CHESTER - Ominous skies and threats of rain didn't keep people away from Chester's annual Fourth of July celebration, which started in the morning with a 5K Freedom Run and concluded at nightfall with a fireworks display.
"It's just nice to come out. I think it gets bigger every year," said Julie Cline of Chester, who came with her daughter, Madison, and son, Jeffrey.
Madison said her favorite part of the day was collecting the candy that was thrown during the parade. Cline said they came mainly for the parade, the food and the fireworks at the end - and planned to stay rain or shine.
Last year's Fourth of July event brought an estimated 17,000 out-of-town visitors to Chester, boosting the local economy and the city's reputation as a premier July 4 destination. David Nurmi, Chester Celebration Committee chairman, said at midday Thursday that it was too early to estimate this year's numbers.
"There's people everywhere. The people seem to be having a good time," Nurmi said. "I've had nothing but positive remarks as to how things are going."
Nurmi said there was a "full complement" of vendors on a closed Fourth Street and 48 units in this year's parade, which started at 4 p.m. at First Street and Carolina Avenue.
The day began with a 5K run at 9 a.m. and a Duck Dash at 10 a.m. People stood in line until 10:20 a.m. to buy their yellow rubber ducks, which were released into a hydrant-fed stream on Carolina Avenue according to four age categories.
Children lined up along the curb, dipping their hands into the water, to watch the parade of rubber ducks as they made their way to the Fourth Street finish line.
Victoria Russell, 16, formerly of Chester, was there with her boyfriend, Thomas Van Winkle, 18, of Joliet, Ill., and her grandmother, Ardis Russell. Victoria Russell was dressed in full red-white-and-blue regalia, including a tall hat, feather earrings, a homemade tutu, a tie, suspenders and striped socks.
"I try to dress up as much as possible," she said. "I get it from my grandmother. She's the one who tells me it's OK to dress up."
Victoria said she normally rides on the Chester Church of the Nazarene float in the parade. "I come every year," she said.
Leading the parade was the joint Chester American Legion-Veterans of Foreign Wars Color Guard. Following the veterans were the four members of the Chester Hall of Fame class of 2013. The Hall of Fame held its induction ceremony on Wednesday.
Also in the parade were Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher and the sheriff's department's K-9 unit; Hancock County Commissioners Dan Greathouse, Jeff Davis and Mike Swartzmiller; and floats by the Orchards at Foxcrest, Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort and Hancock County Savings Bank.
As the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" blared from a speaker at Chester City Park, incoming Chester Lions Club Secretary Steve Wilson said registrations at the club's annual cruise-in - 71 cars - were the highest ever.
"Considering the weather, that's really good. It's still a good turnout. I'm not complaining," said Wilson, who thanked all of this year's sponsors.