Chepachet Baptist Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chepachet's Old Home Days

By Clifford W. Brown

Old Home Days constituted the largest series of public events in the history of Chepachet. For over forty years, starting in 1906, hundreds of people made their way to the village for a day of food, fellowship, and entertainment sponsored by the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church and later by the Chepachet Union Church, of which the Baptist Church was for many years a part. These annual events attracted regional and state-wide attention, with six sitting Rhode Island governors and dozens of other public officials over the years speaking to the enthusiastic and attentive crowds. Old Home Day grew to be a major Chepachet tradition that provided a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to give, to share, and to enjoy. It was one of the town's proudest accomplishments.

The Old Home Day tradition itself started in 1899 in New Hampshire when Governor Frank W. Rollins proposed that a week be set aside annually during which each town in the state would invite back all its citizens who had moved to another town (and especially to another state) for a celebration in their honor. New Hampshire responded with alacrity to this proposal, and within a year or two many towns across the state were celebrating Old Home Weeks, or more modestly, Old Home Days. The idea was to provide an occasion on which those people who had left the town could return to renew old acquaintances with others who had left as well as with those who had remained in the town. In this sense, it was like a family reunion for the whole community. The Pascoag Herald description of Chepachet's Old Home Day in 1907 captures the intent and the flavor of the occasion:

 

        ...the spirit of reunion and good fellowship seemed everywhere to predominate. Many persons who had not met for years grasped one another's hand and reminiscences were poured forth to every ready ear. A schoolmaster who had ruled the village school more than half a century ago was presented and was accorded a gladsome welcome by his former pupils, now gray-haired men. ... Even to the stranger there was a spirit of joyousness at the sight of seeing old friends greet one another.1

Chepachet Old Home Day, 1906. The large wagon in front of the Church was probably the "Barge" (or Big Team) that made trips to the railroad station in Oakland; according to early newspaper accounts, the Barge was owned by Harris Steere, whose livery stable was across Putnam Pike from the Church, and whose advertisement appears in the program reproduced below. From Church records.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Typically public buildings and churches would be decorated, often with the American flag, and there would be speakers, music, sports, and food. Since people would be returning to the town, many families would hold their reunions in conjunction with Old Home Day, as was the case in Chepachet where the Steere family held its early reunions on the Sunday after the Saturday of Old Home Day.

As the movement spread throughout New England and eventually elsewhere, each town was left to its own devices as to what events to feature. As a result, the variety of events was enormous. For example, at the first Old Home Week celebration in Concord, New Hampshire, there were band concerts, vocal concerts, orations, a ringing of church bells, literary exercises, athletic events, fireworks, a bicycle parade, and a marching parade (with representation from the police department, the fire department, the National Guard, the mail carriers, Civil War veterans, heritage delegations of Hibernians and French Canadians, employees of the Boston and Maine Railroad, and many businesses, who sponsored floats).

By the turn of the century, Old Home Day and Old Home Week were being celebrated in Rhode Island, both in the cities and in the countryside. Foster Center, for example, held its first Old Home Day on September 15, 1904, and Burrillville had an Old Home Day celebration featuring a major parade in 1915.

Newport's first Old Home Week in September, 1905, featured religious services in all the churches, a clambake, an illuminated night parade, yacht races, band concerts, harbor sports, a carnival parade, a military parade, a trades' procession, a dog show, a flower show, and extensive participation by the Navy.

Scene from Chepachet Old Home Day, 1906. From the photographic collection of the late Robert E. Steere, courtesy of Martha Willard and Robert E. Steere, Jr.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Providence had a huge Old Home Week celebration in 1907. On Sunday, July 28, "Roger Williams Day," there were special services and concerts in all the city's churches and speeches by politicians. On Monday, "Historical Day," there were exhibits at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the Providence Public Library; a full calendar of speeches; and a band concert at Roger Williams Park. On Tuesday, "Municipal Day," the public buildings (including the new State House, City Hall and the Court House) were all open for inspection. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, "Carnival Days," there were sporting events, including track and field, horsemanship, motorcycle races, yacht races, hydroplane races, swimming matches, baseball, and golf. In the evenings there were more band concerts and fireworks. Finally, on Saturday, "Merchant's Day," there was open house in factories throughout the city. During the week there were many parades, including one with "electrical floats."  Participation was broadly-based, involving many groups, such as the Sons of the American Revolution, the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the Knights of Columbus, and the YMCA.

Chepachet Old Home Day, 1907. From the photographic collection of the late Robert E. Steere, courtesy of Martha Willard and Robert E. Steere, Jr.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Chepachet's Old Home Day celebrations, starting on September 19, 1906, were more modest than this, taking place on a single day, but they were generally very well attended, considering the size of the town and, in the early days, its remote location. The headline on the 1906 account in the Providence Bulletin stated, "Celebration fills Chepachet Streets."2 Although the extent of the crowd varied a lot, depending on the weather, usually at least 400 came until World War II, and an estimated 1000 attended on four different occasions. One year, it was reported that 1000 came for dinner and 2000 came to hear the speeches.3 Altogether, there were 41 Chepachet Old home day celebrations, the last taking place on August 16, 1947 (See attachment entitled, OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATION DATES AND ATTENDANCE, for the dates, locations and estimated attendance for these events).

Model T Fords line Putnam Pike at Chepachet Old Home Day, probably around 1915. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Early newspaper accounts reported long lines of carriages all up and down both sides of Putnam Pike, although there were some automobiles even in 1906; by 1920, the accounts were reporting long lines of automobiles parked on the main street and on every side street. In the early days, there was a "barge" which left Pascoag at 10:30 in the morning, and there were special conveyances from Chepachet to the train station at Oakland, meeting every train. The Pascoag Herald, August 21, 1908, announced: "Harris Steere [who ran a livery stable across the street from the church] will run two barges on Old Home Day to meet the train from Providence to Oakland at 9:30 to convey passengers to Chepachet. He will also make a return trip at 4:00 p.m." After the trolley came to Chepachet in 1914, it was a popular means of traveling to Old Home Day, and in 1919, it was reported that there would have been an even larger crowd, "but for the inability of the electric car line to carry all those who wished to come."4

From the program, 1908.

Click on photo to enlarge.

It is reported that the first event (in 1906) was held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the settlement of the town.5 It rapidly became a tradition, and many people made a point of attending each one. There was recognition in the newspapers of the oldest people attending — and of people who attended every year. Judge Francis Thayer of East Blackstone, Martin Smith of North Scituate, and Henry Sayles, Jim Angell, and George Davis of Glocester fell into one of these categories during the 1930's. Henry Johnson of Burrillville, a former slave, was a regular attendee past the age of 100 well into the 1930's.

Martin S. Smith, the oldest man at Old Home Day, 1935. From the scrap book of Edith Floyd, courtesy of Diane Nobles.

Click on photo to enlarge.

This was primarily a town and regional event. The list of guests from out of town who signed the register in 1923 (according to the Woonsocket Call) showed that an estimated 45 out of 76 (or about 60% of those identifiably from out of town) came from Rhode Island; a third of these came from the villages in neighboring Burrillville. About 20% came from Massachusetts, and most of the rest came from four northeastern states. There was, however, also a family from China. This list was probably incomplete, since the estimated crowd was about 1000 that year, and can only be taken as a rough indication of the pattern of attendance from out of town. See the attachment entitled, GUESTS AT CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATIONS.

