Yankee Homecoming History
In 1958, the first year of Newburyport’s week-long summer celebration, Yankee Homecoming, most of the city’s factories and mills had closed, as well as downtown businesses, due to the economic climate. Storefronts were left empty, and the federal initiative of “urban renewal” loomed large and threatened to demolish the bones of many communities.
In the meantime, New England artist Jack Frost had launched a crusade to revive appreciation for the heritage and beauty of New England by bringing back natives and visitors to the region’s towns and cities. His idea was to hold homecoming celebrations that would “share with others the many historical landmarks still standing.” “It seemed that children and adults should be invited to see where history was made,” Frost wrote in the volume he published to promote this goal, Yankee Homecoming 1958. The National Pilgrimage Back East Where It All Began. By chance, Frost and Joe Mathers, then manager of the Newburyport radio station WNBP, met on Cape Cod and Frost shared his idea with him. Frost later met with George Cashman, who along with Joe Mathers was inspired by Frost’s vision to approach Newburyport’s business community members and city officials with the concept of a first Yankee Homecoming.
Newburyport, the last community to join, was accompanied by twenty-nine other New England communities that held their own celebrations.
George Cashman became the first Yankee Homecoming Chairman.
Understanding the national significance of the beginnings of the United States Coast Guard in Newburyport, George Cashman chose August 4th, the birthday of the Coast Guard to be the basis of celebration. Every year since 1958, Yankee Homecoming has recognized the Coast Guard for its contributions to our community.
Over the years, Yankee Homecoming has grown to highlight more and more creative initiatives that have been welcomed by the event organizers, residents and visitors. Today these include longtime annual events that showcase road races, the much anticipated Olde Fashioned Sunday, Waterfront Concerts on the Merrimac River, Family Day at Maudslay State Park, Market Square Entertainment, and craft & artisan fairs. The eight day event wraps up with a spectacular Fireworks Display and Grand Parade past the historic houses of High Street. Events celebrating Newburyport’s history have grown to include explorations of the city’s Civil War history, church tours reflecting its connections to New England’s religious history, and guided walks of the old burying grounds as well as many tours of historic homes and buildings.
That first year Newburyport was joined by dozens of communities throughout New England in providing a ‘Yankee Homecoming celebratin’. Today Newburyport is the only community that continues the tradition, in itself a demonstration of the phenomenal volunteer effort both on the part of individuals and businesses that goes into organizing the event.
Ghlee E. Woodworth is a Newburyport native. Jane Uscilka is a writer and editor and former Newburyport resident