Old Home Week - The First 50 Years
The following excerpts are from an article entitled, "Old Home Week 2000 - Renewing the Warmth of Old Times," by Miki Boni originally published in the Cracker Barrel Spring/Summer 2000 issue.
How it got started:
Old Home Week is an reunion for Wilmington residents that has been taking place every 10 years since 1890. As local history recalls, it was a particularly lazy, late summer afternoon in Wilmington Village when three vacationing gentlemen were relaxing on the porch of the Vermont House on Main Street. Former residents Lewis Stone and his brother, Byron, and Rollin Childs thought it would be a great idea to bring all the members of their families together in Wilmington the following summer, then began dreaming about a reunion that would include all former Wilmington residents. It was 1889 and, for some time, folks had been leaving to seek work and fortune elsewhere. But they didn’t forget their roots, and would often return to vacation and to visit family and friends.
And that’s how it started. The 1890 gathering was called a town reunion. Three thousand people showed up for a 4th of July celebration, a free dinner and a brass band. It was certainly an idea that had staying power because people have, every 10 years since, come together to celebrate the town, to visit family and to renew old friendships. In the late 1800s other towns around New England started to have old home weeks as a way of getting together and perhaps luring people who had moved west to return home. Some think that Wilmington’s reunion was the first one in New England.
In 1900 the name was changed to Old Home Week and expanded to a whole week. Memorial Hall was built, Mountain Mills was up and running, a new school was built. Town residents wanted to show off the changes and growth. A colorful parade was held and a parade continues to be one of the highlights each decade’s celebration.
Old Home Week of 1910 brought gifts to the town that remain to this day. Wilmington was certainly favored by its native sons and daughters. A bell was presented to the Congregational church [now the Episcopal church] by John H. Flagg as a memorial to his late father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Flagg. In the Universalist belfry hung a similar gift in memory of Major and Mrs. Childs, presented by their four sons. Lyman F. Pettee of New Your presented the public library and dedicated it to the glory of his parents. On the lawn in front of the library stands the Soldiers’ Monument, presented by Asaph P. Childs, and the nearby drinking fountain was presented by Miss Maudie L. Stone in honor of her late parents.
In 1920 Guy C. Hawkins wrote, “Dear Wilmingtonians, Thirty years ago, Wilmington inaugurated Old Home Week. The observance has since been copied all over the land. But the idea and the practice originated in Wilmington…” The talk of the 1920’s reunion was the Grand Barbecue which concluded the week’s events. … The celebration featured a 1400 lb. “famous fat Hereford” roasted whole, a gift from resident Martin A. Brown. [he built and lived in today’s Wilmington White House.] The steer-fest was accompanied by 3000 ears of corn, ten barrels of potatoes, four hundred loaves of bread, and fifty pounds of butter - enough for 1800 hungry guests.
In 1930 the invitation read, “Wilmington is surely getting ready for company…”
In 1940, with war in Europe, the tradition of Old Home Week continued with Guy C. Hawkins dedicating the reunions to “a friendly gathering of friendly folks.” It was also a high school alumni that brought “200 men and women representing classes from 1902…”
Every Old Home Week is a combination of old traditions and new events but it is always a time to “Meet a Neighbor. See a Friend. Celebrate Our Town.” We invite you to join us in 2020 as we continue this wonderful long-running tradition.
Many of OHW Committee and heads of events have Wilmington roots going back generations while some are relative newcomers. Whether you are an old-timer, newcomer, full-time or part-time resident and would like to volunteer please go to the Volunteer Page or get in touch with one of the Committee members. We would welcome your help!
Photo is from 1890 Reunion at Shafter Park