American flags line the streets of Centerville, Ohio on Independence Day as a parade highlights the largest single-day festival in Ohio.
In this city 15 miles south of Dayton and 45 miles north of Cincinnati, the Americana Festival represents a patriotic tradition reflective of a Norman Rockwell painting illustrating a simpler time, yet the annual event is only part of the community’s passion for America’s heritage.
On five flag holidays (Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day), volunteers from the Centerville Noon Optimist Club place three-by-five-foot U.S. flags on 10-foot poles in the front yards of homeowners and business owners.
The Avenue of Flags has become as beloved as the Americana Festival in this community of 24,240.
What started as a small project of 33 flags in one neighborhood in 2005 has evolved into 3,500 flags across Centerville and Washington Township on flag holidays.
Funds raised from Avenue of Flags subscribers are donated to children’s organizations in the community.
The Centerville Noon Optimist Club is the largest Optimist Club in the world. The organization awards around $20,000 worth of scholarships each year.
“One of the tenets of ‘The Optimist Creed’ is to promote patriotism. Our motto is ‘Friend of Youth,’” said Tom Novak, a co-chairman of the Avenue of Flags and a 27-year member of the Centerville Noon Optimist Club.
“The Avenue of Flags illustrates both goals because the flags provide a sense of pride in the community, and the funds raised from the program go directly to the young people.”
Volunteers deliver and pick up the flags. There are 83 teams, including volunteers from Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Centerville High School wrestling team. Even subscribers have become volunteers.
Centerville is also home to the country’s largest chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, a nonprofit organization that supports patriotism, troops all over the world, U.S. veterans, and fellow mothers and parents of service members. Blue Star Mothers is among the volunteer teams for the Avenue of Flags.
Flags are distributed and collected around each holiday. They are made in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. When the program grew so large that the Centerville Noon Optimists were unsure where they would store the flags, Sinclair Community College’s Centerville campus stepped up, Novak said.
The Centerville Noon Optimists have helped six neighboring communities launch their own Avenue of Flags programs. Members who have moved out of state have created an Avenue of Flags in their new town.
“The Avenue of Flags is especially inspiring because patriotism is on display in neighborhoods and downtown streets,” Novak said. “One of the most awe-inspiring images you can see is the American flag waving in the wind.”
By name alone, Centerville reflects the definition of Americana, which is “things associated with the culture and history of America,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. There are five communities called “Centerville” in Ohio.
Centerville has the largest collection of early stone houses in the state of Ohio. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Surveyed during George Washington’s presidency in 1796, the community we know as Centerville was settled by pioneers such as Aaron Nutt, Benjamin Archer, and Benjamin Robbins. It was Robbins who named the fledgling town “Centreville” after his hometown, Centreville, New Jersey, and because it was located between two rivers and was central to other communities such as Dayton and Lebanon. The U.S. Post Office changed the spelling to Centerville around 1900.
Aaron Nutt Sr. was one of Centerville’s early settlers. He served as a Revolutionary War riding spy, and his cottage was built on land provided by President James Monroe for his contributions to America’s independence.
At one time, as many as 100 stone buildings stood in Centerville and Washington Township. Today, around 25 remain, including Nutt’s cottage in the historic district on Main Street.
The stone buildings are among the businesses and homes that are dressed up for Independence Day and the Americana Festival.
At the city’s Fourth of July celebration this year, the Americana Festival hosted a parade commemorating its 50th anniversary.
The event debuted in 1972 as a sidewalk sale for downtown Centerville merchants. It became so popular that a festival was born. Now, the celebration draws more than 75,000 people and is the largest single-day festival in Ohio.
Mark Ryan, who owns a real estate agency located in the downtown historic district, hosts an annual party during the festival and decorates his building with American flags and banners.
“Centerville is a place where patriotism—and the principles and values on which America was founded—are still appreciated and celebrated,” Ryan said. “We love that we live in a community with a small-town feel that has an Independence Day festival and parade, and American flags on just about every street. It serves as a reminder of another era a long time ago.”
Dave Paprocki was born and raised in Centerville, graduated from Centerville High School in 2002, moved away, and then returned to his native town. He serves as the Americana Festival’s publicity chair.
“When I was a kid, I remember how excited I felt the days leading up to Independence Day, driving through town and seeing all of the buildings getting dressed up with flags, banners, and anything red, white, and blue,” Paprocki said.
“At a time when our country is divided, the festival represents a time when 75,000 people from all walks of life celebrate their city and country, and Centerville’s patriotic heritage.”