A much larger guest list of those from out of town who signed the register in 1935 (appearing in both the Providence Journal and the Woonsocket Call) showed a similar pattern, however. Nearly two-thirds of them came from other parts of Rhode Island (40 of the 149 from out of town were from adjacent Burrillville), with those from out of state coming principally from eastern Massachusetts and nearby Connecticut, with only a scattering from outside of New England (again, see the attachment entitled, GUESTS AT CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATIONS. The 149 from out of town represented about 37% of the estimated 400 who attended that day, but since not everyone may have signed the register (and not all who signed may have been mentioned in the newspapers), again this can be taken as only a rough indication. Nevertheless, there still were a lot of guests from out of town, the event drew heavily from the region, and it certainly was a major attraction for citizens of the town itself.

Brown & Hopkins Store, around 1915, decked out for either the Fourth of July or Old Home Day. From the photographic collection of the late Robert E. Steere, courtesy of Martha Willard and Robert E. Steere, Jr.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Indeed, the town went all out for the occasion. The 1906 account in the Providence Bulletin states that the Baptist Church was "resplendent in new paint, new shingles, and other evidence of a general renovation."6 The front of the church was draped with flags and with red, white, and blue bunting, often with the word "Welcome" on it. Flags were suspended from ropes between trees in the churchyard. Stores up and down Main Street were decorated with flags and bunting. Flags flew from private dwellings. Businesses, including the mill, closed at noon so their employees could enjoy the events. Old photographs in the newspaper show people dressed in their "Sunday Best" for the event (which in the early days took place during the week and, starting in 1915, always took place on a Saturday). Among the men, bowler hats in the early years gave way to be-ribboned straw boaters in the 1920's and homburgs in the 1930's. Cloth caps were always in style. The women wore long skirts and fancy hats at the beginning, with plainer attire as the years progressed. The men often doffed their hats for eating; the women seldom did.

Elegant attire at Chepachet Old Home Day, probably around 1915. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In the early years, the event was run by the Baptist Church; the person who launched the effort was its pastor, Rev. Henry Parsons, who served as the head of the organizing committee during 1906 and 1907. Starting in 1921, after the Baptist Church became associated with the Congregational Church in the formation of the Chepachet Union Church, both churches worked together on the event — which was sponsored from that point on by the newly-formed Chepachet Union Church, although until 1942 it almost always took place on the Baptist Church grounds at the Meeting House (where the Union Church worshiped during the summer months throughout the years of Old Home Day celebrations).

Thomas W. Steere, Old Home Day Chairman, 1909-24, 1926. From John Steere Family Album, published by the Steere Family Association.

Click on photo to enlarge.

An enormous number of people worked to make the event a success. Deacon Thomas W. Steere, whose photograph hangs in the vestry of the Baptist church, was General Chairman of the celebration from 1909 through 1926, except for the year 1925, when Rev. Carl E. Pearson served in this capacity. Rev. Elden G. Bucklin was in charge from 1925 until 1936, and again from 1944 through 1947. Rev. Bucklin, widely admired and beloved throughout the entire area, was a person who participated extensively in the life of the town and was instrumental in starting Chepachet's Fourth of July Ancients and Horribles Parade. He and Mrs. Bucklin committed an enormous amount of time and effort to make the Old Home Day celebration a success throughout the 1920's and 1930's. Henry Lewin served as General Chairman from 1938 until 1942; Ernest S. Hopkins was General chairman in 1943.

Lillian G. Hopkins, who served as Treasurer of Old Home Day events 1907 through 1946. She also served in many other capacities as well. From the photographic collection of the late Robert E. Steere, courtesy of Martha Willard and Robert E. Steere, Jr.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Organizing the event was a very large undertaking and a large committee with many subcommittees was formed to accomplish this task. See the attachment entitled, PEOPLE WHO MADE IT POSSIBLE: SELECTED CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY COMMITTEES. Although the size and composition of the organizing group varied from year to year, the 1921 committee organization will give a flavor of how things were run. In that year, there was a Chairman, a Secretary, a Treasurer, an entertainment committee (11 people), a table committee (29 people), a food committee (17 people), a refreshment committee (14 people), an apron committee (7 people), a [clam]bake committee (8 people), a committee to sell tickets (2 people), a press committee (one person), a decorating committee (9 people), and a general committee (25 people). Many individuals served on more than one committee. Most of these committees had a chairman in charge, but since almost everyone knew what to do in the first place, a lot of direction was usually not needed — the most important task was to find the volunteers to be there to perform the obvious tasks. Newspaper records mention committee meetings held in advance, often either at Will Hopkins' or Benjamin Steere's home.

Rev. Elden G. Bucklin, Chairman of Old home Day celebrations. From Church records.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Martha Fitch, who covered Chepachet for the Providence Journal, served as Secretary (and as the one-person Press Committee) throughout almost the entire run of Old Home Days . Mrs. William W. Hopkins served as Treasurer for about as long. Orchardist Sayles B. Steere served as Chair of the Entertainment Commi ttee through the mid-1920's, with Rev. Bucklin serving after that. Steve Davis sold tickets at most of the events throughout the 1920's and 1930's — often using tickets of different colors for different sittings. A festive red-white-and-blue atmosphere was created by members of the Decorating Committee — on which over the years Ruth Paine Steere, Clarence Greene, Frank and Ruth Place, and Mrs. Russell Blackinton served many times. In later years church youth groups served as decorating committees.

Martha Fitch, Chepachet's correspondent for the Providence Journal, was one of the most active Old Home Day committee members, serving as a one-person Old Home Day Press/Publicity Committee from 1907 until 1936; as Secretary from 1916 through 1936, and also on the Entertainment Committee and Committee to sell dinner tickets for many years. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Many families participated in the hard work to make the event a success. The seemingly countless Steeres, Hopkinses, Peckhams, and Keaches in the early years were routinely joined by representatives of the Paine, Barnes, Mann, Fiske, Olney, Carleton, Sturtevant, Penno, Webster, Denoyelle, Marsailles, Winsor, Salisbury, Anderson, Brown, Burlingame, Sherman, and Saunders families, among many others. In later years, the family names appearing frequently on the lists of committee chairmen and committee members also included Greenhalgh, Irons, Farnum, Clough, Burton, Blackinton, Greene, Stone, Corbin, Townend, Converse, Sprague, Burnett, and Sayles — just to name a few.

The contributions of these, and of many more individuals and families are set forth in the attachment entitled PEOPLE WHO MADE IT POSSIBLE: SELECTED CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY COMMITTEES. These people, working together, year after year, on the many shared tasks that made the events a success, created a welcoming atmosphere, a wonderful meal, interesting entertainment, and an opportunity for times of good fellowship for anyone who wished to attend. The lives of thousands over the course of 37 years were touched, if only briefly, by these people — and made more joyful by their efforts. Those who labored in the vineyard are not forgotten; we give thanks for their lives and accomplishments and we pay tribute to their memory.

Getting ready for an early Old Home Day. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The central attraction at the Chepachet celebration was a shore dinner featuring quahog chowder, clamcakes, steamed clams, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, rolls, and brown bread, with watermelon for dessert. This feast was prepared and served by members of the church.

Tables were set out on the lawn on the west side of the Meeting House. At the beginning, two long sets of wooden tables seating about 75-80 people each stretched from the shed towards the road. Long wooden benches were nailed together for people to sit on. By the 1920's, these had been augmented so nearly 400 could be accommodated at one sitting in area west of the church. As the event grew in size, there typically came to be three sittings: at noon, at one, and at two.

The tables stretched from near the shed almost to the road at the early Chepachet Old Home Days. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1923, the old account book says that Remington Lumber was paid $13.24 for "lumber for tables and seats." The tables were hand-made by church members. At each end they were supported by a set of two thick boards joined by two horizontal crosspieces, one at their top near the undersurface of the table and one in the middle. These formed the legs which were attached to the wooden top with hinges so they could be folded up and stored under the carriage shed along with the benches. However, to stabilize the legs every time the table was set up, wooden braces had to be nailed into place, going at an angle from the lower horizontal crosspiece up to a crosspiece nailed to the underside of the wooden top — so the task of setting up the tables and taking them down was not trivial.

