by Kate Evans
This Saturday’s William H. Norton Memorial Day Parade in Paw Paw will be the 60th time that bands, floats and dignitaries have put on a show to mark the holiday weekend in western Morgan County.
Paw Paw residents shared their memories of the annual parade, and how it has changed over six decades. The first parade was held Memorial Day weekend in 1959 as a Little League opener.
Brown Norton recalled how the Memorial Day weekend parade was named after his uncle William H. Norton. His uncle was town water commissioner and had fixed up the roads in Paw Paw so they decided to name the parade after him, Norton said.
W.H. Norton, known as June, was a big promoter of the parade, former Paw Paw Mayor Helena Moser said.
“He was a very caring soul. He loved the town and liked doing things for the town,” Moser said.
Barbara Norton said that the Paw Paw parade began in 1959 as a parade for Little League and that ball players rode in the parade. Paw Paw had a parade in earlier years that went through town and up to the cemetery where a ceremony was held for Memorial Day.
When the parade started up again in 1959 it was largely due to the help of local Avon officials. Avon had a distribution warehouse in Paw Paw at the tannery buildings for five years.
Brown Norton said that the Avon company had good contacts and got car dealerships in Cumberland and Winchester to bring the late 50s and 60s convertibles to be in the parade.
“Everyone came to see the new cars,” he said.
Brown Norton said not many fire department vehicles were in the parade back then. Paw Paw’s fire engine and ambulance were there and the Berkeley Springs fire department came, but most others didn’t travel far because they had old fire trucks.
All the stores had floats in the parade — there were five or six stores in town then, Brown Norton said. Consolidated apple orchard had a parade float, too. The Paw Paw High School band and Berkeley Springs High School band marched in the parade. The Honor Guard was also there.
Barbara Norton said the parade had more cars and tractors later. John Shambaugh always drove his tractor. Wes Ride had an 18-wheeler with a train horn that he would blow. John Ott drove an old Ford Model A in the parade.
Barbara Norton said that when the Paw Paw parade first started, it went up and down all the streets in town. Now the parade route is a straight shot through town and goes down Winchester Street and back to the school. They’ve done the parade routes differently some years.
Like a homecoming
Barbara Norton said the Paw Paw parade has always been held on Memorial Day weekend. She likes that the town always gets cleaned up for the parade. Holes got patched in the roads and people cleaned up their yards.
“It’s more like a homecoming. They have the alumni banquet. People come back for the parade and everyone has a cookout,” she said.
Peggy Sharp was active in organizing the parade after she moved to Paw Paw in 1977. Back then, they had cars in the parade for the mayor and the town council, Sharp said. The floats were beautiful and were made on hay wagons.
Parades had antique cars, horses, majorettes, high school bands and ball teams. There were also appearances by the Tri-County Pommettes, Sharp said.
In conjunction with the Memorial Day parade, a wreath is laid at 10 a.m. on the grave of Harley Bohrer, the first soldier from Paw Paw that was killed in World War II. The Paw Paw American Legion Post 128 is named after Bohrer.
Sharp helped with the parade for around 15 years. She marked roads, helped to get people to be in the parade and assisted with the parade line-up. She said she liked the floats and the horses best.
Helena Moser said she always liked the marching bands in the parade and enjoyed the marching music. Moser recalled when Fort Hill High School donated their band uniforms to Paw Paw High School’s band when Fort Hill got new ones. The kids looked so nice, she said. Moser recalled that the town used to get smaller floats from the Apple Blossom Parade.
Horses bring up the end of the parade each year. There are some really pretty horses and great riders, Moser said.
Moser said she usually has nearly 40 family members at her house during the parade. The weekend brings people back to Paw Paw.
“It brings people home,” Moser noted.
Becky Pracht and her husband Ken Pracht help with the parade now and organize the antique car show every year. They are classic car owners and thought a car show would be a nice Memorial Day weekend addition for the community and visitors. This is the 14th year of the car show.
The Prachts’ classic cars have driven Gold Star Mothers and Mrs. William H. Norton in the parade. Many car show entrants have volunteered to drive parade participants over the years. Pracht said that a lot of people help with things the day of the parade and without them, it wouldn’t happen.
Pracht said she got involved in helping with the parade in 2001 after they moved back from Kentucky. Before that, the couple often came home for Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s a good hometown tradition. It’s the biggest thing that happens in Paw Paw,” Pracht said.
Pracht likes the fire department vehicles in the annual Paw Paw parade. The parade always has a good showing from the different volunteer fire companies. Pracht also enjoys the floats that the churches put together.
“The talent some of our community members have is amazing. They put something together out of nothing,” Pracht said.
Pracht and her husband start setting up for the parade around 5-5:30 a.m. Vendors arrive at 7 a.m. and the car show starts at 9 a.m. Parade awards are given out around 4: p.m.
“It’s so much fun. It’s nice to do it for the community,” Pracht said.