Jubilee began 77 years ago at Richards Park

By Larry Smith Bradyites and McCulloch Coun-tians have long enjoyed entertainment especially when the weather is hot, the watermelons get ripe and it’s Fourth of July time. Our forefathers (and mothers, too) began their first “fair” in 1908, but that ran out of steam when the threat of war came in the early teens. Then after the war to end all wars (World War I) was over, the Heart of Texas citizens became antsy for another celebration of some sort. The beginning of the Jubilee surfaced in 1926 when Ed Broad, owner of the Broad Mercantile Co., organized the party. According to old Brady Standard editions, Broad was a “real worker” and his event was such a big success it became an annual celebration. Although the “July Jubilee” didn’t get its musical name until two years later, it started out as a “two-day picnic, barbecue”, a gift to the people of Brady and McCulloch County. The gift was from Mr. and Mrs. F.M. (Buck) Richards. Richards was a prominent Brady cattle breeder known around the state for his prowess in breeding Hereford cattle. The Richards’ 10,000-acre ranch was one of the largest in McCulloch County. The couple was one of the first philanthropists in the county, donating the 42-acre plot that sits along Brady Creek and now stands as Richards Park. This location was the site of the first July Jubilee which included horse races, rodeos, a baseball game, a boxing match, a fiddlers’ contest, a carnival, a dance and an “open-air picture show” at night. The famous Brady Municipal Band paraded around the square and marched out to the park. The bandsmen were decked out in snappy white shirts and trousers, white sailor hats with blue hat bands, blue sashes, and blue ties with white polka dots. With summer elections approaching, politicians were in attendance, too. Thomas L. Blanton of Abilene, a fiery orator who was serving as 17th District congressman, headlined the list of guests. Dan Moody and Lynch Davidson, who were seeking the gubernatorial seat in Texas, sent their representatives. Richards Park was dedicated by Mark McGee, a noted attorney from Fort Worth. He stated that Mr. and Mrs. Richards “have left to the present generation and to generations yet unborn a monument for all time to come’a monument more enduring than the most magnificent of marble shafts.” The Melvin band was also present at the celebration as were bands from San Saba and Llano. The baseball game pitted players from Lohn and Brady called the Heart of Texas team against Fredericksburg. The local lads whipped the visitors in a doubleheaders, 5-4 and 1-0. Pitching for the Heart of Texas team was a long-armed, lanky kid named Luke Vogel. He later served McCulloch County for many years as its sheriff. Another well-known McCulloch County man was calling the balls and strikes. His name was Dutch Woodward. But the event that really pleased the crowd was the free barbecue. Some 20,000 showed up for the feed. The horse races were the legacy that lived on for more than 70 years. The race track, a 3/8th mile oval, served the Jubilee until it was destroyed by a tornado in June 1945. About three years later the track moved about a half mile southwest of Richards Park to land donated to the city by another Brady philanthropist, G. Rollie White. The original track got part of its initial grandstands from the Arlington Downs, a historic landmark that was Texas’ first pari-mutuel race track. That portion of the grandstands at G. Rollie White was razed in 1958 when the stands were enlarged. During that period the downtown Fourth of July parade helped kickoff the Jubilee each year. After the parade was over, most of the people would flock to the race track to bet on the horses. Jubilee officials tried several things to entertain the horse fans between races. Rodeos, auto races and Pony League baseball games were tried, mostly to no avail. The Quarterhorse Association was a popular event in the 1970s and 80s, but that finally fizzled out. The race track became active again in 1989 when local investors formed an association after the Texas Legislature approved it was legal to bet on the horses. The remodeled facilities became known as G. Rollie White Downs. After acquiring a pari-mutuel track license, the first “legal” horse racing began in Texas. The first event drew more than 10,000 fans with TV stations from around the state filling the parking lot. Local investors claimed the state overmanaged the track. The state said there was not enough attendance, and Brady found out just how isolated it is. Some said we were “so centrally located, we were isolated” with the closest city of any size being San Angelo, 75 miles away. Following the shut down in December, less than three months after it started, G. Rollie White Downs was empty again. Hopes of reopening the Downs are currently in the works as the City Council has been working with a man wanting to lease the track providing that he is granted a license by the Texas Racing Commission. The carnival, a longtime fixture under the shady pecan trees at Richards Park, which was moved to the old race track where the Little League and softball fields are now located, will not make an appearance this Jubilee because the company has just filed for bankruptcy. Delaine Poe, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce has feverishly been seeking a replacement, but to date has had no luck. For many years the Bill Hames Show was a fixture at the park, but lesser known carnival companies have been in Brady in recent years. The Miss Heart of Texas pageant was just observed about 10 days ago, and Megan Griffith was crowned the new queen. She and her court, Jasmine Lafuente and Jana Solsbery, will reign over the Jubilee until next June. Several Brady High School class reunions will be in action during the Jubilee as well. It looks like Brady will have a typical one this year’hot weather is predicted.

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