Gary Crooker has been involved with Old Home Days for at least 30 years, serving as chairman of the town’s celebration committee every five years. The whole idea of the annual homecoming, first proposed in 1899, has fascinated him and about two years ago he started talking about doing a book on them.
“I had the idea for the book for a long time,” he said. “I realized nothing had been written about them as a statewide movement, which it was. There is a lot of local stuff.”
He eventually connected with Acadia Publishing, publishers of local history including the “Images of America” series. The book “New Hampshire Old Home Day Celebrations”came out last week.
“Their format (of mainly old pictures) really works for telling this kind of story.”
Crooker traveled across the state, getting as far west as Chesterfield and north to Pittsburg. “It’s a small-town celebration,” he said, “and I tried to cover the towns that are still doing it.”
Locally that includes Hancock, Wilton, Mason, Peterborough, Hollis, Bedford, Pelham, Hudson, Mont Vernon and Brookline.
Old Home Days were begun by aproclamation by Gov. Frank Rollins as a way of stimulating the economy and revitalizing the spirit of the home state.
It was to give towns the chance to spruce up the community and get together with former residents. Reunions and townwide picnics were encouraged. Initially 44 towns responded, and Mont Vernon claims the honor of being the first, although Temple and Hancock were among them.
Originally the state set a date in August and towns sent in an annual report of their activities. Now each town plans its own celebrations.
Wilton celebrates for a week every five years. This year it will be from Aug. 22-30. The grand parade will be held Saturday, Aug. 29. There are four bands signed on, with the Temple Band leading.
This year’s theme is “Welcome to Main Street,” and the three grand marshals are longtime Main Street fixtures: Dennis Markaverich, operator of the Town Hall Theater, Dick Putnam of Putnam’s Clothing, and barber Elmer Santerre, who is celebrating 50 years in business.
“There is music for every night of the week,” Crooker said. “The children’s parade has been revitalized and there will be a petting zoo.”
Another feature from 15 years ago is being brought back: the townwide scavenger hunt, with teams of four competing to find or photograph a list of items or places.
“It was very successful,” Crooker said. “This year Bob Mackintosh and Lloyd Locklin came up with the list. It should be a lot of fun.”
“It was important to me that this (Old Home Days) started in New Hampshire,” Crooker said. “Other states picked up on it,” including all of the New England states and into the Midwest.
“Most of the holidays we celebrate -- Christmas, Thanksgiving --center on coming home. Old Home Days comes right out and says it.”
Crooker, 58, is a lifelong resident of the area. He is a freelance writer and an antiquarian bookseller. He is vice-president of the New Hampshire Antiquarian Booksellers Association and a former director of the association’s annual fair. He has written for The Milford Cabinet and the Monadnock Ledger and has monthly columns in antique and other magazines.
“New Hampshire Old Home Day Celebrations” is available for $21.99, and a pack of 15 historic postcards (Postcards of America series) is available for $7.99 at local stores, online bookstores or through Acadia Publishing at www.acadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.