Page from Old Home Day account book (for 1915). From Church records.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The benches consisted of short wide boards placed perpendicular to the ground with a long board nailed on top between them and other boards nailed to the vertical boards on each side and to the main horizontal board on top. These tables and benches were supplemented by tables and chairs in the vestry.

Holes were dug in the ground for poles, and boards were nailed at the top of these poles to form a frame. Canvas was then loosely hung on these boards above the tables to form a tent to keep out the sun. The old account book contains an item for $32.43 for sheeting in 1914, and an additional item for $7.62 for sewing eyelets. In 1923, $13.70 was paid to Taylor & Symonds of Providence for canvas and $4.00 was paid to one L. Godfrey for making up the canvas cover.7

The tables were usually covered with cloth — there is a 1915 expenditure at Woolworth's for oil cloth, and a 1924 purchase of "cloth for table covering" from Brown & Hopkins. The tables were set in advance with tablespoons, flat knives, and three-tined wooden-handled forks. There were plain white plates and bowls, accompanied by tinware dishes for the steamed clams, the melted butter, and the clam shells. The records show major purchases of dishes in 1909 (from the Outlet Company on Weybosset Street in Providence), and in 1914, 1915, 1921, and 1924.

Hattie, Wilson, and Charlie Peckham. Hattie served on Old Home Day committees in the early 1920's; Wilson and his wife served on Old Home Day Committees, starting in 1913 and continuing until her death late in the 1930's. For nearly two decades, they were in charge of making the chowder. Wilson was still active in Old Home Day as late as 1942. Courtesy of Leon Peckham.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The chowder, clamcakes, and steamed clams themselves were served from large tinware pans with tin-ware ladles (the records for 1909 show a purchase of "one dozen chowder pans" for $2.40). Drinks were served from large pitchers (12 were bought in 1919 for $3.00); people drank from tumblers. The records for 1909 show a purchase of 1000 napkins; those for 1919 show a purchase of 500. We are not sure if these were paper or cloth.

The weather was always a concern. According to Ella Hopkins' diary for Saturday, August 19, 1922, "Old Home Day — Rained like fury after we got the tables all set, had to do them all over + then we fed about 700 people. Showers everywhere. Worked at Church until 7 o'clock."8 It rained in 1927, 1928, and 1930 when a thunder shower took place while the first sitting was eating.9

A chicken wire fence with a gate was set up around the eating area and tickets were sold. When the gate was opened people would rush in and get their seats. We are not sure what the early prices were, but an account says that in 1917 they "raised the price to $1.00 a plate on account of the increase in the price of everything."

Old Home Day quahog opener. Photograph by Marilyn Brownell.

Click on photo to enlarge.

It was not buffet-style. The guests were served where they sat by a "Table Committee" which brought to the table all items not originally placed there (like brown bread and crackers which were set out before). The chowder pans were brought individually; smaller items, like tins of clamcakes, were served from market baskets (the records show purchases of market baskets or just "baskets" in 1909, 1912, 1915, and 1921).

Maude Smith and Ella Steere. Ella Steere served on the General Committee in 1906 and later on the Table, Refreshment, and Sandwich/Candy Committees through the 1920's. Near the end of the Old Home Day Celebrations, she served on the Chowder and Clamcake Committee. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.
Benjamin F. Steere, Sr., was Chair of the Table Committee during the early years, followed by Minnie Brown (Mrs. James L.), starting in the early 1920's; Mrs. Benjamin F. Steere, Jr. was also active on this committee in later years.

In back, John P. Steere and Lydia Annie Olney (later Mrs. John P. Steere); seated, Frank Sturtevant and Hattie Rockwell (later Mrs. Frank Sturtevant). Mrs. Steere served on the History and Entertainment Committees in 1907 and 1908; Mr. and Mrs. Steere served on the table committee from 1909 until 1921, and on the General Committee thereafter. Their children also worked on the Old Home Day committees, starting in 1919. Mrs. Steere for many years sent milk from her farm for use at Old Home Day. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Sturtevant were very active in Old Home Day events during the early years of the celebration. Courtesy of Clifford Brown.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The chowder was made the morning of the event in a large iron cauldron about three feet across set out the day before near the end of the shed. In later years chowder was cooked on the stove in the church and then kept warm outside in this cauldron. For many years the chowder was made by Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Peckham. Louise Olney Young was also an important chowder supervisor during several celebrations. Church members gathered the night before to peel the potatoes and onions. Ella Hopkins' diary for Friday, August 18, 1922, states: "Worked at store all a.m., in P.M. went over to Church to peel onions and potatoes for Old Home Day."10 According to Helen Brown's account in Looking Back, the onions were peeled outside in the cool air to cut down on crying. Both potatoes and onions were put in water overnight. The quahogs were bought at a Providence wholesale dealer's the day before, packed in ice, and carted to Chepachet.

Photograph of the Needlebook Club, meeting at Curtis Hopkins' Prospect Hill Farm in 1940. Seated in the front row (left to right) were: Jennie Chase (partly obscured), Edith Greenhalgh, Ellen Townend, and Abby Paine. In the second row are Richmond Kent, Andrew Townend, Cora Kent, Esther Blackington, unknown, and June Blackington. In the back row are: unknown, Mrs. Snow, Maude Farnum, Any Buxton, unknown, unknown, Cora Eddy, Celia Paine, and Ella Hopkins. Edith Greenhalgh throughout the years served on the Press Committee, the Apron Committee, the Supper Committee, and on the Novelty table; Ellen Steere [Townend] performed a vocal solo with cello obligato at the 1916 Old Home Day; Abby Paine is listed as serving on the Old Home Day General Committee from 1919 through 1926; Cora Greenhalgh Kent served on Old Home Day committees from 1921 until the 1940's, and participated in Old Home Day entertainments during the 1930's and 1940's; Esther Blackinton served on the Decorating and Table Committees during the 1920's and 1930's; Maude Farnum served on Old Home Day committees in the 1920's; Ella Hopkins served on the Food and Entertainment Committees, starting in 1921, and on several occasions gave organ concerts at Old Home Day celebrations. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In the period from 1909 until 1925 (for virtually all of the events for which we have records), the clams and quahogs appear to have been purchased from Robert A. Byrne (whose shellfish dealership is listed in the 1919 Providence Directory at 6 Steeple Street — which is between North Main and Canal Streets near the First Baptist Church).11 The total price for both clams and quahogs went from the $50 range in 1909 to the $131.00-$141.00 range during the later years of this period, reflecting, no doubt, increases both in price and amount purchased:

1909               
1910             
1911             
1914             
1915             
1918             
1919             
1920             
1921***
1922             
1923             
1924             
1925             

$51.50*
53.00
60.45
90.00
80.35
124.75
95.50
121.00**

125.25
131.00
141.50
134.60

*The 1909 payment for shellfish was not specifically to Byrnes

**Includes $12.50 to RI Shellfish

***In 1921, Thomas Steere, Committee Chairman, was paid "$270.00 for clams, quahogs, potatoes, etc."

The apple pickers gathered here include several very active Old Home Day committee members, especially throughout the 1920's and 1930's: Earle Salisbury (event Co-chair in 1944), standing in back row at the extreme left, Raymond Steere (General Committee, Grounds Committee), wearing a cap with face partially obscured behind man with cap smoking cigarette; Benny Steere (General Committee, Bake Committee), leaning against the vertical door jamb; Ruth Steere, Raymond's wife, (General Committee, Apron Committee, Novelty Committee), just to the right of Benny; and Hortense Steere, Benny's wife (Refreshment Committee, Table Committee), two persons to the right of Ruth. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In the morning, the onions and potatoes were sliced up and put into the large cauldron and brought to a boil over a wood fire in a firebox underneath. According to Madeline Brown, several children, herself included, were enlisted for water duty — carrying buckets of water from the pump outside the church into the vestry where some was used to wash the potatoes and some used to serve as the basis of the chowder. In 1919, the Church bought a "stove for chowder" at a cost of $20.00, presumably to use with the cauldron. The ratio of potatoes to onions was two-to-one, pound for pound. The men shucked the quahogs in the early days with knives and hammers. In 1918, the Church acquired a quahog cutter to help in this operation — although Madeline Brown remembers women carefully shucking quahogs with knives during the 1930's. The quahogs were ground (a quart of ground quahogs to a gallon of chowder) and then added to the brew, together with salt pork and seasoning under the careful supervision of the Peckhams. Tomato juice was sparingly used for color and additional flavor. The cauldron was continually stirred by Mrs. Peckham with a large paddle to prevent it from catching. When done, the chowder was ladled out into large tinware pans for distribution to the tables — with a serving ladle to each pan.

