During the 1870s, Cambria, the second largest town in San Luis Obispo County, celebrated July 4 with a lavish parade and picnic in the pine forest on the Phelan Ranch – now the Covell Ranch – north of town.
Local establishments, including two livery stables, five saloons and three dry goods stores, were festooned with red, white and blue bunting and farmers from as far away as Adelaida hitched their teams to family wagons or fine carriages and set off for the festivities in town. They lined up at the corner of Main and Bridge streets, and the Cambria Brass Band led the parade down Lee Street (now Burton Drive) to Center Street and up Bridge Street to the pine forest picnic grounds at Phelan Grove. Wagons, decorated with garlands of flowers, carried pretty girls wearing long dresses adorned with sashes that declared, "Liberty," "Prosperity" and "Truth."
At the picnic, families visited with friends, and gallons of lemonade, mountains of barbecued meat, salads and pies and cakes were consumed. Through it all, "Liberty," "Prosperity" and "Truth" personified accompanied orators on the stage, including Cambria's own State Senator Elmer Rigdon – whose long-winded Fourth of July oratories, some said, had propelled him into public office. The Cambria Kelp Eaters baseball team would take all-comers. The band played throughout the day and into the evening, so late in fact that many folks camped out.
Later, at the turn of the century, the Native Sons of the Golden West added a rodeo arena. Cambria's Phelan Grove gatherings drew as many as 2,000 celebrants from throughout the county, not only for the Fourth of July, but for May Day parties and Swiss Italian Independence Day celebrations in August.