"Historic Highlights" for Gilford Steamer’s 26 August 2004 issue
It’s almost Old Home Day -- Horray!
The idea of celebrating Old Home Week/Day dates back 105 years, to 1899. It was a time when the state’s farming towns were losing population and the state as a whole was experiencing hard times financially.
In response to these dire circumstances, Governor Frank Rollins initiated the idea of creating Old Home Week to encourage New Hampshire-born people to return to the town of their birth and celebrate their past,~with the hope that they would then purchase abandoned farms as summer homes. The idea caught on and evolved into Old Home Day celebrations in many New Hampshire towns -- but it had a late start becoming part of Gilford’s traditions.
Historically, Gilfordites always expended much energy and imagination in respect to election days, national holidays, and neighborhood celebrations, with special interest focussed on Decoration Day, an out-growth of the Civil War Era and the predecessor of Memorial Day.
Adair Mulligan relates in The Gunstock Parish that Gilfordites have always loved a parade and that in preparation for such festive occasions village householders would pull out all their rocking chairs and prepare feasts for their visitors.
Gilford’s capacity to celebrate is underscored by Adair Mulligan as she describes in detail Gilford’s Centennial in 1912 -- a potential waiting for Old Home Day to become part of Gilford’s annual cycle.
Her description of the impact of World War I on local celebrations tugs at your heart strings when you read, "The children, who had already succumbed to wearing shoes and clean stockings and were covered with dust from their long wagon ride to the village, were disappointed to find
that patriotic speeches and sales of savings bonds had replaced the food, fun, and parade."
The energy and imagination that previous Gilfordites had expended upon celebrations, eventually, after 1919, became focussed annually on one momentous day, Gilford’s Old Home Day, a time to renew old acquaintances and appreciate small-town spirit.
Over the ensuing 85 years, Gilford’s Old Home Day has taken various forms as it has been evolving.
Our Old Home Days were originally held on Thursdays, and the farmers came in their buggies, buckboards, and wagons. Gilford had an Old Home Day Association, in which any resident of Gilford could participate, but somehow it became a Grange affair under the Grange Master’s leadership.
Again we turn to The Gunstock Parish for insight. "The focus of celebration before the 1960s was the Grange Hall and the triangle in front of the old town hall. In the morning, there was a baseball game on the field near the present high school, games, and relay races for the children. Particular challenges were climbing the greased pole to get the prize on top, and, of course, the greased pig contest. A gang of greased piglets was released and a gang of soon—greased children scrambled to catch them. At noon, people crowded to the baked bean dinner in the Grange Hall. Some families gathered for a picnic in the pine grove behind the town sheds on Potter Hill Road. In the afternoon, there was a speaker in the town hail while the young people played ball outside. In the evening, the Grange held a minstrel show, a comic play, or a dance."
A parade was always an important component of Old Home Day -- and a beautifully appointed stagecoach which came from the stone barn of Stilson Hutchins’ estate on Governor’s Island became a regular feature.
Adair adds more information by stating, "Neighborhood and family floats have been a strong tradition from the first, created from anything that would fit on a hayrack, and drawn by horses and oxen in the years before obliging contractors lent their pickups and flatbeds. Teachers mustered their scholars, indulging their passion for dress-up in honor of the parade. What earlier parades lacked in technology and decibels they more than made up in enthusiasm and home-grown talent."
Old Home Day became the ideal time to celebrate important Gilford events. Adair tells us, "The town celebrated its 150th anniversary with the now well-entrenched Gilford enthusiasm for Old Home Day. The Thompson-Ames Historical Society engineered the event, under the leadership of President Esther Peters. A bronze commemorative coin, picturing a scene of the Belknap Mountain Range, Lake Winnipesaukee, and the Gilford shoreline, was struck in a limited edition. The Gilford Story, produced by a research committee headed by Hector Bolduc, was released at the celebration."
She goes on to say, "The festive day itself opened with a grand parade featuring over forty floats, bands, and antique autos, all with an historical theme and organized by Rhea Guild of Smiling Hill Farm. Oxen pulled two-wheel carts, ladies cinched in their waists to don antique dresses, and Milo Bacon received rave reviews for his blacksmith float, complete with a flaming forge, red-hot iron horseshoes, and an unhappy little boy pumping the bellows. The Governor’s Island float, an eagerly anticipated gundalow reproduction, was destroyed by fire a few nights before the parade, but the islanders made the best of it. An old-fashioned New England dinner was served at the Grange and the Belknap County Sportsmen’s Club provided a chicken barbecue. In the afternoon, celebrants took a guided tour of historic homes and exhibits: old maps at the town hail, old photographs at the Community Parish Hall, and senior Girl Scouts in costume, cooking antique dishes in an authentic early kitchen."
