This is the first in a three-part series about the growth of the Christian Science church in Concord, New Hampshire.
“I wish that in the ear of every son and daughter of New Hampshire,” politician Frank West Rollins wrote in 1897, “might be heard whispered the persuasive words: Come back, come back!”2
Mr. Rollins was speaking to those who, although born and bred in New Hampshire, had left their native state in order to travel west or work in urban cities. The abandoned farm towns and loss of the best and brightest was heartbreaking to Rollins. “Do you not hear the call? What has become of the old home where you were born?” he asked. “Do you not remember it—the old farm back among the hills, with its rambling buildings, its well-sweep casting its long shadows, the row of stiff poplar trees, the lilacs and the willows?”3
Two years later, after becoming New Hampshire’s governor, Rollins inaugurated Old Home Week to help revitalize the state’s municipalities and economy, and to restore unity and prosperity.4 During the last week of August 1899, 44 towns across the state celebrated the new festival with parades, bands, bonfires, baseball games, poetry-readings, dances, dinners, pie-eating contests, picnics, pageants, speeches, fireworks, and an elaborate display of patriotic décor throughout town. Not surprisingly, the biggest celebration took place in the capital city of Concord. What was surprising was the number of Christian Scientists who chose to attend.5
“An unheralded and very interesting feature of the Old Home Day celebration was the bringing to Concord of several hundred Christian Scientists from various points of New England,” reported the Concord Evening Monitor.7
The cover of Concord’s 1899 Old Home Week Program featured Governor Rollins, who originated Old Home Week. Courtesy of Concord Public Library.
This commemorative silk ribbon belonged to Jacob Gallinger, a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Buttons, badges, stationary, stamps, and other memorabilia were created to celebrate New Hampshire’s 1899 Old Home Week. Private collection.
This commemorative badge features a portrait of Governor Rollins. Private collection.
Main Street in Concord, New Hampshire, on Old Home Day. Photograph from National Magazine, 1899.
The suddenness with which the invitation was sent and accepted by Christian Scientists was impressive. At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, August 30, Mary Baker Eddy sent an invitation to the Christian Science Publishing House in Boston. The news spread like wildfire—“by special messengers, verbally, and by telephone and telegraph”—so that those who were able could catch the 6:40 a.m. train from Boston to Concord on Thursday morning.8
On arrival, the visitors were met by Rev. Irving Tomlinson, who led the group to Christian Science Hall, which was located on the corner of North State and School Streets, along one of the principal parade routes. The hall, which had been planned and paid for by Mrs. Eddy in 1897 as a gift to the growing number of Christian Scientists in Concord, was decked out with flags and bunting for the occasion, “with Mrs. Eddy’s permission,” Rev. Tomlinson explained.10
“The time was filled in an impromptu reunion about the hall and under the trees on the little lawn,” the Monitor reported. A number of visitors signed the guest book. When the Old Home Day parade passed by Christian Science Hall, the group applauded. Governor Rollins, at the head of the march, returned their greeting with a salute. And the reporter noted that when the “fantastically dressed bicyclists” cycled past, the visitors were very amused.11
They also enjoyed viewing the decorations that had been put up by many local Christian Scientists who lived along the parade route. Mrs. J. H. Moore’s house on State Street, where Tomlinson and his sister, Mary, resided, received third prize for the best decorations.12
That afternoon, the 500 or so visiting Christian Scientists traveled to Pleasant View, Mary Baker Eddy’s home on the outskirts of the city. There they spent two hours exploring the beautiful grounds before receiving a greeting from Mrs. Eddy as she started off on her daily carriage ride.13
Minnie Erwin of Boston was one who joined the throng of Christian Scientists in Concord on that special day. “All was good,” she wrote, “the gathering in the beautiful Christian Science Hall, where we were permitted to go in and out as we pleased; the sharing of the patriotism of the day; the interchange of Christian Science thought; the singing of [Mrs. Eddy’s] dear ‘Shepherd Hymn;’ the harmony and uplifting that came at Pleasant View as we roamed through the fields or sat on the grass talking lovingly together; the glimpses of [Mrs. Eddy’s] peaceful face as she stepped into her carriage. Then, later, the gathering again at the Hall and [Mrs. Eddy’s] presence for a few short moments. . . . It was a happy day and we came home inspired with new hope, courage, and strength.”14
Mrs. Eddy was supportive of the event from the outset, entering “heartily into the plans of Governor Frank Rollins for making it a success.”16 In June, she had donated $1,200 (some $38,000 in 2019 dollars) to a building fund for an auditorium in Concord large enough to accommodate the thousands who might flock to future celebrations.17
“Mrs. Eddy’s is the largest single contribution thus far made to the Auditorium Fund,” a newspaper wrote, “and by it she furnishes another signal proof of that generous public spirit which has already been manifested in so many ways toward Concord and the interests of our people.”18
This “signal proof” of Mrs. Eddy’s “generous public spirit” towards her beloved town of Concord came on the heels of a $5,000 (approximately $159,000 in 2019) gift to help pave Pleasant Street, and even more importantly, her gift of Christian Science Hall.19
Photograph from Henrietta H. Williams, “Thanksgiving and the Old Home Week,” National Magazine 11 (November 1899): 145.
Frank Rollins, “New Hampshire’s Opportunity,” New England Magazine 16 (July 1897): 542.
