Old Home Day traditions matter
“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,” wrote N.H. Governor Frank West Rollins at the turn of the 19th century.
In 1897, Rollins saw the state’s young population leaving their hometowns and the state, seeking better opportunities. Rollins was looking for a way to draw them back, even for a short time, to their roots, in hopes that their connection to the area would stimulate them to support their local community.
That was the start of Old Home Week, a stretch of days when the state’s small towns celebrate the things that make them great and provides a venue for those who have scattered to the wind to return to their old hometown. It’s a tradition that has stretched to not only all of the New England states, but down the coast to Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and to the Midwestern states of Ohio and Kentucky. But it all started here in New Hampshire more than a century ago.
Today, the state is facing many of the same issues that prompted the creation of Old Home Week to begin with, namely an exodus of youth leaving the area after school to pursue “greener pastures.” But as long as the problem has persisted, so has Rollins’ proposed solution.
Old Home Days have fallen to the wayside or have been replaced by other traditions in some New Hampshire towns, but in many they still thrive. This year, Wilton will be celebrating a big milestone, with next week’s Old Home Days also marking the 275th anniversary of the town’s charter signing. Hancock residents are also giving the nod to their hometown, with a weekend of Old Home Day festivities taking place this coming weekend. Next month, other towns will be holding their own festivals, with Mason’s Old Home Day on Sept. 7 and Antrim’s Home and Harvest Festival, from Sept. 14 to 16.
Old Home Days have not been the ultimate solution to drawing back the state’s youth and convincing them to stay. But it remains a lasting tradition that’s a staunch reminder of what is good about New Hampshire’s small towns and the sense of community they offer. If Old Home Days do not necessarily convince the younger generation to stay in town, they do leave a lasting impression and mark an occasion for those nostalgic for home cooking to return for a visit.
And as long as they continue to serve that purpose, they are valuable not only for those who choose to remain, but also for those who choose to leave and then visit home from time to time.