New Old Home Day
“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.” — Gov. Frank Rollins, 1897
At the end of the 19th century, New Hampshire was being depleted of a crucial natural resource: its youth.
Westward expansion was the new frontier for those wanting to make their own marks on the world, plus, let’s face it — rocky farmland in the frigid Northeast didn’t have a lot of appeal for new families looking to put down roots. The state was deep in debt, as were many of its towns and cities.
But NH Governor Frank Rollins, a Concord Republican, realized that there are lasting bonds of memory and place, even for the young. To summon back the wanderers (most wound up in Minnesota, go figure), he invented “Old Home Week.” It was a sentimental appeal to those who had left to return for a week, celebrate with their communities, and be reminded of why New Hampshire is truly the right place to stay, work and play.
In recent years, with a new flight of our best and brightest to parts west or south, a movement has sprung up with similar goals. Perhaps not coincidentally, one focus of that movement is an organization named Stay Work Play.
We suspect that Governor Rollins would approve, and so do we. Stay Work Play has been celebrating young talent with their “Rising Star Awards,” promoting internships, rallying the members of the various Young Professionals Networks across the state and generally raising consciousness about the importance of keeping (or summoning back) the leaders of tomorrow.
It’s really not that hard a sell in this day and age, with net-zero homes, artisanal beer festivals, farm-to-table restaurants and telecommuting to take the rougher edges off life in the Granite State, but it’s still crucial work.
That’s one reason why this year we are partnering with Stay Work Play as the beneficiary nonprofit for our annual Best of NH Party. Hopefully, some of those that the folks at Stay Work Play are trying to reach will come to the Best of NH and, just as Gov. Rollins wished, the bonds of memory and place will be strengthened.
The Old Home Week idea was adopted by many other states in New England, and while it has been reduced to a weekend or even a single day in many towns, it’s still a beloved and revered tradition. But our local economies are no longer as distinct and self-sufficient as they once were, so now the goal is not to restore a dairy farm in Sandwich so much as to keep skilled labor, college degrees and intellectual property within the state’s bounds. A rising tide of young workers and entrepreneurs here would truly lift all our various boats.
Our Best of NH Party was not originally devised to make the state seem cooler or more exciting for economic development purposes, but showcasing the best food, folks and fun does tend to have that effect. Our hope is that the partnership with Stay Work Play will allow us to refine and target that message in a way that is helpful to everyone.
After all, there was no insincerity in the wish that Gov. Rollins articulated, that many would hear a whisper beckoning them to come back. He loved the state dearly, and he believed that it was special. That’s why, among other things, he helped found the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.
Perhaps the main change since then is that we think live music, fun and games and the aroma of the state’s best food wafting in the air over a ballpark on a summer’s day is more persuasive than a sentimental whisper.