Exeter NH Trade and Carnival Week was an ‘epic party’
On the night of July 3-4, 1914, the main building of the Phillips Exeter Academy burned down.
The school’s newly hired principal, Lewis Perry, quickly arrived to examine the rubble and oversee reconstruction plans. The trauma of the event, on what should have been a festive weekend, combined with news of the war in Europe and the declining population of Exeter (just under 5,000 at the 1910 census) – less than in 1900) has diminished already weak economic prospects. Was there a way to get the city out of its existential slump?
The Exeter Businessmen’s Association came up with a possible solution. They proposed a trade and carnival week gala building on the Old Home Days celebrations of previous decades. But where Old Home Days shed light on nostalgic visions of Exeter’s past, the new event would present the excitement of a new century. Gone are the days when smallpox was rampant in the country. Electricity had arrived to light up the dark nights. Transportation moved people and goods more efficiently.
When the event was officially announced on July 17, its aim was to “stimulate business in the city and attract commerce from surrounding cities, as well as to thank and show our appreciation to our local commerce and our customers. “. In short, it was a celebration of capitalism.
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Subscriptions were quickly collected by the finance committee and plans were made to hold the event during the first week of August. Back then, like today, Exeter can be a fairly quiet place in August. Classy people took vacations of several months to cooler resorts. With the recent increase in car trips, many people were planning to take car trips. Workers stayed in town, but some of the larger factories often closed for weeks in the summer due to the heat. The only fun was when a traveling circus could walk through town. As the news started to spread about the planned event, people changed their summer activities.
“The committees in charge of Trade Week and Carnival are more than delighted with the generous cooperation extended to them by all businesses and craftsmen,” the Exeter News-Letter announced. The prospects for a big week are much brighter than anyone had hoped for. Exeter came alive with the preparation. “Many commercial buildings are already nicely decorated and citizens with flags are welcome to display them in their homes. Exeter and Hampton Electric have installed hundreds of lights, which provide a beautiful display of street lighting. Stands are erected on the square, one for orchestral concerts, the other for vaudeville shows.
Things started on the evening of Monday, August 3, when the “great illuminations” were turned on. Think of our current Festival of Trees, only in summer. There was a group concert followed by vaudeville numbers: “E.Toli, European heavyweight juggler and balancer” and “Fred and Albert, Wizards of the Air”.
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The next day, a massive civic and trade parade brought together so many participants that it’s hard to believe there was still anyone to watch it. But the crowds were huge. Going down at 2 p.m., there were three divisions described by the News-Letter as “commercial tanks, fire and military companies, Exeter and Kingston bands, drum corps, carnival menagerie, etc ”. The photos of the parade prove it: many companies have had their floats transformed into postcards. The parade took over 30 minutes to pass. The original route required walkers to pivot near the depot on Lincoln Street. “However, the turn turned out to be impassable and the return route adopted was through Winter, Park, Cass, Main, Lincoln and Front streets to the place where the column dissolved,” the News- noted. Letter. “Its length was evidenced by the fact that its rear was still on Front Street as its head passed over the Park Street Bridge. To conclude, it was very attractive and impressive.
At the head of the procession, Grand Marshal Harrison Grout rode on horseback with his assistants. Grout was a local carpenter. They were followed by the Exeter Brass Band and the Third Company Coast Artillery Corps, which would, in a few years, be deployed to Europe. Two cars carried Exeter’s Civil War veterans, including Freeman Wallace, one of the few people of color still living in the city.
The floats from businesses and civic organizations were the most popular part of the parade. Sumptuous decorations highlight the creations. The chariot of the Barn had a rack with its kitchen orchestra pulled by oxen led by Lester Sanborn. J. Everett Towle, driving Elmhurst Farm, received a $ 5 award for his chariot’s “white and gold rod, pristine cleanliness”. Charles B. Edgerly, disguised as Uncle Sam, won the award for “most comical feature”. A lone elephant, sponsored by the Exeter Opera House, won nothing but the adoration of the crowd.
On Wednesday, concerts and entertainment moved to Lincoln Street for West End Day – a noble gesture designed to remind people in the west that downtown Exeter still courted their business. Sporting events were featured on Thursday – starting with boat races on the Squamscott. These were followed by swimming events. Running races took place in the town square. “The very large company gathered around the town hall and across Water Street for athletic sports, the woman and the girls in summer clothes, put on a brilliant show.” Beauty was the only event that day that was open to women and girls. Boating, swimming or running were not allowed for the fairer sex, although a few women were the drivers of the slow parade floats the day before.
Thursday brought another parade – this one in honor of motorists. There were still relatively few cars on the roads in 1914. The long line that slowly crossed Exeter (many by women) consisted of 63 vehicles including 3 trucks. Many were names we might recognize today: Buick, Ford, Cadillac. Some only remembered the past: Studebaker, Hudson, Oakland, Regal, Maxwell and something called Hupmobile. Even Helen Tufts, who was on vacation near Casco Bay in Maine, returned home to Exeter to see the parade of motorists. She went downstairs with her cousins and noticed in her diary “took 6 photos”.
On the last day, Exeter welcomed visitors from Newmarket, greeting a special train at the depot. The entertainment was rehearsed and a lively baseball game was played. Newmarket solidly beat their hosts 9-3. The evening ended with a ball followed by an hour-long fireworks display. Tired Newmarket revelers were given a special train to take them home at 11:15 am. Rarely has Exeter put on such an epic party. This should keep them through the next few years of hardship.
Barbara Rimkunas is the Curator of the Historical Society of Exeter. Support the Historical Society of Exeter by becoming a member. Register online at: www.exeterhistory.org.