In 1975, Lt. Gov. Rudy Perpich visited Houston to personally present the city with a bicentennial flag as an official Bicentennial community. In 1976, the entire nation was celebrating the nation’s 200th birthday. However, few Minnesota communities so extensively observed the occasion as did Houston, which enjoyed a year-long celebration. On Easter weekend, La Crescent drew widespread attention while hosting not only the Minnesota Bicentennial Wagon Train but also serving as the assembling point for wagon trains from North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.
In Houston, preparations had begun in 1974 when the city had commemorated the 100th anniversary of its own 1874 incorporation. In 1976, the town’s float traveled about 700 miles while appearing in 12 parades. There was a variety of bicentennial events with each month having a designated heritage theme, starting with January’s “The Heritage of Faith.” The year was only a few hours old on New Year’s Day when the unprecedented year of celebration began with an ecumenical worship service and a community brunch.
At February’s Bicentennial Heritage Ball, gentlemen in powdered wigs and waistcoats danced with ladies in 18th Century gowns. An estimated 300 persons attended, including guests from Mabel, Rushford, Spring Grove and La Crosse, Wis., and others. Many wore period costumes, some depicting specific colonists such as Martha and George Washington, Betsy Ross and the pilgrims. Costumed couples or singles were introduced as they walked through the archway inside the Houston Community Building. Judged most elegant couple were Mr. and Mrs. Maynard Nelson. Most authentic male costume was worn by Dr. Ron Evenson. Portraying Betsy Ross, Bernice Redding wore the most authentic female costume.
March featured “The Heritage of Music” with a barbershop quartet concert. A community fashion show during April’s “The Heritage of Fashion” highlighted apparel through the past 200 years. For May, the “Heritage of History” featured tours of the village and the Stone Church. In June, the “Heritage of Youth” festivities included an old-fashioned spelling bee, a soap box derby, a parade and games.
In July (“Drama”), there was a widely acclaimed production of the award-winning musical “1776” by the Houston Community Theater with four evening performances from July 1-4. (Adults $2.00, students for $1.50, reserved seats $2.50.)
“Transportation” was celebrated in August with a tractor pull, a horse pull and an antique car show along with a canoe race and gymkhana. It was “Agriculture” in September with a rope pull, horseshoe pitching competition, a farmers’ market and bake-off. October was the “Heritage of Tradition,” followed by November’s “Heritage of Thanks.”
December’s “Heritage of Holidays” featured a December 10 banquet at the Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, followed by the Holiday Bicentennial Ball at the Community Building. At $5 per ticket, more than 100 people attended the banquet where photographs from the year’s activities were projected onto a screen.
The Minnesota Bicentennial Wagon Train, traveling about four miles per hour, had begun a 1,300-mile trip at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds in St. Paul with overnight stops at Hastings, Red Wing and Winona – a four-day trip before reaching La Crescent on Saturday afternoon, April 17 of Easter weekend. Some Houston area residents – Harold Van Gundy, Raymond Mark, Lenard Tostenson, Ronnie Dybing, John Schields and Duane Zenke – joined the wagons at Winona to make the trip to La Crescent.
There the half-mile-long, 22-wagon Minnesota contingent, along with 200-outriders on horseback, was joined by wagon trains from North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa to form the Great Lakes Route train.
Despite a rainy Saturday, many sightseers visited the campsite near La Crescent High School, especially on Easter Sunday. A special Saturday night program, featuring both traveling and local talent, was held in the high school gymnasium. A scroll of 2,500 signatures was presented to the wagonmaster to be placed in a 100-year time capsule at Valley Forge. Pa.
On Monday morning, the wagons rolled on across the Mississippi River to join the Wisconsin wagon train and then on through Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio before joining the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Deep South and the Original 13 States wagon trains at Valley Forge on July 4. But that was only halfway through the celebrations in Houston, Minn.