The concept of Old Home Day in East Hampton dates back to the “Village Improvement Society” which began in 1912 under the suggestion of Mrs. Mildred W. Hughes. The small committee that formed was dedicated to the improvement of the village of East Hampton. This could best be achieved, the committee decided, uniting all of the local societies (these were the church districts of East Hampton, Middle Haddam and Cobalt) to work together.
In Carl F. Price’s Postscripts to Yankee Township the history of Old Home Day goes into further elaborations. “The society’s adventures in raising money by entertainments began as a meeting on April 1226, 1912, when the president was authorized to appoint all present at that meeting to serve. At the June meeting, the committee reported in favor of holding a bazaar, such as had been conducted by the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1910 in the summer, with booths and stands on the Congregational Church lawn. This 1912 fair, however, developed eventually in a carnival, the famous “Push-Car Carnival” that flamed along the sidewalk of Main Street for nearly half a mile. It yielded a profit of over $200, and was such a social success that its repetition was demanded for the next year.
Mrs. Mildred H. Hughes was chairman of the carnival for 1913 and 1914, which conformed more nearly to the typical carnival of subsequent years, with a colorful parade, competing floats and sales booths at the fair’s terminals (in later years, the Green at the Center). Subsequent carnival chairman of the society’s records were: Mrs. Carrier, Mrs. W. E. Day, Mrs. Cornelia Strong, Mrs. Carrie Barton, Mrs. Marion Strong, Dr. Frank Luntz, Hubert C. Hodge and Gordon D. Bevin, with many other towns people chairing the event in succeeding years.
All of the carnivals were memorable attracting thousands of visitors, as increasingly the fame of those carnivals spread East Hampton’s fame throughout the state and beyond. Some of these events can be recalled by their titles: 1917, “Carnival of Allied Nations”; 1922 “Mother Goose Carnival”; 1923, “Advertising Carnival”; 1924, “Book Carnival”; 1925, “Carnival of Songs”; 1927, “Carnival of State”; 1929, “Carnival of Painting”.
Old man depression brought about an interruption in the series of carnivals, under the Village Improvement Society, but in 1933, the Treadway-Cavanaugh Post No. 64 American Legion, petitioned the society for permission to hold a carnival on the first Saturday in August, which was granted, and this became the “The Seventh District American Legion County Fair and Old Home Day.” The carnivals under the Legion in succeeding years took on a different character from those in the 1920s, but they enriched the coffers of the Legion. The profits of the carnival of 1944 were given to the Welcome Home Fund of the Military Service Committee. The carnival of 1945 became the last of the series of carnivals. No carnival was held in 1946, one of the reasons recorded in society’s minutes being “the shortage of meats” (An interesting commentary on the etymology of the word carnival).
Old Home Day was revived in 1953 with Donald Markham representing the American Legion and Dennis Erickson representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars serving as Co-Chairs. In the Proclamation from the Board of Selection, Milton W. Nichols, Carl Terp and James F. Wall, it stated,
“We proclaim Saturday, August 1, 1953, as OLD HOME DAY. Acting under the Board of Selectmen, this proclamation is designed to perpetuate the remembrance of past Old Home Days when former resident and old-time friends returned to pay homage to our town. This day should act as a rallying call to ask the leaders of our community government, our churches, our veteran, fraternal, service and business organizations to help make this Old Home Day one of general acclaim to foster and create good will in our community. In keeping with the spirit of east Hampton we urge everyone to help make this day a happy one and one to be long remembered.”
In 1954 the 26th Old Home Day celebration was held with Donald Markham and William O’Neill (who would become Connecticut’s 84th Governor) Co-Chaired the event. Old Home Day was held sporadically thereafter in 1956, 1961 and in conjunction with the Town of East Hampton’s Bicentennial in 1967. Nothing occurred until the celebration of the United State Bicentennial in 1976. Shortly after, Mr. Morris “Moe” Lanzi, Drum Major of the East Hampton Fife and Drum Corp. began seeking interested citizen to reinstitute Old Home Day annually. This revival occurred in 1979 and has continued uninterrupted since. This coming weekend will mark the 32nd annual Old Home Day Celebration since its revival.
During the 1980s when Bill O’Neill was Connecticut’s Governor, he took special pride in his home town and made it an annual affair to not only march in every parade (until his health declined) when he road in an antique vehicle, never missing the annual event. Because the Governor loved a parade, any parade, but especially Old Home Day, many groups, such as the Governor’s Foot Guard, march in the parade, and continuing to do so each year. Other bands such as the Ancient Mariners have never missed an Old Home Day Parade. They provide a wonderful show, great music and entertainment that the kids love.
The Old Home Day Committee runs the 4-day event which includes numerous musical groups or performers, totally on contributions. Among its many benefits has been the raffling of 50 new bicycles to children. The tickets are distributed without cost throughout the weekend and any child is elegible.
Since 1979, Old Home Day has had only two Master of Ceremonies - Eaton E. Smith and Robert "Red" McKinney who maintain a lively exchange throughout the festivities.