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For Concord Heights residents past and present, Old Home Day a chance to come together

  • Donna Robie, left, and Cheryl Herrington chat while wrapping up the first  Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Robie and Herrington were co-chairs of the organizing committee for the event. They met in the third grade at the Dame School and have been friends since then. Herrington now lives in Vermont and she came back to make the event happen along with the committe. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Donna Robie, left, and Cheryl Herrington chat while wrapping up the first Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Robie and Herrington were co-chairs of the organizing committee for the event. They met in the third grade at the Dame School and have been friends since then. Herrington now lives in Vermont and she came back to make the event happen along with the committe.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Rachel Marden, 13, left, and Kasie Maloner, 13, play with some blow up beach balls while hanging out at the gym during the first annual Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. The gym was used as a staging area for the day's activities and the girls were helping Marden's grandmother who was a volunteer for Heights Old Home Day. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Rachel Marden, 13, left, and Kasie Maloner, 13, play with some blow up beach balls while hanging out at the gym during the first annual Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. The gym was used as a staging area for the day's activities and the girls were helping Marden's grandmother who was a volunteer for Heights Old Home Day.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Cheryl Herrington and her grandson Dylan Granger, 8, work on cleaning a cooler during the first Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Herrington is one of the co-chairs of the event organizing committee and now lives in Vermont but came back to help make the Heights Old Home Day happen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Cheryl Herrington and her grandson Dylan Granger, 8, work on cleaning a cooler during the first Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Herrington is one of the co-chairs of the event organizing committee and now lives in Vermont but came back to help make the Heights Old Home Day happen.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Donna Robie, left, and Cheryl Herrington chat while wrapping up the first  Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Robie and Herrington were co-chairs of the organizing committee for the event. They met in the third grade at the Dame School and have been friends since then. Herrington now lives in Vermont and she came back to make the event happen along with the committe. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Rachel Marden, 13, left, and Kasie Maloner, 13, play with some blow up beach balls while hanging out at the gym during the first annual Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. The gym was used as a staging area for the day's activities and the girls were helping Marden's grandmother who was a volunteer for Heights Old Home Day. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Cheryl Herrington and her grandson Dylan Granger, 8, work on cleaning a cooler during the first Heights Old Home Day at Keach Park in Concord on Sunday, August 25, 2013. Herrington is one of the co-chairs of the event organizing committee and now lives in Vermont but came back to help make the Heights Old Home Day happen. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Barbara Noonan moved to the Heights in 1957. She and her late husband, Richard, raised eight children, sent them all to Dame School – and from there, down to Bishop Brady and Concord high schools – and boasted a replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster in their yard.

Now 82, she has no plans to leave the old farmhouse on Branch Turnpike.

“I think people are closer up here than they are down in the city,” Noonan said yesterday, sitting in a tent decorated with family photos at Keach Park. “We had a chance to know our neighbors.”

There was face-painting, music, games and plenty of food at yesterday’s inaugural Heights Community Old Home Day. But the celebration at Keach Park was as much a reunion as anything else.

“For some of us, we haven’t seen each other for 40-some years,” said Cheryl Herrington, one of the co-chairs of the event organizing committee, who grew up on Chase Street but now lives in Vermont.

Old Home Day is a tradition dating to the end of the

19th century. Then-Gov. Frank Rollins proposed an “Old Home Week” to entice New Hampshire residents who had moved away to visit home, and towns all over the state continue to celebrate it every summer.

Concord doesn’t have an Old Home Day. Attendees yesterday said the Heights used to have similar summer festivals, and it continues to host the city’s annual Christmas parade. But Concord’s big summer festival is Market Days, held downtown over three days in mid-July.

Herrington said the organizers of yesterday’s event reconnected over Facebook – “talk about the power of social media,” she said – and got to work in May.

They had a simple goal, she said: “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we did one of those things we did when we were little? And one of those things our parents did was Old Home Day.”

Even if the Heights isn’t a town, the neighborhood has its own character.

Once called the “Dark Plain,” the Heights was sandy, forested and sparsely populated until the years after the Civil War. The first one-room schoolhouse was built on Pembroke Road in 1873, and by 1929, there were 1,000 people living on the Heights, according to a 2010 historical survey conducted by Elizabeth Durfee Hengen and Sarah Dangelas Hofe.

Over time, pine trees and farms and small shops along Loudon Road have largely given way to strip malls, apartment buildings and driveways.

Landmarks mark the neighborhood’s 20th century development: the Concord Municipal Airport, where Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927; the domed Dame School building on Canterbury Road, where Heights kids went to school from 1942 until 2012; and the Steeplegate Mall, which opened in 1990 and is surrounded by big-box stores and other commercial development.

Yesterday’s festival – Herrington said the organizers don’t necessarily plan to make it an annual event, but may try to organize something on a larger scale in a few years – was in the heart of the neighborhood, and attracted people young and old. There were hamburgers from Arnie’s Place, baked goods available from the Pineconia Grange 322 table and, for the kids, a hula hoop contest, a sack race and other games.

And there were memories, including a wall covered with posters of old photos and street plans marked with the locations of long-gone businesses.

Bob Hatch’s late father, Paul Hatch, represented the Heights on the Concord City Council for a stint, and for decades ran his family’s sheet metal company in the neighborhood.

“He was avid, jovial, a great horseshoes player, great skier, waterskier, jokester,” recalled Bob Hatch, who grew up on Pembroke Road but lives now in Littleton. “And huge, strong as an ox.”

Some former residents yesterday found a neighborhood very different from the one they once knew.

Verne Sawtelle lives in Rochester but grew up in Concord and lived on Airport Road in the early 1960s. He heard about the Heights Old Home Day when he attended his 60th Concord High School class reunion last week and decided to stop by.

“There wasn’t all the streets and restaurants and everything at that time, just houses,” he said. “It all got wiped out.”

David Parenteau helped his father build their house on Loudon Road. “We had goats, chickens,” he recalled.

Now there’s an insurance office there, the Rowley Agency. Following a career in the U.S. Army that included service in Vietnam, Parenteau moved to Sanbornton, and he isn’t a fan of how the Heights has developed.

But Noonan, who’s lived on Branch Turnpike for 56 years, said the changes haven’t all been bad.

“I don’t shop down in the city anymore. Nobody does,” she said. “We have everything up here now.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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