A Celebration of Community: The 4th of July in Crittenden Eclipse

The 4th of July is, without a doubt, the most iconic and memorable day in the Crittenden Eclipse neighborhood. When my family and I first came to Suffolk last year, we had heard that there would be a patriotic celebration, but we weren’t prepared for the mailbox decorating contest, the raft race, the parade of bikes, golf carts, cars, and more that fills the street with QDaddy’s coupons and candy, the church’s games and food, and the fireworks. Oh the fireworks! From our front porch, we had the perfect view of the long and colorful display that amazed us. What other neighborhood can boast all of that? As I’ve been gathering these community stories, I’ve been most excited to learn more about our neighbors’ histories and stories associated with the 4th of July and understand how this celebration came to be. As we near the Virginia 250 next year and our 4th of July celebration will be sure to be the biggest yet, I wanted to share a few memories and lots of pictures. If you have more stories or pictures to share, please feel free to email Katie at This piece would not have been possible without the generous help and support of Ginny Bagnell, Karla Smith, Jean Hodges, Brooks Britt, Coco Cary, Sheila Smith, and Pam Tootoo. Thank you all!

The Chuckatuck Creek Raft Race began in 1975 with the parade starting the year after for the bicentennial in 1976. The Raft Race has always been at 3PM to time it in a lull between the church’s activities and the fireworks. Karla Smith recalls that the race “just kind of happened” and got really popular because it was a “good time to celebrate being on the water.”

People are in boats watching the race, people are racing in homemade (and oftentimes creative) rafts, and people are swimming in the water. The race either begins at the buoy or the bridge based on the tide that day, and everyone crowds to Johnson’s Seafood to watch. Something special at Johnson’s Seafood is the huge American flag that flies on the dock and can be seen as you come over the bridge. Karla explained that in order to enter the raft race, you must wear a life jacket and bring a raft that is, ideally, handmade. You cannot use a motor, but kayaks and canoes and other watercraft may be used as part of the raft floatation. However, they cannot be raced as is. Some of the most memorable rafts that I heard repeated across my interviews were the beer can raft and the “Creek Freak.” In the early 80s, a group from Moore’s Point Road collected 3,000 Budweiser beer cans to create a pontoon, and their creativity is still being praised decades later. Ginny Bagnell and Karla Smith were determined to beat the Keeling boys in 1978 and made a paper mache raft on a chicken wire frame. They wore hard hats with shark fins on them and painted their raft, the “Creek Freak,” like a shark. To their great joy, they did, in fact, win that year. There have been rafts with a bike-powered paddle wheel, rafts modeled after a pirate ship, a dragon boat, two surfboards tied together, and even a burial vault entered by Don Carter. It costs nothing to enter and the prize is a framed print of that year’s shirt Speaking of shirts, Karla Smith has designed the Raft Race shirts for over 40 years. A talented artist, Karla has been incorporating elements of the community’s waterways into the designs.

Jean Hodges particularly likes when Karla includes a basket of crabs on the shirts because she thinks that she draws them well. Jean recalls that the beloved shirts originally were only going to be for Ginny and Karla, but pretty soon everyone wanted one. Jean made the screen and Karla made the design. Ginny recalls the early days of making the t-shirts themselves and spreading them across the Ruritan Hall. The shirts were originally sold on the 4th, but they transitioned to selling them on the 3rd so everyone could enjoy their day. The shirts are still sold on the 3rd in the Ruritan Hall and are first come first serve.

The parade through the neighborhood now includes “every vehicle known to man” according to Jean, and Brooks Britt particularly enjoys the vintage cars, fire trucks, and all of the children participating on their bikes. He is excited to enter his red golf cart into the parade for the first time this year. The parade lasts from 10:30-11:30, and the celebration at Ebenezer United Methodist Church begins immediately afterwards with food, games, and activities for the whole family. This year there will be live music from the Time Line Band from 6-8:30 before the fireworks begin around 9 sponsored by the CE&H Ruritans. We are excited to enter the parade for the first time this year with our tractor.

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