MIDDLETOWN — Thousands of people flocked to Middletown Sunday for the town’s Fourth of July parade that kicked off at 5 p.m. at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Mayor Charles Harbaugh said Sunday’s parade was “one for the books.” With 250 parade entries and a crowd of more than 5,000 people, he said it was the most attended Independence Day celebration in the town’s history.

“I’ve been festivals director for 12 years,” Harbaugh said. “This is the largest [parade] I’ve ever seen — Christmas, July. It was one of a kind.”

The parade featured The United States Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, local businesses, fire trucks, army trucks, historical reenactors, horses, Boy Scouts, local candidates and elected officials. In addition, the town called all Jeep owners to enter their Jeep in the parade in honor of Jeep’s 80th anniversary. Ultimately, 175 Jeeps participated in the parade.

Also featured in the parade were three grand marshals: Two former Washington Football Team players — running back Brian Mitchell and four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ken Harvey — and Miss Virginia Tatum Sheppard.

Mitchell said that the town was even able to have the parade was a positive sign, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic last year canceled many July Fourth celebrations.

“Seeing these events come together, it makes you realize that things are getting back to normal, which is a lot of fun for me,” Mitchell said.

Harvey said the parade was a sign that “we are getting back on track.” He said the pandemic highlighted how much people need each other and how simple things like handshaking, a hug and calling people to say hello mean a lot.

Town Council members Jeff Pennington and Shayla Rickard said they loved seeing a large turnout.

“It feels great not to have a mask on anymore,” Pennington said. “It feels great to be out in the community the way we need to be.”

In addition to celebrating the 245th anniversary of America declaring independence from Britain, this year’s festivities also marked Middletown’s 225th anniversary. In addition to the parade, the town hosted a softball tournament, cornhole tournament, kickball game, bicycle rodeo, hot air balloon rides, house decorating contest, crafters, food vendors, games and live musical entertainment. Most of the events took place at the town park. At dusk, the town held a fireworks show.

Amy Phipps, of Midlothian, came to Middletown to visit her mom Patti Oates and several other relatives for the holiday weekend. She said the family was eager to celebrate, as they didn’t attend any parades last year.

“We made a point to come here today because it’s our first parade since COVID,” Phipps said. “I have a 5-year-old across the street who is getting ice cream, and he’s super excited.”

Stephens City residents Cassie and Matt Purtlebaugh came to the parade to watch their son drive in Legacy Christian Academy’s float. While Matt most enjoyed seeing the variety of vehicles, Cassie said she most enjoyed having a chance to celebrate those who have fought for the country.

“I love just celebrating our veterans, our military,” Purtlebaugh said. “Every man in our family has served in the armed forces. So, it’s a special day for us.”

Harbaugh attributed the festivities’ success to multiple factors. First, he said the town’s Independence Day celebration was the only major event taking place on Sunday in the area. He also noted the pandemic led to pent-up demand and people itching to get out of the house.

“I’d love to thank our sponsors and our gracious volunteers and staff,” Harbaugh said. “Everybody worked really hard. It went really, really smooth. It was a wonderful event. Our grand marshals were very gracious, they hung out at the park after hours and signed autographs and talked to people. It was really special. It was a one-of-a kind night.”