Key Ranch Revisits the Good Old Summertime : Celebration: About 100 attend the turn-of-the- century event in Placentia. Visitors view antiques and demonstrations, and sample home-cooking.

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Nancy Keller enjoys telling her grandchildren about the way Independence Day was celebrated almost 60 years ago in a tiny Connecticut beach town where she grew up.

“The parties today are so different,” the Buena Park high school teacher said. “Everyone was so patriotic then, and the events were so traditional.”

This year, Keller didn’t have to describe to her family the way the Fourth of July used to be. She got to show them.


Keller took her family to the historic George Key Ranch on Saturday, where rangers threw a turn-of-the-century “Stars and Stripes Celebration,” complete with a 1915 Model-T Ford, hand-spun wool and a display of food cooked in Dutch ovens. About 100 people drifted in and out throughout the day, some returning a second time with family members.

“Now this is the way I remember it,” Keller said.

Members of the Placentia color guard led opening ceremonies by raising an American flag while a trumpet sounded in the background. Visitors toured the ranch, home to 12 acres of orange groves, planted by George B. Key in 1893. Key moved to the Placentia area that year as superintendent of the Semi-Tropical Fruit Co. He helped organize and was an original director of what is now the Placentia Orange Growers Assn., with the best oranges from his groves labeled Sunkist.

On Saturday, exhibits were set up around the Key home, where park rangers talked about the history of the holiday.

“Independence Day back then was more a personal holiday because people remembered their families who were in wars,” said Mike Miniaci, a park ranger. “The entire town used to celebrate with a parade down the street.”

Miniaci said the patriotic hometown Independence Day celebration was at its peak from 1890 to the early 1900s, and so the theme for the ranch’s celebration was chosen from that era, along with a Teddy Roosevelt look-alike.

Women clad in Mother Hubbard gowns, calico aprons and white bonnets created hand-spun lace and knitted wool socks, as men dressed as Confederate soldiers showed off their gear.


Taking part in the one-day event was Susan Key Tanji, great-granddaughter of George B. Key, who built the home in 1898.

Tanji said that as a child, some holidays drew about 100 Key family members, and the highlight of the Fourth of July was her grandfather’s homemade ice cream.

Tanji, dressed in 1900s attire, sold strawberry shortcakes and cookies. She directed visitors to other exhibits, where members of a local woodcarving club created patriotic ornaments.

“It’s amazing,” said Fullerton resident Jaime Smith. “It brings back memories.”