Canal Street, Providence, 1895, site of S. Tourtellot & Co., source of much Old Home Day produce, who were located on the left of the picture. From the Manual of the Rhode Island Business Men's Association 1890 - 1907, published by Nathan Briggs and James B. Littlefield, printed by Standard Printing Company, cuts by W. H. Leland & Co., Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1907, p. 71.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The clambake was catered in the earliest years by Mr. and Mrs. Jencks Mowry of Pascoag. Later on, it was prepared by people of the church. Lillian Hopkins' diary entry for September 1, 1911, reads, "Old Home Day. Pleasant. Caterer did not come. We did the work ourselves."12 Walter M. Olney is recorded as bakemaster in 1911. By the early 1920's, Meeting House Proprietor William W. Hopkins of Brown & Hopkins Store (and Lillian's husband) was bakemaster, almost always assisted by his brother Ernest Hopkins. Will continued with this large responsibility throughout the rest of the Old Home Days. Benjamin Steere, Jr. ("Benny") worked closely with Will Hopkins and was often sent to the city with a truck to fetch the clams and other produce. William H. Sherman, Charles Anderson, Everett Steere, and Enoch Steere also assisted routinely with the bake.

Walter Mowry Olney, Old Home Day Bakemaster in early years. Courtesy of Clifford Brown.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The bake involved a lot of work. Early in the morning of the event, the menfolk took the barrels full of steamers on a cart, in some years down to Sucker Brook (as recalled by Robert Steere) near where the Old Boston Road (now Victory Highway) crosses it. The cart could be driven right into the brook. They dumped the clams out onto framed hardware screening set upon saw horses, sorted them to eliminate the questionable ones, and panned water over them to clean away the dirt and sand. In other years (as recalled by Helen Brown and Stephen Hopkins), they washed the clams in Spring Brook at the foot of Harrington Hill on Douglas Hook Road.

Ernest E. Hopkins, Minnie (Hopkins) Brown, and Will Hopkins. These three individuals were absolutely among the most faithful leaders of Old Home Day celebrations throughout the history of the event. Will served on the first Old Home Day Committee, and on most subsequent ones. He served on the Food Committee and was working on the Bake as early as 1909. He was Bakemaster for about 30 years, assisted during this entire time by Ernest; Ernest also served on the first Old Home Day Committee, and subsequently in a leadership capacity on many other committees into the 1940's. Minnie first appears on the list of committee members in 1913; she served as Table Committee Chairman for over 20 years, and held a leadership position as long as there were Old Home Days. From the photographic collection of the late Robert E. Steere, courtesy of Martha Willard and Robert E. Steere, Jr.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Large wooden sugar barrels from Brown & Hopkins Store were used to steam the clams. These would be very clean with no lingering taste from previous contents. A few holes were drilled in the bottom of each barrel for drainage, and they were set at least a foot into the ground, sometimes more. About an hour before the bake, piles of trashwood with large fieldstones placed in them were set afire. When the stones ("as big as your head," according to Robert Steere)13 were fully heated (they were so hot that sometimes they broke apart), the y were pulled out of the coals with a long pipe which had a potato digger welded to it, and then placed gently on seaweed in the wetted barrels with a clean long-handled dung fork. Over the stones was laid more seaweed, then clams, then more seaweed, then more clams, then more seaweed, etc. On top was put corn and sweet potatoes sacked-up in cheesecloth. The seaweed provided the moisture for the steam. Galvanized washtubs were placed upside down over canvas on the top to cover the bake. When the bake was finished, the covers were removed and the barrels' contents distributed throughout the day as needed.

Helping to prepare the bake, almost certainly at Chepachet Old Home Day. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The sweet corn for the bake also came from various sources. Listed in the records as suppliers of corn were Henry Paine, Curtis Hopkins, and one Vaughn. The potatoes and onions for the chowder and the sweet potatoes for the bake almost certainly came on numerous occasions from S. Tourtellot & Co., a major source of produce generally for Old Home Day. It was located on Canal Street in Providence near the Byrne shellfish dealership.14 There is also an item for transporting corn from Providence, so Tourtellot's may have been an important source for corn as well.

The pile of trashwood was built on top of fieldstones. It was set ablaze to heat the stones for the clambake — the stones were placed at the bottom of barrels with seaweed, clams, sweet potatoes, and corn on top. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The clamcakes were fried in deep fat in iron pans on wood stoves. The accounts for 1912 note the expenditures of $9.34 to purchase 32 pounds of butter and $22.44 to purchase 60 pounds of lard. Certainly the lard was used to fry the clamcakes. Butter and lard were bought from Whitford & Bartlett in the early years and later on from Douglas & Dillon (or was it Dillon & Douglas? — the account book has both). Starting in 1919, they were bought from Fred Gardner.15 In 1922, there is an item for oleomargarine.

The flour for the clamcakes almost certainly would have been purchased at Brown & Hopkins, no doubt at a discount — Jimmy Brown and Will Hopkins were both members of the Baptist Church. This general store probably also supplied the saleratus and cream of tarter that would have been used as baking power (they would also have supplied salt and pepper for the chowder and the tables, and almost certainly the crackers, although in the last case there is an item in the accounts for crackers from "Loose-Wiles").

The amounts paid to Potter & Brown and then to Brown & Hopkins reveal them to have been a very important source of supplies for Old Home Day, growing over time:

Potter and Brown

1909
1910

$9.68
$5.02

Brown & Hopkins

1911
1912
1914
1915
1918
1919
1920
1921
1922
1923
1924
1925

$14.43
$10.73
$26.46
$40.34
$35.21
$36.63
$71.79
$70.14
$60.00
$111.86
$100.00*
$59.36

*Includes baker's bill and cloth for table covering.

Taken at Brown & Hopkins Store (a major source of supplies for Old Home Day), about 1930. Left to right: 1) Fred Halbig, customer, who was later in charge of sound effects and electronics at Old Home Day during the 1940's; 2) Fred Marsailles, clerk, whose wife served on the Old Home Day Entertainment, Refreshment, and Decorating Committees from 1919 through the mid-nineteen twenties; 3) Will Hopkins, store owner, who was bakemaster starting from the early 1920's through the 1940's; 4) Jimmy Brown, store owner, whose wife served on Old Home Day committees throughout most of the events; 5) Fred Greenhalgh, clerk, who served on the Bake Committee, and who sold dinner tickets with Steve Davis during the 1920's; 6) Steve Davis, clerk, who was in charge of selling tickets from 1916 at least through 1932; 7) "Jimmie" Stott, clerk. From the photographic collection of the late Robert E. Steere, courtesy of Martha Willard and Robert E. Steere, Jr.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Eggs for the clamcakes would have come from many local sources. Milk, which would be used for several other purposes as well is recorded as having come at various times from: Henry Paine, a Mrs. Boyd, Howard Steere, Fred Barnes, Waldo Steere, and Percy Townend. The diaries of Mrs. John P. Steere, Sr. record her donating cans of milk to Old Home Day on more than one occasion.16

One stove to fry the clamcakes was inside the church; several others were outside, lined up on the lawn south of the chowder cauldron. There are recurrent items in the accounts for wood to keep the stoves running — coming from a Mr. Ducharme and from Hopkins Brothers. In 1922, 2 1/2 cords were bought for Old Home Day (for $13.00). Although prices suggest that this large a purchase was on the high end, clearly keeping these fires burning for several hours required a serious amount of fuel.

