Old Home Days in Deerfield

 

It started out as Old Home Week, the brainchild of NH governor Frank W. Rollins back in 1899.  The idea was to lure young people who had sought their fortunes elsewhere back to the state where they were born.  Each town would hold a sort of carnival, inviting their “native-born sons and daughters living in other states” to return to their hometowns.  The hope was that they would see what they were missing and be struck by homesickness, thus returning to the fold, or at the very least see how they could help the folks back home who might be in need. 

Around the end of the nineteenth century, farms were being abandoned as people were lured to manufacturing jobs in the cites south of the border, in places like Lowell and Worcester.  Others went west seeking new opportunities in the lands opening up.  Some of these folks grew quite prosperous.  New Hampshire, traditionally an agricultural state, was suffering as a result.  Old Home Week was instituted to try to coax some of that wealth back.

The officials in Concord directed every town to form committees, make up lists and send out invitations, and organize festivities for the week of August 26 to September 1.  Deerfield dutifully obliged.  Old Home week caught on, and became an annual event.  The invitation for the 1901 week opened with these words from a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
“Come back to your Mother, ye children, for shame,
Who have wandered like truants for riches and fame! 
With a smile on her face and a sprig in her cap,
She calls you to feast from her bountiful lap.”

Eventually the tradition wore thin and died out in many New Hampshire towns.  It was discontinued in Deerfield until, in 1978, Willis Rollins dedicated himself to reviving it as Old Home Days, a weekend instead of a week.  Instead of a siren call to absent native-born sons and daughters, it has become a celebration of the Town and its heritage, although certainly it becomes an occasion for many family reunions.  Held every year in August, Old Home Day is again a Deerfield tradition.