In 1976, The Gunstock Parish indicates, "The town celebrated the nations’s 200th birthday with a gala Bicentennial Weekend in conjunction with Old Home Day, complete with a two-hour parade, the largest in the town’s history, and a mock battle staged by 250 visiting militia troops, a heritage tour of Gilford Village houses, a band concert at the newly dedicated Weeks Bandstand, and of course, plenty of bunting."
Gilford’s history continues, "Recent Old Home Days have seen the addition of pancake breakfast and an auction at the Community Church, craft markets at the Village Fields, (and we should add, ‘pie sales at the library!’) and evening concerts enlivened by children galloping around the bandstand. In these days of cultivated gunpowder, the finale is a rousing fireworks display, before old friends and tired parents draped with sleeping toddlers finally find their cars for the drive home after a long day. The morning after cleanup has changed now that plastic is on the scene and the parade is no longer dominated by horses and oxen, but it is all part of the community effort. Old Home Day is most certainly one of Gilford’s best. The formation of Gilford’s historical society in 1943 added another dimension to Old Home Day which thereafter included a stop at the Thompson-Ames Historical Society building. Visitors, eager to review vintage items in the displays and to see what new items have been added to the historical society collections, still sign the guest register and then sip lemonade and nibble on a homemade hermit while they view the long-awaited parade from the vantage point of the Meetinghouse ‘s raised front lawn.
Beginning in 1998, a new dimension was added as the Thompson-Ames Historical Society reopened to the public the Grange museum building. Visitors continue to be attracted to the Hallway of Historic Gilford Signs, the replica of an 1857-1909 country store, the Grange kitchen, the 1800s Homestead Room, and upstairs the old Grange Hail housing six theme area displays.
In the vintage store, Don Frost is always encircled by children eager to try their hand at playing with the wooden toys of historic designs while men marvel at the ingenuity of historic tools and women eye the bolts of yard goods. The checker board set up by the old stove is certain to entice a couple visitors to wile away a few minutes of precious down time -- but it is the strains emanating from the old piano that can make the building reverberate with the sounds of yesteryears. Each Old Home Day visitors come to enjoy the old familiar as well as to see what additional items have been added.
The 1834 Union Meetinghouse continues to be a stop on each Old Home Day. Inside, there’s certain to be some drama and poetry shared at the customary "On the Porch" set at 9:00, 11:00, and 1:00. Refreshments are offered to visitors who stop to view the special exhibit -- this year a collection management display which includes the old Gilford/Lakes Region Playhouse.
Outdoors, chairs as usual are set up to review the parade as it passes, while tables display one-of-a-kind raffle items and, this year, COSEED endeavors which include the spiral-bound book A B "Sees" Gilford, created by Diane Alting’s third grade class, with copies given to Thompson-Ames Historical Society to help fund preservation and restoration efforts.
Gilford Village’s "red—brick sidewalk" leads the visitor to the Benjamin Rowe House, a unique c. 1838 Greek Revival Cape built of brick made on site, which, since 2002, has been part of Gilford’s Historic District displays as a truly vintage-furnished farmhouse.
This year’s Rowe House demonstrations and displays, which focus on the theme "What should you do when you get a hole in your sock/stocking?", will include spinning, knitting and darning, in addition to weaving and rug braiding. As visitors sip lemonade and nibble on cookies, farmers Jerry Lacroix and Pete Labonte will be on hand to recall the days when working farms dotted the Gilford countryside. Offshoots of a vintage lilac bush have been potted up for sale to bring a touch of nostalgia to some current Gilford dooryards while bringing in some funds for Thompson—Ames Historical Society’s preservation and restoration endeavors.
Without question, Gilfordites are looking forward to another delightful Old Home Day. -- We hope to see you on Saturday as we meet and greet old friends and welcome new ones! A warm welcome awaits everyone at each stop.
For further information, please telephone T-AHS at 527-9009.