Miranda Fiske made (or supervised the making of) the clamcake batter for many years, often with her son Dick breaking open and beating the dozens of eggs. About six women worked on the cakes, mixing batter and frying them. If 1000 people were served and each ate a half dozen cakes, that would mean 6000 clamcakes to be fried. Pictures show large square pans holding about 80 cakes apiece . Six such, refilled five times an hour, could produce that number in two and a half hours. When asked many years later how they were able to fry so many clamcakes for such large crowds, Beatrice Bucklin, Rev. Bucklin's wife, replied, "We just had to do it, so we did it!"  The clamcakes were distributed to the crowd in tinware pans by members of the Table Committee.

There were also rolls and brown bread, coming from several sources over the years. These included: Estin's Bakery, F.A. Randall, Dillman's Bakery, Pascoag Bread and Rolls, and an unnamed source in Woonsocket where bread and rolls were bought by Ella Steere.

For drinks, there were lemonade and soda. In the recollection of Bessie Migneault, the former was real lemonade made on the spot from lemons.17 The latter was supplied by several companies over the years, including: McManus and Meade, Nasonville Bottling, and Bare Rock Soda. The expenditures for soda (between 1909 and 1925) ran from less than $10.00 in the early years to more than $20.00 in later years.

Watermelon was served for dessert. The melons came from various sources, including Peter Friery, William Sweet, and probably S. Tourtellot and Co. in Providence (from whom was bought "produce" during much of the period). According to Bessie Migneault, who helped serve them, the melons were bought the day before and stored with ice in the church cellar.18 As needed, they were brought up the stairs (she recalled Ed Richmond doing this) and cut on a table situated in front of the door to the basement ell. The table was so close to the door that Richmond, standing a step down, could still place the watermelon on it. It was served on individual plates and distributed to the crowd from that table.

Rev. Carl E. Peterson passing out watermelon at Chepachet Old Home Day celebration around 1920. From the scrap book of Edith Floyd, courtesy of Diane Nobles.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1907, we read that "refreshments consisting of cake, ice cream, candy, peanuts, and popcorn cakes were served in the vestry."19  In most years, however, tables were set up near the house on the east side of the grounds to sell food and drink, including ice cream, cake, candy, pie, bananas, soda, lemonade, and even sandwiches (perhaps for those who did not like shellfish). Robert Steere recalled cotton candy being sold on at least one occasion by a man from Connecticut. Cake was indeed a recurrent feature, and there is more than one mention of pie (1915, 1917). In 1911, there was a contest to guess the weight of a large fruit cake. Three people came close to guessing the correct weight of 9 1/4 pounds and the cake was divided among them. In another year, records show that the "guess cake" was 12 1/2 pounds. Ella Steere was Refreshment Committee Chair for many years, followed by Frank Capwell.

The ice cream sold at 10 cents a large scoop. It was obtained from many different sources over the years, starting with Trank's. One early account noted that "Trank Brothers' Peerless ice cream found ready customers." Other suppliers through 1925 included: Adfer Rounds, Maine Creamery, Flora Stott, one Rowell, Oak Knoll Ice Cream, and Dolby Cream. The amounts spent on ice cream between 1912 and 1925 ranged from $22.88 to $56.60, with most years around $40.00.

Candy was also sold every year. Weeks Brothers, Williams and Borden, Burdick and Clark, and R. W. Lee Confectionery are among those who supplied candy to the event. Peanuts were also sold on occasion. And in 1912 there is a record of purchase for bananas.

Postcard depicting the Chepachet Grammar School (built in the 1830's), sold at the Chepachet Old Home Day, 1910. Courtesy of Dorothy White.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In most years, there were "tables of useful and fancy articles," including aprons, headgear, balloons, and novelties; on occasion there was a grab barrel.20 Souvenirs containing views of Chepachet were sold in 1908, and in 1911, there was a $28.50 item in the account book for "souvenirs." In 1909 Old Home Day buttons and souvenir booklets were on sale. In 1917, it is reported that Mrs. Fred W. Householder told fortunes. In 1923, rugs woven on a hand loom by Chauncy Jaques were sold. In 1925, the Needle Book Club had a fancy-work table which was reportedly well patronized, and there was an apron club. The records show that in 1921, 30 yards of percale was purchased for aprons. More percale was purchased in subsequent years. Church members sewed it into aprons that were offered for sale. Mrs. Fred Steere, Mrs. Stephen Davis, Mrs. Wilson Peckham, Mrs. Ernest Hopkins, Mrs. Raymond Steere, and Mrs. George Greenhalgh served frequently on this committee. In 1926, the Providence Journal reported that "the numerous side stands with aprons, fancy articles, novelties, balloons, and fancy headgear did a thriving business."

Chepachet Old Home Day, 1920's. Courtesy of Clifford Brown.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The cleanup was a major undertaking. The tables had to be taken down — which involved removing the nailed-on braces — and the platforms had to be dismantled. Trash had to be carted to the dump. The biggest task was washing the dishes. We note the purchase on more than one occasion of "washing towels." Although all other work was by volunteers, the dish washing task was so extensive that some people were paid to perform it. For example, in 1909, five women were paid 75 cents apiece for washing dishes; by 1924 women were being paid $2.00 for dish washing and men were being paid $2.00 for "labor" — although not in large numbers in either case. 

Time to clean up at Chepachet Old Home Day, 1920's. Courtesy of the Glocester Heritage Society.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In the early years before the First World War, if it rained, the event was postponed to the following day. Later, it was held on the scheduled day, and the smaller crowds were served inside the church, under the shed, or under tents.21 In 1914, it rained and people came anyway, so they were served a dinner and then another dinner was served on the next day.

The program usually began at 3:00 with the ringing of the bell. The pastor opened with an invocation and then served as master of ceremonies, introducing the speakers and the musicians. It was a time when local people created their own pastimes and forms of entertainment. Not only was the food prepared by the townspeople themselves, but the music was also local. Many speakers, admittedly, came from out of town, but almost all were from Rhode Island or nearby Massachusetts. One of the principal sources of enjoyment at Old Home Day came from the mingling of people after their lunch was finished — as they introduced themselves to new friends, renewed old acquaintances, recognized a person met the previous year, found distant relatives they had not seen for years, and realized that they had a good excuse just to stand and talk without feeling that they were wasting someone's time or neglecting the chores. For a long while, the entertainment involved no electronics: the speakers spoke directly to the crowd; the band music was not amplified; the organ music was provided by hand-pumped bellows.

Sayles Brown Steere, who started his Old Home Day service on the Table Committee and Entertainment Committee in 1907, and served on the latter almost every year for which we have a record until 1935; in the 1930's he also served on the Grounds Committee and Incidentals Committee. Courtesy of Clifford Brown.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The records show that music was a central feature of the entertainment. We have for 1908 a printed multi-page program, filled with advertising, that listed the speakers and the musical offerings. There was typically a band concert, although at times there was a small orchestra, an organ concert, or other special music. J. Curtis Hopkins is the name most associated with the musical presentations. The Hopkins National Band of Pascoag entertained at the first Old Home Day in 1906; the Pascoag Herald identifies J. Curtis Hopkins as its leader in 1908, although his father, George Hopkins, was also a band leader in earlier days and may have directed before 1908.

