2022 Fireworks History

FIREWORKS at dark, around 9:00 PM



Piseco’s Fireworks
The Story Behind the 4th of July Tradition
Written by Fred and Cindy Adcock, Piseco Lake Historical Society
Contributions provided by:
Bill Edwards, George and Diane Holiat, George Sherman, John Simons, and the Dorr Family

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great
anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn
acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with
shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this
continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
John Adams
Delegate to the Continental Congress
July 3, 1776

The story behind the much awaited fireworks display at Piseco, N.Y. is the story of one man’s vast efforts to bring a patriotic celebration to the residents of Arietta and Piseco Lake.The impetus for this annual event started not in Piseco, but in the Village of Speculator in thelate 1960s.

As an active member of the local Lions Club, William C. “Bill” Edwards volunteered to
organize a fireworks display for Speculator to be fired from Osborne’s Point, the site of the old Osborne Hotel overlooking Lake Pleasant. Bill was instrumental in bringing the American Fireworks Manufacturing Company of Utica, N.Y. to Speculator for several years to showcase the July 4th celebration.

The American Fireworks Manufacturing Company was formed when Vincenzo Speciale
emigrated from Sicily in the early 1900s. For two generations, his family had worked as Master Pyrotechnicians in the Old World, and after settling in Utica, Speciale formed the Italian American Fireworks Company. During World War II, his company ceased production of fireworks and produced hand grenades for the war effort. After the war, the company was renamed American Fireworks Manufacturing Company.

With extensive celebrations planned across the country for the nation’s Bicentennial in
1976, American Fireworks could not schedule a show in Speculator, but the owner worked with Bill Edwards to solve the problem. Meeting at the company’s storage facility in Frankfort Center, N.Y.,the representative offered to train Bill in the procedures needed to safely perform a pyrotechnics shoot and to sponsor him for a license from New York State.

Despite unseasonably cold weather, the 1976 fireworks display was successfully executed by Bill Edwards and a group of volunteers. In the early 1980s, Bill Edwards was contacted by Chet and Jean Blessing, owners of the Piseco Lake Lodge. The couple was willing to sponsor a fireworks show for Piseco if Bill could organize the event. With the cooperation of multiple families at Higgins Bay, Bill secured the use of Sherman’s Point to launch the show above the waters of Piseco Lake. A $500 donation from the Blessings enabled Bill to purchase the fireworks, and with the help of his sons and nephews, configured the launch site at Sherman’s Point.

Each mortar tube was placed in the ground and pitched at a fifteen-degree angle toward the lake. The bombs, with dangling fuses and safety caps, were carefully arranged. With the approach of darkness, the mortars were systematically ignited, bathing the lake with brilliant flashes and booming thunder for thirty minutes. The first show was well received, and Bill began to organize a fund raising campaign to finance the event for the
following year. Many well remember the decorated tin cans located at local businesses to raise funds for the event.

In 1988, Bill Edwards turned over the show at Speculator to others to concentrate on
Piseco’s celebration. For more than ten years, the fireworks were successfully shot from Sherman’s Point. An interesting side story occurred as a result of the pyrotechnic shoots from this area. Amid the flurry of activity at the 2000 shoot, one of Bill Edwards’ assistants, Kevin Dorr, lost his wedding ring. Nineteen years later, George Holiat was inspecting the waterfront damage left by the famed Halloween storm of 2019. He spotted something shiny among the washed out sand and stone and found it to be a wedding ring. The ring contained a date, but no names. Afterwards, George and his wife, Diane, met Bill and Christel Dorr while out walking and told of the discovery of the wedding
ring amid the storm debris. The Dorrs explained the date was that of their son’s wedding.
Miraculously, the ring recovered was the same ring Kevin Dorr had lost nineteen years before while setting off fireworks at Sherman’s Point!

The shoot of 2002 was notable when the wind pushed a drifting parachute shot back into the trees near the launch site at Sherman’s Point. The bomb ignited, setting fire to a large tree. The blast and fire were visible to the many spectators lining the shoreline at Half Moon Beach at the head of the lake. The show was suspended, as individuals pelted the burning branches with rocks to dislodge the bomb, while others hurried about extinguishing burning embers with hoses and shovels. The Piseco Volunteer Fire Department brought the fire under control in short order and the show continued after a brief delay. The burned tree became known as “The Fireworks Tree” until it was later cut down.

The following year, the July 4th launch was moved across the lake to Big Sand Point. After
several successful years, New York State authorities disallowed the shoot at the location claiming partial ownership of Big Sand Point. Bill Edwards was then offered the use of the beach at Sandy Cove, but some residents became concerned with the popping mortars and flying sparks near their camps. Fortunately, it was determined that New York State had no claim to a portion of Big Sand Point, and Bill and his crew moved the show back across the lake.

Other difficulties were encountered after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Bill
was interviewed by agents from the federal government and was required to obtain state and federal licenses to purchase and discharge professional grade fireworks. Despite these issues and the annual need for funding, the shows continued uninterrupted for many years.

The 2012 fireworks display was the last show organized by Bill Edwards and his family. He
decided to relinquish the job to other interested parties. His final efforts cost $6,000, all funded by individual donations. In 2013, the newly formed Piseco Lake Association began to sponsor and organize the fireworks shows, and the PLA continues the coordination of the event to the present time.

Over the years, thousands have enjoyed the local pyrotechnics displays that help celebrate
the independence of our nation. The picturesque scene of bursting bombs and colorful rockets illuminating the shimmering waters of Piseco Lake, and the thundering eruptions echoing off the mountains has provided lasting memories for young and old alike. With the ongoing support of the community, it is the hope this special Independence Day tradition will continue over Piseco Lake for many years to come. 

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