×

Francestown’s annual Labor Day Celebration turns 100

  • A photo taken in 1927 of a parade during Francestown’s annual Labor Day Celebration. Courtesy photo—

  • A photo taken in 1917 of a parade during Francestown’s annual Labor Day Celebration. Courtesy photo—

  • A photo taken in 1927 of a parade during Francestown’s annual Labor Day Celebration. Couresty photo—

  • A photo taken in 1917 of a parade during Francestown’s annual Labor Day Celebration. Courtesy photo—

  • (Left to right) Caroline Humphreys Hawking, Dolly Basset Bailey, Ada Bixby, Lucy Holt Andolia, Doris Belcher, Agnes Aikens, Harry Smith, and George Hart walk in Francestown’s first annual Labor Day parade.  Courtesy photo—

  • The Concord Coach in the 1917 Labor Day Carnival.  Courtesy photo—

  • The first Labor Day Carnival in 1917. Courtesy photo—

  • Caroline “Carrie” Patch on horseback in 1917. Courtesy photo—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Francestown Annual Labor Day Celebration is “small town America at its best,” Diana Place, vice president of the Francestown Improvement & Historical Society, said about the annual celebration.

“It’s an absolutely fabulous confluence of all ages, people, and activities,” she said.

The four-day event — now in its 100th year — will kick off with a contra dance at 7:30 p.m. on Friday with activities running through Monday.

Place said the celebration features “something for everyone.”

“Older people are wheeled out in their wheelchairs to watch the parade, runners from all over the region come for the road race, and there is a climbing wall and a puppet brigade for the kids,” she said.

The annual event started in 1917 as a Red Cross fundraiser to support troops who had been sent overseas. Charlie Pyle, president of the Francestown Improvement & Historical Society, said the celebration raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 that first year, which was used to put together comfort bags for the troops.

Ever since the event has been held.

“If you look back at the records, there were times when people sat down and voted whether to have a Labor Day or not,” Pyle said. “In WWII, they said, ‘should we have a Labor Day? And they did, whatever was going on, the celebration continued.”

The celebration has become the town’s Old Home Day, its Harvest Festival, its Fourth of July celebration.

“This is Francestown’s big celebration,” Pyle said.

He said a group of people has passed the celebration along from generation to generation.

“Multiple generations have helped with Labor Day,” Pyle said.

Pyle said the event marks the end of summer for many.

“It’s the time when the community comes together and puts our best face forward,” Pyle said.

Vespers

On Sunday night, Vespers will be held at the Old Meeting House at 7 p.m.

Place said she remembers the first Vespers she went to back when she was dating her husband and living in Boston.

“The children were singing songs and telling stories about their lives in Francestown, and some time in the evening an older person will stand up and read a list of names of all the people who have died, and then kids will read names of babies who were born,” Place said growing emotional at the thought.

She paused and took a moment to regroup and then apologized. She said it’s beautiful and this year has been a particularly hard year for deaths in town.

This year, Fritz Wetherbee, who is a New Hampshire writer and television host, is coming to speak at the event.

“It’s about an hour program of just coming together,” Pyle said.

Parade

Carol Barr, who is also a member of the historical society, moved from Boston to Francestown when she was about 6 years old. She said she has fond memories of past celebrations, especially of the parades.

“We spent hours working on floats because there was so much creative energy and talent in our family,” she said, adding that she sometimes she would stay up until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. in the morning working on the float.

She said one year her family recreated a Japanese fairytale. Her dad built a wooden Oriental arched bridge that year, and she and her cousins dressed up in kimonos. They won the grand prize for that float.

Barr said the prizes never mattered much to her, it was the process she enjoyed. Her aunt felt differently though. One year, the family didn’t win and her aunt commented that the people who had taken home the prize had just thrown a bathtub on a truck bed.

“She got competitive,” Barr said.

Another year, their family was in the process of building a float in their driveway along Main Street. Barr said her aunt thought someone would steal their theme so she covered the entire float in sheets.

“There was a strong wind that night and when we opened the door the sheets had blown off,” Barr said laughing while recalling the memory.

Barr said she hasn’t been in the parade for years, and some of her family members who were part of the creative process have since passed away.

“I know their spirit lives on in everything that happens in Francestown on Labor Day,” Barr said.

Pyle said there’s been a parade almost every year since the beginning, although in 1943 there was a gas shortage, and the children marched through the streets in costume instead. On Monday, the parade will weave its way down Main Street at 2 p.m. This year’s theme is “The Last 100 Years.”

Barr said she hopes the Labor Day event will continue long into the future.

“I hope families and children will still be able to have the wonderful experience 100 years from now,” Barr said.

The panel of judges will choose a winning float for a total of $200. The judges include former NH Charitable Foundation President Lew Feldstein, author and WMUR-TV journalist Jennifer Vaughn, and children’s author and illustrator Tomie dePaola.

“Beehive” grand opening

The historical society will also launch a grand opening of its new space in the “Beehive,” a 1846 building constructed as a dormitory for the Francestown Academy. The academy educated the likes of 14th U.S. President Franklin Pierce.

On display will be historic collections donated to the society by families including items from the Francestown Soapstone Quarry, and from the agricultural era – including Hob and Nob Farm on Crotched Mountain.

The Beehive will be open on Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.