Rollins was the 47th Governor of New Hampshire, serving from 1899 to 1901. “For many years I traveled extensively over New England but particularly over New Hampshire,” he wrote. “The loss and decay in some of the agricultural sections was brought closely home to me, and it was while studying on this problem and its remedy that the idea of Old Home Week occurred to me as a possible help in restoring lost people and conditions.” Frank Rollins, “Old Home Week,” The Independent 53 (January 17, 1901): 133. Elsewhere Rollins recorded: “The purpose of this new festival, inaugurated in New Hampshire in the year 1899 and designated ‘Old Home Week,’ was to win back, if possible, some of the wealth which the State, with its New England neighbors, had lavished on the newer parts of the country in the persons of sturdy, undaunted, resourceful men and women. I had watched with grave consideration the decimation of our hill towns by the drawing away of our brightest and best to fields where they thought they had a greater opportunity and it was in the endeavor to stop this loss and bring back some of those who had gone away that I hit upon the plan of ‘Old Home Week.’ There have been, of course, reunions since the beginning of time, but my plan differed from the ordinary reunion in that it was to occupy a week in each year, was to be at a fixed period each year so that each one could make his plans to be back, and was to be recognized by the State as a permanent festival. . . . There is no sentiment in human life so strong as the home sentiment, and the love for the place where one was born never fades and never disappears as long as life lasts.” Frank Rollins, “The Origin of Old Home Week,” Official Souvenir and Program, Rhode Island Old Home Week (1907): 15-16. Today, “Old Home Week” or “Old Home Day(s)” are celebrated in cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia. For more information about the history of these homecoming festivals, see Gary Crooker, Images of America: New Hampshire Old Home Celebrations (New Hampshire: Arcadia Publishing, 2009).
Other events held on August 21, on which the main celebrations of the week occurred, included a baseball game, foot and bicycle races, a comedic play, a reception, and a band concert featuring 80 musicians. The evening concluded with “The Grandest Fireworks’ display ever seen in the state.” Programme of Events, Old Home Day, Concord, N.H., August 31, 1899, New Hampshire Historical Society. During the fireworks’ show in the evening, 4,000 seats were filled in a grandstand, and over 12,000 people overflowed onto a nearby field. The 53 displays in the fireworks show (each one was numbered, such as No. 22: Design Portrait of Admiral Dewey, the hero of Manila; and No. 45: Starry Flags) “kept the heavens aglow continuously for more than an hour. . . .” “Old Home Week,” Concord Evening Monitor, September 1, 1899. A portion of this article was reprinted as “Christian Scientists Visit Concord,” Christian Science Sentinel 2 (September 7, 1899): 4. See also “The NH Man Who Invented Old Home Days.”
“Old Home Week,” Concord Evening Monitor.
Ibid. See also “Christian Scientists at Concord,” Boston Evening Transcript, August 31, 1899.
Rollins, “The Origin of Old Home Week.”
Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy Amplified Edition (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1994), 239.
“Old Home Week,” Concord Evening Monitor.
Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, “Reminiscences of Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, C.S.B.,” 584-585, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter referenced as MBEL).
“Christian Scientists Visit Concord,” Christian Science Sentinel. The Concord Evening Monitor and the reprint in the Christian Science Sentinel have different reports about when Mrs. Eddy’s greeting took place. The Monitor reported that it occurred when she returned from her daily drive; the Sentinel reprinted that article (perhaps with a correction) but stated that it took place when she started out on her drive.
“An Appreciative Letter,” Christian Science Sentinel 2 (October 5, 1899): 70; reprinted from the Independent Statesman.
“Concord Items,” Christian Science Sentinel 1 (June 29, 1899): 3; reprinted from the Concord Evening Monitor.
Tomlinson,Twelve Years, 238. “His Excellency Frank West Rollins, Governor of New Hampshire and originator of its Old Home Week,” the National Magazine recorded, “is known as a man of clean and wholesome record, and presents a visible evidence of what robust, manly, Puritanic birth and breeding offers in today’s record of New Hampshire’s distinguished sons. The state which sent forth General Stark, Daniel Webster and Horace Greeley has in Governor Rollins a fitting representative.” “Thanksgiving and the Old Home Week,” 147.
“I am pleased that the governor of our state has recommended an ‘Old Home Week’ to be observed in this state,” Mrs. Eddy wrote, “and believe it will prove a great bond of union to all natives of New Hampshire wherever they may be scattered throughout our land or in foreign lands. . . . I am deeply interested in Governor Rollins’ suggestion that we have a large auditorium erected in this city to accommodate the thousands who may flock here for the annual ‘Old Home Week,’ and other special occasions.” “Concord Items,” Christian Science Sentinel; reprinted from the Concord Evening Monitor.
The purchase and remodeling of the Russell estate, the colonial home that Mrs. Eddy bought on the corner of North State and School Streets in order to replace with a Christian Science church, cost $20,000 dollars (about $637,000 in 2019). “Rev. Mary Baker Eddy’s Gift,” Christian Science Sentinel 5 (May 9, 1903): 573; Tomlinson reminiscences, 282, MBEL. According to another source, the property and renovations cost Mrs. Eddy $26,000 (about $830,000). Mary Baker Eddy: Speaking for Herself (Boston: The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, 2002), 142.
The two bay-trees on the front porch of Christian Science Hall were a gift from Edward and Caroline Bates and sourced from Ghent, Belgium. “Easter at Pleasant View,” The Christian Science Journal 16 (May 1898): 124.