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Fincastle Traditions


Fourth of July
In the early 1990's, Fincastle residents came up with the idea of a 4th of July "party" on the playing fields of Breckenridge Elementary School, to include live music, picnics, volleyball, and a fireworks display.  Resident Harold Robertson managed the fireworks until 1997. Thus was a town tradition born. Insufficient funds precluded a continuation of live music, though Paige Ware, Head Librarian for the Fincastle library, continues to raise enough money for an annual and very impressive fireworks display, attended by many county and town residents. Willie and Brenda Simmons acquire the fireworks and are the fuse-lighters.


In the late eighties, the town began sponsoring a "Halloween Parade", which is held along Main Street under strands of orange, yellow and white lights. Admission to the parade is one bag of candy per child, which is mixed and then redistributed to all participants at the conclusion of the parade. In addition to the parade, families and churches in town also support this annual tradition.

Christmas Lights

One of Fincastle's longest standing and most visible traditions relates to the Town's Christmas light display. During the 50's, the Fincastle Volunteer Fire Department was responsible for hanging and maintaining the lights. But in the late 60's, a group (the Junior Citizens, under the leadership of then high school sophomore Randall Cronise) took over the responsibility, raised funds, and quadrupled the number of light strands to 36. In 1969, disaster struck. The building in which the lights was stored burned down, and its contents were destroyed. Word spread, and the Town of Lexington, which had just appropriated funds for new lights, donated their old lights and wreaths to Fincastle.

Those lights and wreaths are still in use today. During the mid 80's, Willie and Brenda Simmons took over responsibility for the lights, and formed a new group ("the Society to Keep Fincastle Lit") to ensure the holiday tradition continued. Willie and Brenda worked tirelessly for many years to update, and streamline the decorating process, along with the help of local electrician Mac Neighbors and APCO lineman Richard Thomason. Not only has this tradition been supported by the citizens of the Town and Botetourt County, but it has also received, and continues to receive, support from various local businesses who assist with donations of time, money and equipment. Most recently, with the demise of a bucket truck which was donated to the County by the old Roanoke and Botetourt Telephone Company to aid with the decorating process, Lumos (R&B's predecessor) has worked with the members of the Society to light and "de-light" the town.

New Years Eve
Many traditions given us by our ancestors have been forgotten or lost due to changing times but the only thing lost about The Bells of Fincastle is the origin. This New Year's Eve ceremony has been gaining in popularity for well over 150 years. At fifteen minutes until midnight the tolling begins. The bell in the Court House is struck and afterwards, at twelve second intervals, bells of the churches ring in a clockwise order about the town: Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal. This continues until the bell at the Court House strikes twelve. Taps are played to signify respect for the dying year. The bell-ringers in the Court House then strike the digits of the New Year - for example, one, nine, nine, eight. Then, three shotgun blasts indicate that it is time for bells to joyously welcome the New Year by ringing for an additional ten minutes.

The privilege of ringing the bells has been handed down through families such as Bolton, Breckenridge, McDowell, Peck, Simmons and Waid. Newer names - Campbell, Holt, Kessler and others - have joined these ranks in the past two generations.

Interesting tales abound concerning the love for this ceremony by local citizens. One called home and requested that the phone by held out the window so that the familiar sounds could be transmitted thousands of miles. Others boast that they have never been away from Fincastle on New Year's Eve though it often means hours of travel. Recorded tapes of the event exist.

After the Court House burned in December, 1970, the usual participants climbed atop part of the ruined structure and, using a bell borrowed from The Botetourt County Museum which had hung in one of the previous Botetourt County CourtHouses, the tradition was carried on. Each year, thereafter, a makeshift arrangement made it possible to continue until the present Court House was completed. Since 1974 the "new" bell in the "new" belfry has led, and will continue to lead, the proceedings each New Year's Eve in the "Old" way.

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