simple procession in 1785,” Bristol Fourth of July General Committee member Ray Lavey told Mental Floss. “It’s wonderful to see the passion, excitement, and growth for Bristol’s Independence Day year after year.”

While it’s not a regular magnet for celebrities like the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular (which didn’t get its start until 1976), Bristol has hosted a few well-known names: Natalie Cole attended the parade one year, as did Ray Bolger, the actor who played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Occasionally, a rep from one of New England’s sports teams—the New England Patriots or the Boston Bruins—will show up. No sign of Touchdown Tom Brady yet, but hey, you never know.

A version of this article appeared in 2015.

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The Best (and Worst) States for Summer Road Trips
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As we shared recently, the great American road trip is making a comeback, but some parts of the country are more suitable for hitting the open road than others. If you're interested in taking a road trip this summer but are stuck on figuring out the destination, WalletHub has got you covered: The financial advisory website analyzed factors like road conditions, gas prices, and concentration of activities to give you this map of the best states to explore by car.

Wyoming—home to the iconic road trip destination Yellowstone National Park—ranked No. 1 overall with a total score of 58.75 out of 100. It's followed by North Carolina in the No. 2 slot, Minnesota at No. 3, and Texas at No. 4. Coming in the last four slots are the three smallest states in America—Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut—and Hawaii, a state that's obviously difficult to reach by car.

But you shouldn't only look at the overall score if you're planning a road trip route: Some states that did poorly in one category excelled in others. California for example, came in 12th place overall, and ranked first when it came to activities and 41st in cost. So if you have an unlimited budget and want to fit as many fun stops into your vacation as possible, taking a trip up the West Coast may be the way to go. On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi is a good place to travel if you're conscious of spending, ranking second in costs, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of your trip, coming in 38th place for safety and 44th for activities.

Choosing the stops for your summer road trip is just the first step of the planning process. Once you have that covered, don't forget to pack these essentials.

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Netherlands Officials Want to Pay Residents to Bike to Work
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Thinking about relocating to the Netherlands? You might also want to bring a bike. Government officials are looking to compensate residents for helping solve their traffic congestion problem and they want businesses to pay residents to bike to work, as The Independent reports.

Owing to automobile logjams on roadways that keep drivers stuck in their cars and cost the economy billions of euros annually, Dutch deputy infrastructure minister Stientje van Veldhoven recently told media that she's endorsing a program that would pay employees 19 cents for every kilometer (0.6 miles) they bike to work.

That doesn't sound like very much, but perhaps citizens who need to trek several miles each way would appreciate the cumulative boost in their weekly paychecks. For employers, the benefit would be a healthier workforce that might take fewer sick days and reduce parking needs.

Veldhoven says she also plans on designing a program that would assist employers in supplying workers with bicycles. The goal is to have 200,000 people opting for manual transportation over cars. If the program proceeds, it might find a receptive population. The Netherlands is already home to 22.5 million bikes, more than the 17.1 million people living there. In Amsterdam, a quarter of residents bike to work.

There's no timeline for implementing the pay-to-bike plan, but early trial studies indicate that the expense might not have to be a long-term prospect. Study subjects continued to bike to work even after the financial rewards stopped.

[h/t The Independent]

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