The Oakland Brass Band under the direction of J. Curtis Hopkins. Courtesy of Lois Hawksley.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1916, an orchestra performed, consisting of Hiram Penno on the violin, Fred Winsor on the cello, J. Curtis Hopkins on the cornet, Henry Lamb on the French horn, and Ella Hopkins on the piano.

Later the Oakland Brass Band, under J. Curtis Hopkins' direction, was a regular attraction. Bessie Migneault and Robert Steere recalled it as having about 10-12 players, a size confirmed by photographs. Curtis Hopkins' sons George and Henry played woodwinds and his son Robert played trombone in this band. Trumpets and tubas were also featured. According to his granddaughter Lois Hawksley, it used to rehearse on the second floor above the barber shop in the brick Wanskuck Hall (still standing) on the Old Route 102 in Oakland. In 1927 and 1928, the eight-piece George Hopkins Orchestra performed at Old Home Day under the direction of Curtis' son. The band music, at least in the early days, consisted of marches, overtures, waltzes, and polkas. See the attachment entitled, MUSIC AT CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATIONS.

Mr. and Mrs. J. Curtis Hopkins on the occasion of their 50th anniversary. Mr. Hopkins is recorded as serving on the Old Home Day entertainment committee for many years starting in 1907; the music provided by his band was one of the highlights of the Old Home Day celebrations throughout most of its history. Mrs. Hopkins served on the Old Home Day Table Committee for many years, starting at least as early as 1921, and was one of the most active participants on Old Home Day committees until its end in 1947. Courtesy of Lois Hawksley.

Click on photo to enlarge.

When the event had to be postponed, the church itself usually provided entertainment on the rescheduled day, and when the event was held anyway during inclement weather, the entertainment was held inside the church (in 1908, for example, "the auditorium of the church was prettily draped with flags and red, white, and blue bunting and many took refuge within its walls on account of the cold,"22 and solos were played on the pipe organ by Edgar Potter and Ella Hopkins. She also played the organ in 1911. In 1915, there was a small circus, the Yama Yama Brothers' circus. In 1918, during the First World War, it is recorded that the exercises closed with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and a salute to the flag. In 1925, "an added attraction of the day was a minstrel show given by the older boys of the Providence Boys Club.23 In 1930, there were organ solos by Mr. and Mrs. J. Curtis Hopkins. In 1931 and 1932, the Sockanosset Boys Band performed under the direction of Julia Winsor Fiske, originally from Harmony; in the former year there was vocal music in the sanctuary under her direction.

There were always speakers. Six incumbent governors (Utter, Higgins, Pothier, Flynn, Case, and Green), as well as lieutenant governors, congressmen, judges, state legislators, state officials, clergymen, attorneys, officials of the National Grange, and other prominent citizens spoke throughout the history of the event. See the attachment entitled, SPEAKERS AND ENTERTAINERS AT CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATIONS. At the first Old Home Day event, the governor spoke from the center front door of the church; afterwards, a bandstand was erected both for the musicians and for the speakers. In 1914, due to inclement weather, the speeches were held inside the meeting house. Prominent figures often attended in addition to the speakers. For example, in 1907 , in addition to the Governor, there were General Treasurer Walter Read of Chepachet, Senator Walter R. Stines of Warwick, Sheriff Hunter C. White of Burrillville, Senator Arnold of Westerly, and Deputy U.S. Marshall Charles Newhall.

Folks lining up to hear the speaker at Chepachet Old Home Day in late 1920's or early 1930's. Courtesy of Lois Hawksley.

Click on photo to enlarge.

A wide variety of topics were addressed in the speeches. Although many speakers were public officials, they were asked to avoid politics, and apparently this request was respectfully observed in terms of partisan politics. Many local speakers recounted events from town history. The elected officials took the occasion to expand on patriotic themes and to mention important issues of the day (such as women's suffrage, prohibition, isolationism, the depression, and the advent of the Second World War). Some orators stressed the inherited values of the past, while others talked about the countryside, agriculture, and topics of interest to farmers. Usually there were several speakers talking about different topics. When events had to be postponed, local speakers often substituted for the scheduled ones. The following paragraphs give a few examples of what was said.

Governor George H. Utter, Old Home Day speaker, 1906, painted by Hugo Breul, in the Rhode Island State House. Photographed by Tom Evans, photograph edited by Marilyn Brownell.

Click on photo to enlarge.

On the first Old Home Day, the speakers were introduced by Rev. Parsons of the Baptist Church, who served as host. Prayer was offered by the Rev. Frank J. Nash of the Chepachet Congregational Church "in which thankfulness for the happiness which had blessed the town and the useful lives of its many sons was the dominant note."24 Governor George H. Utter extolled the virtues of individualism and commented on the differences between town and country, envisioning a time when these differences would diminish with the advent of better roads, rural free delivery, and rural electricity. He also congratulated the people of Glocester "on having a family holiday. One of the things the American people lack is the opportunity for sociability." Colonel Daniel F. Ballou, United States Marshall, who claimed to be a "son-in-law and grandson" of Glocester, spoke about prominent Glocester citizens of an earlier time, including Daniel Owen, Judge Evans, Clovis Bowen, Amasa Eddy, Lawton Owen, George H. Brown, and Ziba Slocum (see link to Dorr War).25 Congressman Adin B. Capron recounted historical events taking place in the town, complimented the town on its small debt, and predicted the arrival of a trolley line.

The themes of rural remoteness and improving transportation that Governor Utter mentioned were several times repeated in later years. In 1907, Colonel Ballou spoke about recent improvements to transportation, but warned about the perils of automobiles and their reckless drivers. In 1912, Francis Gallagher of Providence talked about the Rhode Island countryside as a tourist destination.

Governor James H. Higgens, Old Home Day speaker, 1907. From the Manual of the Rhode Island Business Men's Association 1890 - 1907, published by Nathan Briggs and James B. Littlefield, printed by Standard Printing Company, cuts by W. H. Leland & Co., Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1907, p. 5.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1910, Governor Pothier praised the citizens of Glocester; In 1913 Clarence Whipple spoke "most interestingly" on the Philippines; and in 1916, Miss Elizabeth Upham Yates spoke on "Equal Suffrage ."

In 1916 and again in 1918 a representative of the Anti-Saloon League addressed the crowd. In 1918, the following excerpt appears in Ella Hopkins' diary for Saturday, August 24: "Big crowd + fine dinner . I worked all day until 2:30 ... Had entertainment in Church. It was packed. I read 'Whistling Regiment.' Betty [?] sang, etc..."26  This, of course, was during the First World War.

In 1922, Judge A. A. Capotosto of the Superior Court extolled the virtues of constitutionalism and obeying unpopular laws (prohibition was then in effect), and in 1923, the judge, after paying tribute to the memory of the recently-deceased President Harding, warned against foreign entanglements.

In 1925, Attorney General Oscar L. Heltzen delivered a speech about the State Police, stating that "The effect of their constant oversight over the outlying districts of the state ought to make Rhode Island a much securer and better place to live in."  He observed further, "I am not a pessimist and do not hold with those who believe that everything is going to the dogs. I have no patience with cynics who see the end of our civilization, but believe in being alert to preserve our freedom and our security."27

In 1926, Congressman Jeremiah O'Connell urged tolerance, exhorting all to "firmly resolve and realize that in this great land there is room for every citizen, native or foreign born, of whatever creed or color, so long as he obeys the laws and is faithful to its institutions."28 More excerpts from Congressman O'Connell's address appear in the attachment entitled, SPEAKERS AND ENTERTAINERS AT CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATIONS.

