It’s 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, Mother’s Day, at the old Baptist Church in East Charlotte. The wide-pine floorboards creak and crack as I retrieve my second cup of coffee. The stained glass windows glow with references to the Greek alphabet in mottled yellows, greens and blues. A few early birds are running laps from the newly pruned apple trees to the feeders. My fiancée, the lovely Britta Johnson, rightly asks what I’m doing up so early.
“Making history!” I bellow from my desk where the pews used to be, already a little too jacked on java.
Not really. Well, the bellowing part.
I’m just whacking away at a keyboard, as Nancy Wood did with her rag-tag band of writers and editors in the 1950s—back when a foolscap community bi-weekly first transmitted from the basement of a church across town.
It feels fitting to pen this “Old Home Day” reflection from an historic building that was mentioned in the second issue of the paper on August 2, 1958, and has been around since the early 1800s. (For those who know me, you guessed correctly that I gleaned this information and much more from The Charlotte News archive, see inset).
Old Home Day is a New England tradition dating back to 1897 in New Hampshire. The governor at the time, Frank West Rollins, wrote:
“I wish that in the ear of every son and daughter of New Hampshire, in the summer days, might be heard whispered the persuasive words: Come back, come back. Do you not hear the call? What has become of the old home where you were born? 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?”
Basically it was a nice little PR campaign, replete with parades, crafts, food and nostalgia to get people to come back to a fading way of life. Some things never change, and currently Governor Scott is brewing up some alchemy for the same purpose. (They let the venerable Vermont Life go to pot, but that’s another story.) The secret lies somewhere in finding a sense of belonging between the frost heaves, hayseeds and hippies. Enjoying an outrageous variety of local craft beer helps. Wanting to have a wholesome family life, too.
Old Home Day at the Baptist Church seemed like an interesting occasion with pastors or residents returning from faraway places like New York, New Hampshire and even Japan and China. A Miss Abbie Anderson was mentioned in the July 15, 1960, issue, returning from 25 years in Communist China, the last two of which were spent in prison. There’s no detail given of the charges levied, but I would have liked to sit in on that sermon.
The Baptist Church was disbanded in 1961, and the members were rolled into the herd at the Congregational Church. From there the Baptist Church became the Sherman-Horsford library, and sometime in the 1970s it was sold as a private residence.
I imagine it was hard to see one’s place of worship dissolved into the ether and sold. I don’t often think of it as any more than a house but sometimes wonder how many weddings or funerals took place here. I wonder if anyone in town still remembers Old Home Day at the Baptist Church? Maybe someone remembers the last? More so, I ogle that ingenuity and perseverance of the congregation who stood in front of the burned down church and rebuilt it in 1840.
And just like churches and communities, newspapers come and go. But for the past 60 years, The Charlotte News has stuck to its guns. Of course, they have considered the options under more profitable tutelage, but by the grace of some grateful residents and the pure passion of the people who work to produce it, we are still blessed to have this publication in our community.
Thanks to Melissa and all who support her efforts and leadership—for sounding the sirens of home, for keeping local alive.
Come back, come back. Do you not hear the call?