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Honoring the past

Halifax to celebrate Old Home Days

HALIFAX—The town of Halifax celebrates its 260th anniversary this year and, as part of the celebration, residents will hold Old Home Day on July 16, 17 and 18.

“It’s to bring people back [to their home town], to meet new people and to reacquaint with old [friends],” says Joan Courser, chair of the Halifax Old Home Days committee, about the reason behind the July celebration. 

Festivities include live entertainment, a parade, barbecue and children’s activities (see sidebar for event schedule).

Events will be stretched throughout the village. Chum Sumner will offer horse-drawn-wagon rides through the village. Roads in the center will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Halifax held its first Old Home Day in 1930. The celebration consisted of a church service and luncheon.

“Someone thought it would be a good idea for people who had been there [in town] and left come back and celebrate the town,”  Courser says.

Theme rings true

For each reunion, held every five to 10 years, the organizing committee chair chooses something in the town to highlight. Ten years ago, the chair highlighted the Historical Society. This year, Courser chose the theme “The Bell.”

In 1935, residents removed the cast-iron bell from the belfry of the Congregational Church — now the Town Hall — in West Halifax village.

Courser is not sure why, but she guesses the belfry was too weak to support the bell.

Instead of reinstalling the bell or melting it down, residents turned it upside down and installed it as a basin on Branch Road to catch spring water.

“I’ve always been intrigued by that,” she says.

She says the spring feeding into the bell served as a primary water source for households and camps in the area up into the 1970s. Some people still stop by for a drink.

Farmers used to water their horses there, and children walked down the road each evening to fill a pitcher to accompany supper.

“It’s real good water if you get it out of the pipe, and not the bell,” she says.

People have approached Courser saying they are glad she decided to highlight the bell, because they didn’t even know it was there.

Halifax was the second town chartered in Vermont. It was part of the controversial 1750 Wentworth Grants, also known as the “New Hampshire Grants,” where New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth sold to settlers land that was considered part of New York.

According to Courser, in the 1780s, the town had the highest population in Vermont and almost became the state capital. Halifax had a population of 782 in 2000, according to the federal census.

Organizing the celebration

Courser and a core committee of four began organizing Old Home Days in January. She says she can see a difference in volunteerism since she first joined the committee 30 years ago. Fewer people are joining the committee, and fewer donate their talents or goods.

“You have to pay for a lot that we didn’t have to back then. Volunteerism seems to be on the decline,” she says.

The Old Home Days committee received $2,000 from the town. The committee also raised funds through raffles and bake sales earlier this year.

“There’s a lot on the chairman’s shoulders,” says Courser, who has served on the committee for 30 years. She took over from her neighbor, Lavern Corey, who chaired the event for 40 years.

“She’s a tough act to follow,” says Courser.

She adds she plans to retire from the organizing committee after this year. She hasn’t found anyone willing to take on the leadership role, and she fears for the future of the small-town tradition.

“I really hope the younger generation will do that [step in],” she says.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #57 (Wednesday, July 7, 2010).

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