It’s Old Home Week!
The twin pulls of urban industrialization and westward migration that overtook America after the Civil War was devastating to many small towns in New England and the Middle Atlantic States. In the four decades ending in 1900, despite massive European immigration, the population of many small towns had seriously declined. Farms were abandoned and the towns’ economies eroded.
Frank Rollins of New Hampshire, son of a former New Hampshire U. S. Senator, worried for the future of his hometown. In 1897 he wrote “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! Do you not hear the call? What has become of the old home where you were born? . . . Do you not remember it — the old farm back among the hills, with its rambling buildings, its well-sweep casting its long shadows, the row of stiff poplar trees, the lilacs and the willows?”
And Newport, Rhode Island, went all out with parades that featured floats sponsored by local businesses.
Many of the small towns in New York and Pennsylvania had also lost large numbers of their citizens to westward migration from their less-than-hospitable soil. These towns made major efforts to bring their prodigal children back.
For example, Buffalo, New York combined Old Home Week with the dedication of the monument to President William McKinley (who was martyred there) in 1907.
Some small towns didn’t (or couldn’t) spend the money on such flashy announcement cards, preferring to memorialize the event. This real-photo card from the very small town of Conneautville, Pennsylvania (near the Ohio state line), for example, shows the crowds at the celebration in town.
The state capital, Harrisburg, on the other hand, couldn’t restrain itself.
Further south and west, celebrations in the era were held in Baltimore, Maryland, in what must have been a banner year for Old Home Weeks, 1907.
The Old Home Week movement survives today and is not confined to its original purpose. Several communities in various parts of the U. S. combine Old Home Week celebrations with historical and centennial celebrations, for example. It is, after all, the thought that counts.