In 1927 Lieutenant Governor Norman S. Case declared that the "American Home is the basis of our civilization" and discussed recent legislation of interest to the farming community. In 1931, Mr. Case, by then the Governor, spoke about important figures in the state who had been raised in Glocester.

Governor Norman S. Case, Old Home Day speaker (as Lieutenant governor) in 1927, and as Governor in 1931, painted by Sarkis Diranian, in the Rhode Island State House. Photographed by Tom Evans, photograph edited by Marilyn Brownell.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1932, William A. Needham, a prominent attorney, discussed the depression and measures being taken to combat it.

In 1933, Judge Capotosto, Oscar Heltzen (by then, the State Insurance Commissioner), and Burton T. Mowry, Past Lecturer of the Massachusetts State Grange, discussed "the value of Old Home Day in guarding home and friendship and making possible the reunions of friends."  Jesse Mowry spoke on topics of relevance to the history of the Town.

In 1934 Governor Theodore Francis Greene paid tribute to the spirit of the occasion and to the traditions of Rhode Island.

In 1935, the speakers "paid tribute to the Town of Glocester, the type of men produced, and the value of Old Home Day." In 1936, Attorney (later judge) Fred Perkins spoke on the home as a place where there are standards.

In 1939, with war afoot in Asia and looming in Europe, Rev. Harvey Eastman of the Slatersville Congregational Church urged all nations to step back and adopt a neighborly spirit in their relations with each other. In 1940, with the Second World War underway in both Asia and Europe, Attorney General Louis V. Jackvony told the audience that "as long as our citizens retain their law-abiding interest, family spirit, and faith in God — principles lacking in the countries of Hitler and Stalin — we need not fear the effect of European propaganda."  He predicted that the European dictators would probably not dare attack America, but that we should be prepared. In 1942, former Providence City Solicitor William Needham urged voters to have faith in elected leaders even if they had not voted for them.

Chepachet Congregational Church, now Chepachet Union Church, site of Old Home Day Food Sale in 1937, and Old Home Day events from 1942 through 1947. Courtesy of Lois Hawksley.

Click on photo to enlarge.

After the war, Rev. Kenneth M. Cooper in 1946 decried the state of confusion and selfishness in society and praised the Old Home Day celebration as an occasion of neighborliness; Lt. Governor John S . McKiernan in 1947 urged his listeners to help alleviate the pitiful conditions of poverty that existed overseas and to help raise the world's standard of living to a level that existed before the war — as a means of preventing dictatorship. He concluded that we must battle spiritually and peacefully the enemies of church and society.

By all accounts the speeches throughout the years were well-attended and listened to with interest and respect.

After the speaking there were sports events, especially in the early years. In 1908, the schedule called for a running race, a potato race, a three-legged race, a tug of war, and jumping. In 1907, the Chepachet baseball team lost by 11 to 10 to the Union Mill team from Burrillville (that year Sturtevant and Ducharme were the battery for Chepachet; Martin and Lockwood were the battery for Burrillville) . In 1908, the Chepachet nine lost to the Unions from Pascoag by a score of 5 to 1, but in 1909, the Chepachet team beat Mapleville 5 to 4. In 1910, they lost to Pascoag by 10 to 4 (see attachment entitled, BASEBALL AT CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATIONS, for the 1910 lineups), and in 1911, they beat Burrillville by 10 to 2. In 1919 Chepachet played the Knights of Columbus team from Burrillville, but the account does not record who won! In 1932, Chepachet played Saylesville — again, no score was mentioned in the newspaper accounts.

Henry Lewin, who served on the Entertainment Committee as early as 1933, served as Chairman of Old Home Day celebrations from 1938 through 1942, and continued to be active in OHD celebrations until their end in 1947. From the 1992 Directory of the Chepachet Union Church. Courtesy of Jane Steere.

Click on photo to enlarge.

One purpose of the Old Home Day was to support the Church. At the beginning the gross receipts were in the $300 range, but they grew with the size of the event, and after 1920, the event was grossing about $1000 per year, with the net ranging from a third of this to over a half, depending on the size of the crowd.

Mr. and Mrs. Ernest S. Hopkins, both of whom worked on many Old Home Day events throughout the 1930's and 1940's. Mr. Hopkins was General Chairman of the whole event in 1943. Courtesy of Stephen Hopkins.

Click on photo to enlarge.

The Old Home Day celebrations were held in every year from 1906 until 1947. In 1937, when Putnam Pike was under construction in front of the Baptist Church, a lawn party with chowder, clamcakes, a food sale, and a novelty sale was held on the grounds of the Congregational (now Union) Church as a substitute for Old Home Day. During the last few years of Old Home day, starting in 1942, the format changed: a lawn party was held at the Congregational Church featuring chowder and clamcakes for lunch, accompanied by a food sale and novelty tables during the afternoon, with an evening supper, followed by an entertainment in the auditorium of the Church. The diary entry of Mrs. John P. Steere, Sr., for August 17, 1946, records the following: "Old Home day at Cong. Ch. Cloudy. Food sale in P.M. chowder and clamcakes for supper. Some entertainment .... I did not go. It's so hot."

Irene and Earle Salisbury. Irene served on the Table committee throughout the 1920's, and was active in the 1930's and 1940's on food committees, heading the chowder and clamcake operation in 1945. She served as event Secretary in 1946. Earle served as event Co-chairman in 1944, and was active on several committees throughout the 1940's. From the 1992 Directory of the Chepachet Union Church. Courtesy of Jane Steere.

Click on photo to enlarge.

In 1943, the entertainment included instrumental solos, songs by radio performers, a glee club performance, and a magician. In 1944, it consisted of accordion solos by Herbert Hardman, a one-act play under the direction of Ella Hopkins, and a set of drills, songs, and recitations by the children of the town under the direction of Louise Steere (later Van Bever). In 1945, the program included movies of the ringing of the V-E Day Victory Bell at the home of Dennis Ryan, shown by Fred Halbig; a presentation by a professional reader, and a puppet show staged by the Brownie Troop under the direction of Louise Steere, with Martha Steere and Gail Wood, perhaps among others, operating the puppets.29 In 1946 and 1947, keynote speakers were once again featured.

George Stone and his wife first appear on Old Home Day committee lists in 1919, and they were both active on committees through the 1940's. From the 1982 Directory of the Chepachet Union Church. Courtesy of Jane Steere.

Click on photo to enlarge.

With the coming of the War and with gas rationing, however, attendance fell to an average of about 200-300, and it never again reached the levels attained in the years before the war, as shown in the attachment entitled, OLD HOME DAY CELEBRATION DATES AND ATTENDANCE. In 1947, there was a very small and disappointing crowd in the pouring rain. In 1948, Rev. Bucklin accepted a call to a pastorate in Colchester, Vermont, and his departure may have signaled the end of the Old Home Day celebrations. We find no record in the newspapers, nor in available diaries, of a Chepachet Old Home Day in 1948. By August of that year, a pastoral Committee was searching for a successor, and the Church was in a time of transition between ministers. This situation may have contributed decisively to the dropping of the Old Home Day tradition. Therefore, as far as we can tell, the last of the Chepachet Old Home Day series was August 16, 1947.

Senator George Greenhalgh and Edith Greenhalgh first appear on Old Home Day committee lists in the mid-1920's. George served on the Entertainment Committee and the General Committee into the 1940's; Edith served regularly on the Apron Committee, the Novelty Table Committee, and the Supper Committee into the 1940's. Courtesy of Jane Steere.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Old Home Day was, however, an important event in the culture of the town and the life of its people while it lasted. It became famous throughout the state, generated a lot of publicity, and put the Chepachet on the map every year. Its duration spanned more than a third of a century, beginning in that optimistic era that preceded World War I, continuing through the war and the arrival in force of the automobile in the "Roaring Twenties," and spanning the Depression years, when it provided those attending with some momentary respite from the economic conditions surrounding them. For many years, it came to be one anchor in Chepachet's seasonal rhythm of life, along with the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Memorial Day. As the century progressed and lifestyles changed, it remained a nostalgic, yet authentic, link to an earlier, simpler era, which was, after all, what it was intended to be in the first place.

