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Old Home Day a time-tested tradition in NH

Each year tractors, livestock, civic groups and colorful floats parade through small communities in New Hampshire as residents celebrate the present while honoring their past. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
August 04, 2010
LAKES REGION — Old Home Day is a wonderful tradition celebrated across many states but has its proud roots planted firmly in the state of New Hampshire, where the idea for bringing back former town residents who had left their agricultural roots for the draw of more populated areas was first born.

Gov. Frank Rollins in 1899 was credited with developing the concept of luring people back to their hometowns to see how they had grown and improved. Coordinated by what was at the time called the Board of Agriculture, communities were urged to bring out their finest features and put them on display, from produce to products manufactured, and mix it all up with a little bit of fun. Houses and town buildings were decked out in bunting and fire equipment, and other new technology from the towns was paraded for everyone to admire. Games, competitions and some good home cooking all helped to celebrate the individual spirit and lifestyles of these communities.

Begun as a week long celebration, many towns have now turned to a one-day event, but the original concept seems to have held strong through the years. In fact, it even spread to other New England states that also celebrate their historic roots with Old Home Day.

While larger communities like Laconia and Manchester don't hold Old Home Day festivities, smaller towns still take pride in celebrating this history while showing off their finest features, products and talents to residents past and present.

In Gilford Old Home Day is held at summer's end and is the big event of the season. Herb Green is a member of the committee, which plans the festivities and said they gear the day toward events that will attract people back to their town.

"We look at Old Home Day as a means to bring the community back together and celebrate our past and our present," he said.

This year's theme will be "Harvest Fest" and will honor the agricultural roots of Gilford. Parades, band concerts, crafts and fireworks will fill the day, ending with a community dance. Around town peripheral groups will be adding to the fun with pancake breakfasts, White Elephant sales and other traditions that go back for years in the community. Green said it is a time when generations reconnect in their hometown and enjoy a fun-filled day together.

Sanbornton holds a three-day celebration each year. For 25 years the event was renamed "Market Days" and was sponsored by the grange to highlight locally grown goods. Old Home Day committee chairman Karen Ober said the move back to Old Home Days occurred a few years ago when selectmen wanted to bring more of the community back into the event.

"We decided we wanted to do more than just have vendors, like demonstrations, music and other things going on throughout the weekend. People were getting away from the roots of the town and this was an opportunity to get back to that," she said.

Ober credited the Energy Committee for getting Old Home Days back on track, bringing themes like "Sanbornton is Going Green" to the weekend to show the spirit of the town. Other themes have been "Growing Roots in Our Town" and "Sanbornton Then and Now." Community meals, baking contests, blacksmithing, Indian tipis and Revolutionary War displays all bring a sense of Sanbornton's past back to residents of the present. This year essay contests and photo and art competitions highlighted even more of the local talents.

Sandwich is one of the few towns to maintain the original weeklong format. Resident Diane Johnson said so much is planned every year that a week is necessary to fit it all in.

"We've been celebrating Old Home Week in Sandwich since it began," Johnson said.

Sandwich is celebrating their 112th Old Home Week this year. Johnson said there is a lot of history in Sandwich that is celebrated at each annual gathering. People who grew up in the town but moved away return each year and Johnson said the week becomes a town-wide celebration filled with family reunions, games and lots of old-time events that get people of all ages involved. Fishing tournaments, horseshoes, ball games and other fun keep everyone busy. Planning is simple since each family maintains the same responsibilities every year. If one generation can no longer organize their part of the week's activities, the next generation steps in to handle it.

"We don't reinvent Old Home Week every year - we just recreate it," she said.

Parades at most Old Home Day celebrations find livestock walking the street amidst scouts, ball teams, local politicians and of course, tractors and other farming equipment that helped frame the backbone of each of these small communities. Floats also spotlight civic groups like 4-H that share their history with farming and agriculture.

What started as a way to bring people back to their hometowns has continued on with the same spirit and community pride and even many of the activities they enjoyed at the turn of the century. If there's barbecue sauce or blueberry pie on faces as you walk through a town, don't hand them a napkin- find out where you can join in on the fun or sit back and wait for the parade or Cow Bingo or the horseshoe tournament to begin.

For a list of dates for Old Home Day celebrations this month, including those in Moultonboro, Gilford, Belmont and Sandwich, visit www.nhlibertycalendar.org.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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