Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cavendish Semiquincentennial: Old Home Day

Cavendish's Old Home Day will be celebrated this Saturday. The Museum will be open at 8:30, with its new display "250 Years of Cavendish History." Outside will be the annual plant sale. Starting at 9:30, the Cavendish Green will be filled with many different booths staffed by various organizations, businesses and artists. The Cavendish Historical Society will be holding a silent auction, which ends at 12:45, just in time for the live auction to begin at 1 pm. There will be a variety of food, including grass fed lamb kabobs and beef burgers; strawberry shortcake and lemonade; baked goods and pies, as well the Cavendish Fire Department's Chicken BBQ.

The fifth year of the revival of this custom, it's quite a bit different than Old Home's Day celebrated in the early 1900's.

Because so many people moved away from Vermont, frequently for economic reasons, Old Home Day became a time for family and friends to reconnect with those who remained in town. At the CHS Museum, there is a poster for the September 1901 Old Home Day. Featuring “horribles” (people dressed in costumes), floats and lots of speeches, 2,500 people gathered for this event. The September 1901 issue of “The Vermonter” describes the “Old Home Week” festivities in Cavendish as follows, “The morning parade, headed by the Proctorsville Band, was one of the principal features of the day and was composed of various patriotic and social organizations and floral carriages.” The afternoon featured speeches, with refreshments served at the Masonic and Odd Fellows Halls.

Below is the speech given by James Hales Bates at the Old Home Day celebration of 1901:

Non-resident Vermonters frequently have it flung up to them by friends in other states in a mood of sarcastic facetiousness, “Your state of Vermont is a good state to emigrate from.” Well, yes, it is a good state to emigrate from for two sorts of people. One sort is that not large class who have fitted over the border to escape the clutches of the law and find the climate healthier outside. The other sort are those who cannot afford to live here. Not that living is costly, but if beefsteak is five cents a pound and a man has not got the five cents, the beef might as well be fifty; it is out of his reach at either price. There have always been so much ability and energy in the state, and so few things for there to work on except climate, scenery, stone quarries and one another, that thousands have been ground out in the competition, and reluctantly gone into more promising communities where the natives know less and have more, and in these easier fields of action have thriven famously, and made for themselves and their descendants renown and riches. It will be a mighty poor spot on the earth where a Vermonter cannot be found, his eyes and hands wide open for all within reach. A few years ago, a little party of young government engineers engaged in the coast survey were passing a vacant half day, lounging about on the bank of St. Johns River in Florida, finding their pleasure in trifles, as idlers will do. Presently one cried out, “Sail Ho!” and twenty miles away emerging from the horizon, was a solitary coasting sloop beating up the river. All eyes were fixed on it in a long silence. Then a bright youth spoke and said, “I will wager any man here a box of cigars that the name of the captain of that craft is Spaulding and that he is from Vermont.” “The idea is absurd,” said another, “there are not more than five of the crew altogether and it is ridiculous to suppose the captain can be named Spaulding from Vermont. I take that bet and would like to make it dollars instead of cigars.” At last the little craft swung up to the wharf, and a tall solemn Yankee stepped ashore and made her fast. The engineers drew near. “Is Capt. Spaulding aboard?” “Yes, he is in the cabin asleep. Would you like to speak to him?” “I want to ask him what part of Vermont he is from.” “I can tell you that. He is from Cavendish.” If I have omitted any important particular of this illustration of the widespread distribution of the Vermonter, the ex- Secretary of War (Redfield Proctor) who must have had three young officers in his control, will correct me. He is fond of seeing things corrected and put in order.

Everybody knows that the valley of the Twenty Mile Stream in the upper part of this town is the most salubrious, picturesque, fertile and fascinating spot in the state, and the inhabitants the most industrious, honest and virtuous in the world. We are industrious up there because we must be to live; honest because we read in our school books that “Honesty is the best policy,” and we always want the best; virtuous because we don’t know any other way and are not anxious to learn. As to our honesty: my uncle, William Smith Esq., lived for almost ninety years under the roof where he was born, at the head of this Happy Valley. He is remembered by many here, I am sure, with honor and affection. Uncle went abroad and visited foreign countries where he saw many strange things and wicked practices quite unknown at home! On his return he for the first time in his life, felt anxious at night because HARMONY HALL —his residence— had no fastenings to its doors and windows. There were five outside doors, rendering the house uncommonly open to nocturnal visitors. For his peace of mind, Uncle bought a lock for the front door, and for two score years thereafter, slept soundly but was always careful to have that one door locked; and to show that his precaution was quite sufficient, no burglar entered the premises in all that time.

Up there a hundred years ago my grandfather’s anvil rang out cheerily among the hills from the smithy where for a generation, with busy hammer, he did not only what blacksmiths do now, but besides made all kinds of nails and the hammer which drove them in, all the implements used on the farm and in the shop— scythes, axes, forks, hoes, harrow-teeth, knives, cranes, andirons, the carpenter’s adze, square, saw, plane, —made the hunter’s traps and repaired his gun. According to all testimony an excellent blacksmith was he, as were his father and grandfather before him. Those were days when families lived within themselves, and ate and wore what they could produce on the farm and indoors. The best of potatoes grew in the fields. Big sweet brown loaves of rye and Indian came smoking out of the large brick oven indoors. Wheaten flour was little used, the immortal pie having often a rye under and wheat upper crust. The universal sweet was the sap of the maple tree with a small, well hoarded stock of loaf sugar used chiefly to sweeten the person’s glass of sling when he came to catechize the children, and express a hope that it was not sickness which kept the head of the family home from church so often.

Days before stoves, when great fires roared up the kitchen chimney, piled high with logs, and the shoemaker came with his kit and stayed a month, and made the family boots and shoes from skins grown and tanned nearby; and if they chafed more corns on the toes and had more room in the heels, chilblains than those which now come here from Boston, they at least wore longer and did more hustling. Days when the neighborhood seamstress came with her goose and press board for another month and made the family clothes, fashioned those extraordinary trousers, baggy and buttony, so exactly alike before and behind that little boys sometimes got bewildered in them and brought up in the pasture under a butternut tree when they thought they were headed for school, and were made to feel the difference between front and rear by the teacher’s heavy ferule applied to that part of the person on which the truant could sit if it did not smart too much.

No man born in the free air of the mountains can ever disown or forget or divorce them from his love. Out of sight of them he remains a homesick exile wherever he may wander or abide. Under burning tropical skies, as he breasts the icy waves of Arctic or Anarchic seas, pursues his calling in the roar of great cities, in the languorous lowlands of the south, amid the monotony of the illimitable prairies of the west, or bears the flag of his country high advanced in far off islands of the Pacific, — the Vermonter is haunted with visions of the verdurous hills and smiling valleys of his early home, and the silvery spring where he quenched his boyhood thirst bubbles and sparkles in his dreams as long as life endures.

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