Summer Vacation in 1912

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, June 23, 2017.

As soon as school lets out for the summer, we begin thinking about vacation. Most modern Americans can squeeze a week away from home during the summer months. A century ago, the modern idea of vacation might have meant as much as a month. In Exeter, it’s easy to find out who was traveling because it was listed in the Exeter News-Letter. Beginning in June, the Town Affairs section of the paper would list the annual recital of who was leaving town, for how long and where they were going. To a modern eye, this seems crazy – why not just publicize, “my house is empty – rob it now!” But in a community where it was common to drop by to socialize, it was necessary to let everyone know who wouldn’t be around. Besides, if your neighbors knew you weren’t home, they could keep an eye on things.

If we look at 1912 – a time when travel could be done by carriage, rail or automobile – the first vacationers were mentioned on June 14th, when “Messrs. Edward D. Mayer and Frank L. Junkins have this week made an automobile trip to Chester, VT, the latter’s old home.” A week-long trip in an automobile was still a novelty in 1912. More common were lengthier trips by rail. That same week, “Mr. Harold Folsom is spending a month’s vacation in the West, staying mainly at the home of his friend, Mr. Edward Cosendai, at Saginau, Michigan. On his return home he will stop a few days at Montreal.”

People sometimes traveled with family, or sometimes alone. “Miss Gertrude L. Trufant starts tomorrow on a long vacation trip, which should prove most enjoyable. She will visit a sister at los Angeles, California on the outward trip visiting the Yellowstone National Park, climbing Pike’s Peak for the second time, and visiting the Yosemite Park. On return she will see the grand canyon, the homes of the cliff dwellers, the petrified forest, and in Kentucky will visit her old home and the Mammouth Cave.” Miss Trufant, who was a 7th grade grammar teacher, was probably looking forward to the peace and quiet.

Wealthier townsfolk took long expensive vacations. No doubt they were happy to have editor John Templeton announce their plans. “With her son, Dr. Harold Gale, and family of Winchester, Massachusetts, Mrs. Edward Gale sailed Wednesday on the Franconia for a summer’s European tour.” Lesser folk took to the road and bounced from one family member to another. “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Haley started Tuesday on a fortnight’s trip from which they anticipate much enjoyment. They go first to Philadelphia where they will meet their daughter, Miss Florence S. Haley, a teacher in the Franklin School at Cincinnati. Mr Haley will visit Washington and with her daughter, Mrs. Haley will visit her sister Mrs. Walter J. Vinal in Brooklyn.” Sometimes it was a working trip, “Mr. and Mrs. Edwin V. Spooner will spend the summer at North Bridgeton, Maine, where for 11 years Mr. Spooner has been director of Long Lake Lodge, a summer tutoring school for boys.”

Those returning had some exciting tales to tell. Katherine McEvoy, a widowed dormitory matron at Phillips Exeter Academy, “with her daughters, the misses Winifred and Margaret McEvoy on Thursday of last week returned from Halifax, Nova Scotia where she enjoyably spent 10 days. She brought an interesting relic of the Titanic disaster, a gilt button from the coat of one of the few officers of the vessel, whose bodies were recovered.” Perhaps this was why, a week later, “Mr. and Mrs. John McNulty and two children started Monday on a trip to Nova Scotia.” Maybe the kids wanted their own dead Titanic officer’s coat button.

As the temperature in Exeter heated up – there was a prolonged heat wave in mid-July – vacationers were kind enough (or perhaps sadistic enough) to report on the weather. “General Albert N. Dow reports that during the greater part of the hot wave sea breezes have fanned Boar’s head, usually setting in about 10 A.M. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday the thermometer at his piazza on the tip of the Head stood at 68. For two of these days it was 100 in Hampton Village.”

For most working people, summer meant hot days on the job. Teenagers filled the time cutting lawns, helping with chores – particularly haying. Marion Louise Tyler spent the summer babysitting, sewing and serving as a ‘helper’ for well-off neighbors. Luckily for her, help was hard to find and she could easily leave a job. Her diary finds her working for “Miss Nelson” in July. The entry: “July 8 – I hate this place more and more every day. Miss Nelson is a hateful wretch. She got mad at me at supper. Thank Heaven if I ever get home.” She stayed only a week. She found a better job housesitting. “Dr. Moulton came down to get me to stay at his house in afternoons for $2.00 a week. I went at 1 and stayed till 4. I don’t have anything to do there except answer the phone in his office and do a little dusting.”

On August 16th, “The mills of the Exeter Manufacturing Company will be closed from tomorrow at noon until the Tuesday following Labor Day,” an announcement unwelcomed by the factory’s employees who would be out of work and wages for the duration. Some planned for this and tended gardens, others left town to stay with relatives.

September arrived and people returned to town and the hum of everyday life began again. The one bright spot for the town’s children – construction on the new Tuck High School delayed the opening of school one entire week. One can only imagine the joy this brought to Gertrude Trufant, perhaps spending the extra week with a large pitcher of lemonade and a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s new novel, The Lost World.

Barbara Rimkunas is curator of the Exeter Historical Society. Her column appears every other Friday and she may be reached at

Image: Summer vacation trips in the early 20th century could be a long sea voyage to Europe, or as simple as a family camping trip on the open road.


Popular Posts