The Gaslight Parade: A Long-Running Tradition
The Gaslight Festival Celebrates 50th Anniversary September 13-15
Writer / Karen Lynn
Photography provided courtesy of The Chamber Jeffersontown and Jeffersontown Historical Museum
This year Jeffersontown celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Gaslight Festival. One event epitomizes the annual festival: The Gaslight Parade. Not only do more than 10,000 people come out to watch the annual parade, but hundreds of locals from the Jeffersontown community participate in it each year. They come from local businesses, companies, schools, churches, organizations, scout troops, ball teams and special groups. They drive floats and tractors, mustangs and corvettes, fire trucks, police cars, army jeeps, motorcycles, bikes and antique cars. They walk in groups and teams, march in bands, dance, skate, ride in convertibles and on horseback, lead cheers, play music and more.
Each year, the parade features more than 100 units and some years even more.
“I think over the years we’ve had as many local people in the parade as we’ve had watching it,” says John Cosby, President of the Jeffersontown Chamber who coordinates the event every year. “We had so many entries back in 1998 that it was dark by the time we finished.”
Cosby has been “behind-the-scenes” for more than 25 years making it run smooth, consistent and safely.
“We’ve got a great group of volunteers and staff that make it happen, and of course the community pulls together and it comes off as a smooth, fun, family event every year,” he says.
The first Gaslight Parade in 1970 began in the Town Square and ended up at the J-Town Shopping Center. The route is reversed now. In 1977, which was expected to be the biggest Gaslight Parade to date, a CB club called the Kentucky Breakers was on hand to help direct traffic. A viewing area with stands was set up on the Floore property (where the medical center now stands). Cartoon Characters were also in the parade, along with floats, Shriners and a couple of marching bands – including, of course, the Marching Chargers. Chuck Taylor, the WHAS meteorologist, was grand marshal. The Corvair Club of Kentucky provided rides for other dignitaries, including Queenie Bee.
Jack Fox was to announce the parade.
The 1986 parade was dedicated to the Vietnam veterans. There were about 75,000 spectators, and that was with thunderstorms drenching them. During the early 90s, approximately 75 to 100 parade units marched the route with somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators. In 1997, a huge birthday cake to celebrate the town’s Bicentennial led off the parade.
By 2000, due to so many requests for parade unit entries, the number of entrants was limited to 100. Rev. Thurmond Coleman was grand marshal that year. He was retiring as Pastor of First Baptist Church in November. Various awards were given to the best floats: The Mayor’s Award was for the float with the best community theme, the Chamber of Commerce Award was for the best commercial/business entry, and the Sponsor’s Award to the best overall entry.
Fast forward to 2019, what about all those sharp looking convertibles that ride along the parade route each year carrying J-Town dignitaries? They’re coordinated by Denise Johnson at the Chamber Office, but they’re owned by local residents and business people who volunteer their time (and car) to drive Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf and City Council Members, Gaslight Platinum Sponsors and an occasional Grand Marshall.
And talk about an exciting day for car enthusiasts, the Gaslight Parade always includes several car groups and most of them will be there again this year: Derby City Camaro Club, Falls City Corvette Club and Derby City Mustang Club. It’s a car-lovers paradise during Gaslight.
Some of the other longtime units include Jeffersontown Elementary and High School, The Shriners, The Fraternal Order of Eagles, Diane Moore Dance Academy and others. Many of the parade units include walking volunteers that hand candy, small toys, beads, etc. to children along the route.
The Parade has also had quite a few memorable Grand Marshalls including Miss J-Town Heather French Henry, who went on to win Miss Kentucky. Pat Day, Denny Crum, several winning baseball and football teams and even a young Ben Rhodes, NASCAR’s hottest up-and-coming race car driver this season.
Longtime Jeffersontown resident and Chamber employee Carolyn Neal Webb has fond memories of going to the parade every year with her parents, then later on as a teenager. She started working at the Jeffersontown Chamber when her daughter was one-year-old. Her children were in Gaslight Parades with school and softball teams over the years. She’s back at the Chamber and is working on the parade, again.
Floats were a part of the early parades. In 1972, the Mansfield Players won first prize for their entry, “Our Town.” The Rotary Club came in third with a Jail and Keystone Kops.
Nowadays, River City Bank, who sponsors the parade, brings their shiny “riverboat” float each year. And who can forget Maeser Plumbing’s float with its huge floating yellow rubber duck in a bathtub of big white bubbles. They may not have as many big flashy floats as some other parades, but the community pride and spirit run strong and deep.
It’s a fun time and a great community-focused, family-friendly annual September event. People start setting up their chairs, blankets and tarps as early as noon the day of the parade. They’ve weathered blazing heat, rain and even chilly temps, all part of Kentucky’s mid-September weather variations that don’t seem to deter the tight-knit community.
“My favorite part of the week-long festivities is seeing the community come alive with friends of old to celebrate in a Jeffersontown family tradition known as the Gaslight Festival,” Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf proudly says.
It’s not just another festival, but a celebration of community, family and friends that keeps it so strong and successful after 50 years.
The 2019 Gaslight Festival is September 13-15. The parade starts at Jeffersontown Commons at 9503 Taylorsville Road (or as the locals know it, “Taylorsville Road at Patti Lane”), travels east to Gaslight Square and ends at Watterson Trail and College Drive. For more information, visit jtownchamber.com/gaslight-festival.