It had begun at a time when communications were slow and opportunities for meeting people and renewing old friendships were far fewer than they are today. It was also a time with many fewer options for entertainment than we now have, and, indeed, many fewer options for ways to spend one's time other than at work. But the early years of the twentieth century were also an era when people, not wishing to "live by bread alone," sought variety as a relief from the routines of the farm and factory no less than people today seek relief from the imperatives of frenetic schedules. Old Home Day consisted simply of a meal, some fellowship, some music, an invocation, and some enlightenment from a few speakers — and yet it was much looked-forward to, generating a lot of enthusiasm and appreciation on the part of those who worked, as well as on the part of those who visited. It exemplified a culture in which hard work leading to a sense of practical accomplishment was, perhaps, the chief source of daily satisfaction — and the experience of hosting others was a major source of recurrent joy.

Rev. Elden G. Bucklin and Beatrice Keach Bucklin were both mainstays of the Old Home Day celebrations from the mid-1920's, when he became pastor, until 1947 when he left the pastorate. He served as General Chairman from 1927 through 1936, and again from 1944 to 1947; he also served on the Entertainment Committee from 1926 through the 1940's. Beatrice Keach first appears on the Table Committee in 1921, and was very active in Old Home Day events from that time forward, working both behind the scenes and out front to ensure that things went as they were supposed to. Courtesy of Edna Kent.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Old Home Day brought almost the entire town and its most active citizens together in a church-sponsored event requiring a lot of organized and cooperative hard work that produced immediate results enjoyed by a large number of people. When the event was over, the dishes washed, and the tables put away for another year, there must have been an enormous sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and feeling that something good had been done for a lot of people, and something important had taken place.


* * * * * * * * * *

The Free Will Baptist Church has in recent years recognized and remembered the Old Home Day events. On May of 1997 the congregation of the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church celebrated its 175th anniversary with a program that included a talk about Old Home Day by Clifford Brown, and an exhibit of Old Home Day photographs and artifacts in the Vestry.

On Saturday, August 26, 2006, the Church held a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Chepachet Old Home Day. Nearly 200 people attended, about the same number as attended the first Old Home Day. Paul Anderton served as Chair of the event. The Church plans another celebration in 2007. See the attachment entitled, THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIRST CHEPACHET OLD HOME DAY: AUGUST 26, 2006.


This history is based on newspaper accounts in the Pascoag Herald, Woonsocket Call, Providence Bulletin, and Providence Journal; on the chapter entitled "Old Home Day" in Helen Steere Brown's Looking Back; on the accounting records for the Old Home Day celebrations between 1909 and 1925 (with the exception of 1913, 1916, and 1917) in the possession of Clifford Brown; on the diaries of L. Annie Steere, Ella Hopkins, Lillian Hopkins, and Mary Sayles Steere; on recollections recorded on tape in 1997 by Louise Van Bever, Bessie Migneault, and Robert Steere, and on recollections of Madeline Brown and Harvey Steere.

We wish gratefully to acknowledge the very valuable assistance of Jeff Brooke-Stewart, Steve Crosby, the Glocester Heritage Society, Lois Hawksley, Steve Hopkins, Madeline Brown, Leon Peckham, Harvey Steere, Jane Steere, Robert E. Steere, jr., and Tom Evans of the State House Library. Special thanks go to Edna Kent for her many helpful suggestions and for lending us many of the photographs appearing here; special thanks also go to Martha Willard for proofreading the entire manuscript; special thanks go to Marilyn Brownell for her hard work, countless hours, and creative input in preparing this website. As always, we are indebted to Jill Stevenson for her careful work in making this material available to the public.


ENDNOTES

1. Pascoag Herald, Aug 30, 1907. The schoolteacher was Henry Hartwell Jenckes, then of Limerock, Rhode Island (see Providence Journal, August 29, 1907).

2. August 20, 1906.

3. Newspaper accounts for 1926 say 1000 ate dinner and 2000 listened to the speeches. The latter number is subject to challenge: dinner estimates might well have been obtained from ticket sales, which would give a realistic assessment of the crowd. Speech audience estimates would be less reliable. Also, with due respect to the speakers, it seems unlikely that twice as many people would attend the speeches as ate dinner.

4. Providence Sunday Journal, August 10, 1919, p.7.

5. Providence Bulletin, August 20, 1906.

6. August 20, 1906.

7. Taylor & Symonds were paid $16.62 in 1923, probably for the same purpose, and Godfrey was paid $3.00 for "making awnings."

8. In possession of Martha Willard.

9. Diary of Lydia Annie Steere (Mrs. John P.), August 16, 1930, in possession of Clifford W. Brown, Jr.

10. In possession of Martha Willard.

11. Byrne was sometimes spelled "Byrnes" or "Burns" in the record.

12. Diary in possession of Martha Willard.

13. From a 1997 tape recording in possession of Clifford W. Brown, Jr.

14. The 1910 Providence City Directory lists S[tephen] Tourtellot & Co. at 87 Canal Street, and the 1919 Directory lists it at 179 Canal. The church records are not in sufficient detail to identify what kinds of produce were purchased at Tourtellot's.

15. The 1910 Providence City Directory gives two locations for Whitford Bartlett & Co. — 99 Dyer Street and 18 Pine Street. The Dyer Street location would have been more convenient to Chepachet. The proprietors were: W. E. Whitford, A. P. Bartlett, and F. H. Sweet. They are described as "wholesale grocers." We can find no reference to Douglas & Dillon or Dillon & Douglas in the Providence Directory, nor a reference to Fred Gardner.  They may not have been listed, or may have been located in another community.

16. In 1930 and 1932.

17. From the 1997 tape recording, above.

18. The Diary of Lydia Annie Steere (Mrs. John P.), for August 20, 1932 records that Mr. Steere donated ice to the Old Home Day event that year (he had three ice houses on his farm).

19. Pascoag Herald, September 4, 1908.

20. Pascoag Herald, August 15, 1913.

21. The Diary of Lydia Annie Steere (Mrs. John P. Steere) for August 27,1927 notes that the dinner was served in the vestry and under the shed to a "good crowd for a rainy day."

22. Pascoag Herald, September 4, 1908.

23. Providence Sunday Journal, August 15, 1925.

24. Woonsocket Call, September 21, 1906.

25. Pascoag Herald, September 21, 1906.

26. In possession of Martha Willard.

27. Providence Sunday Journal, August 15, 1925. For accounts of speeches, see the Providence Sunday Journal for the Sunday following the event and the Woonsocket Call for the Monday following the event.

28. Providence Sunday Journal, August 22, 1926, p.4.

29. See the Providence Sunday Journal articles for August 22, 1943, August 20, 1944, and August 19, 1945; and the Woonsocket Call for August 23, 1943, August 21, 1944, and August 18, 1945. The puppet show is mentioned in the diary of Mary S. Steere, now in the possession of her daughter Martha Willard.

The Website of the Chepachet Baptist Church
(Historically the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church)
-and-
The Proprietors of the Chepachet Meeting House

© Copyright 2004-2017 The Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church Society. All rights reserved.
1213 Putnam Pike - PO Box 148 Chepachet, RI 02814 (401) 568-3771
The church logo was produced by Zachary Andrews.
All photographs, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Marilyn J. Brownell. All rights reserved.

shopify analytics ecommerce
 

MouseWorks