by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. Weirs Times Contributing Writer
An immense bonfire on Shingle Camp Hill in the town of New Hampton lit up the sky on a Saturday night in the summer of or near 1910 as it announced the beginning of the Old Home Week celebration.
A local newspaper reported that “This welcoming beacon could be seen for miles around and was only one of several which could be seen in adjoining towns.”
The citizens of the central New Hampshire town were said to be among the foremost to enthusiastically invite former and present residents to gather together to enjoy the fellowship of each other and to renew old acquaintances. All day services on Sunday at the Dana Meeting House were said to be “…perhaps the most impressive observances of old home week in the State.”
The church building is now nearing twice the age it was when the following was written about it, but the observation about that Sunday of old was “Around this historic building cluster a multitude of fond reminiscences for the older generations. It was built in the year 1800 on the range of hills between New Hampton and New Holderness – now Ashland – and its interior, with the high pulpit and square pews, has been kept unchanged.” The morning service on that Sunday was mainly for the children and was conducted by the Rev. Mrs. Tracy.
After the morning service Sunday School classes were held with people gathering in large groups where they “discussed the lesson in the grand old democratic way.” An hour of social time followed Sunday School with lunch baskets being opened to provide physical refreshment at mid-day. Dr. O.H. Tracey was the speaker for the afternoon service when he preached to a large audience about “…the old New England home and what it stood for.” When he finished his sermon he invited the deacons, who were seated in the deacons pew which was (and still is) located in front of the high pulpit facing the congregation, to follow “ an old fashioned custom” of making a few remarks. Deacons Kendrick Smith, Joseph P. Sanborn, William R. Dearborn and D.W. Waite responded. Deacon Smith noted that he had taken part in services in the church more than 70 years previous and that Elder Perkins, whose picture was on the wall, use to end his sermons by saying “Brothers and sisters, there is liberty.” Not to be done with old customs, the service didn’t conclude until many of those present “…gave testimony to their religious homes , and the good this particular church had done.”
The Old Home Week continued on Wednesday at the Old Institution section of town with a large crowd gathering for a day of “sociability and entertainment.” Continuing their old-fashioned ways the report was that “An old-fashioned dinner with its first and chief course of baked beans was served on the long tables in the grove and among the family gatherings near by. After dinner the people assembled on the highest part of the ground to listen to stories of former and present residents, before the President of the affair, Fred W. Sanborn, introduced the speakers, Deacon Kendrick Smith, Hon. Joseph Walker, (Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives) , Richard Pattee, Rev. C.C. Horst, and Rev. O.H. Tracy. The Bristol Cornet Band entertained the crowd with music throughout the day which concluded with a musical event at Chapel Hall featuring violin and piano soloists and singing of several sprano solos by Miss Elsye M. Wallace of Rochester and Boston.
Let us now revisit the event in 1908.
“New Hampton, Aug. 22- One more red letter day for New Hampton and Old Home day, 1908, has passed into history.”
That was the opening sentence of a newspaper article in the year stated, which continued to tell the readers that, though the weather that August morning “…did not look propitious” people left their homes and headed for the Old Institution location in the town to enjoy that year’s Old Home Day. As it turned out there were only a few sprinkles of rain on that day and those who attended apparently did enjoy the two main activities, eating and listening to speeches by well-known dignitaries.
The eating came first as the patriotism of the group was marked by the presence of three American flags. One flew over the grove, which was “ looking at its best”, another was across the main entrance, and the third was owned by David Taylor, but draped over the Pike family table around which were seated thirty-six family members and friends. Presiding members of the Pike family were Mrs. Myra (Pike) Taylor, Mrs. Martha (Pike) Sanborn, and Mrs. Eunice (Pike) Howard. Attendance was obviously great for that 1908 event as tables were set up for 300 people and were “ …filled and reset several times.”
Dr. Austin S. Bronson, president of the society introduced the speakers: Kendrick W. Smith, Prof. Fred W. Wallace, Rev. Dr. Arthur Gordon, Richard Pattee, Rev. Mr. Patten, E.W. Gilbert of California, E.J. Cheever, Moses F. Merrow, Prof. H.W. Brown, Prof. Moulton, and Mr. Dixon. The newspaper write-up of the event says of the speakers, “They all had some good thing to say about New Hampton” , and adds that resident Milton Whitcher gave a reading “…which was appreciated by all.” I wonder about that last statement after all those speakers.
By the way, those speakers, back in 1908, were said to be of the opinion that a town history ought to be written, and the reporter observed that “It is very evident that Old Home Day has come to stay at New Hampton” , as indeed it has, and I must add that my neighbor, Edwin Huckins , has been in attendance at each Old Home Day held in New Hampton during his 96 years of living here, including the most recent one in this year of 2017.