Old Home Day started more than a century ago as a blatant attempt to draw former New Hampshire residents back home, where rural charms would convince them to stay.
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming
Ever wonder about the origins of Old Home Day?
Late summer in New England is the best of both worlds. Warm days still allow for outdoor fun like swimming, but as the evening chill gradually creeps back in, cozy gatherings around a fire sound great, too. It’s the perfect time for a community get-together.
Newly elected New Hampshire governor Frank Rollins certainly thought so back in 1899, when he debuted Old Home Day. At the time, rural New England was grappling with the loss of residents who were lured away either by the adventure of the West or by the steady paycheck of an industrial job in the city.
Two years earlier, in New England Magazine, Rollins had written: “I wish that in the ear of every son and daughter of New Hampshire, in the summer days, might be heard whispered the persuasive words: Come back, come back! Do you not hear the call? What has become of the old home where you were born? Do you not remember it — the old farm back among the hills, with its rambling buildings, its well-sweep casting its long shadows, the row of stiff poplar trees, the lilacs and the willows?”
Rollins ultimately took it upon himself to issue that call, in the form of Old Home Day — a celebration designed to draw former residents back in the hopes that New Hampshire’s rural charms would convince them to stay. Forty-four towns held Old Home Day events that first year, and as time went on, the number of participating towns kept growing. Massachusetts and Connecticut joined the fun in 1901. Not long after that, Old Home Day was being celebrated from Nova Scotia to Alabama, and Ohio to Australia.
Today, communities throughout New England and beyond still have Old Home Day circled on their calendars each year. In wartime, and particularly in the aftermath of the two World Wars, Old Home Day also became a way to honor those who had served.
Barbecues, potluck dinners, pie eating contests, and parades are among the typical highlights of Old Home Day. (Baked beans are not required, but you should be prepared to explain why they weren’t included.) Meals often feature crops, like corn and apples, that are freshly harvested at the time of celebration; there might be a road race to help burn off some of those calories, too. Library book sales are a draw for many, as are local garden tours. If the town has a bandstand, there will be live music — a performance that might just culminate in fireworks.
No matter what form it takes, however, Old Home Day still works as a lure to draw wayward New Englanders home. It is indeed a reminder of who we were and how we lived, but it’s more than just that: It is a celebration of the principles that we hope will guide us still, a light that helps show our best path forward.
Does your town celebrate Old Home Day? Let us know in the comments below!
This post was first published in 2020 and has been updated.