In July 1911, the Milford Board of Trade was kicking around ideas to promote their growing town when someone suggested an industrial fair featuring Milford-made goods. The idea gained hearty approval from the assembled merchants, and in October, the town hosted the “Milford Industrial Carnival,” a truly spectacular gathering for a village of less than 4,000 people. With perhaps a bit of small-town defensiveness, the Milford Cabinet would later boast, “It is not an agricultural fair, not an old home day, but a big show staged by all her people to show it deserves something larger than six-point type on the next map of New Hampshire.”
Between July and October, ten carnival committees worked long hours in the room above Proctor’s drugstore. The Cabinet held nothing back when they wrote that “the fire of enthusiasm, which burns in the several and individual breasts of the various and many committee members, cannot be quenched by pouring rains or stormy meeting nights.” And indeed, planners were soon telling townsfolk that they had some “hot stuff” ready for the Carnival.
To raise money, the Board of Trade sold memberships for one dollar a piece. This granted a family access to virtually every aspect of the fair. “The man with a quarter in his pocket will have as good a time as the chap with $100,” Cabinet readers were told. The Editorial page apparently thought the one-dollar expense a no brainer: “Unless Milford men are thicker headed than we think, there will be no necessity of begging pennies to give Milford people the time of their lives.”
Hundreds of signs were posted, thousands of invitations sent, and ten thousand envelopes mailed around the state with notice of the carnival. 3,000 buttons were passed out that simply read “Best Time Ever, Milford Carnival, October 4-6.”
The event went off largely without a hitch. Dense crowds attended, the weather cooperated, and even the local nine performed in the clutch — beating Greenville 2-0. The only thing missing was the Mona Lisa. In August, the famous painting had been stolen from the Louvre and the joke around town was that perhaps one of the event organizers had become a bit too ambitious.
To say there was plenty to do and see at the carnival was an understatement. The Cabinet told readers that “whole books could be written about almost any one of the rare and curious things at the fair.” A quick tour, free of charge: The Souhegan Bank displayed dark lanterns and clubs used by burglars in “famous robberies of long ago.” A small press at the Milford Cabinet could be seen publishing a story about that very day’s events. An exhibit by local granite men behind the high school featured a derrick and polished paving stones, while a special train on Thursday brought 206 carnival visitors to the quarries south of town to see the real action. And what in 1911 was already called “Old Milford,” could be observed both in objects: ancient melodeons, spinning wheels, “funny looking costumes of days gone by,” as well as in an amassed photo collection.
Spectators could also gawk at the futuristic electrical cookery at the Light and Power company’s offices. In Town Hall, the McLane company set up a mock post office which could be inspected from inside and out. The People’s Laundry was even on hand to show what clean linen should look like — including intimate feminine attire that the Cabinet’s reporter said he “dare not examine too closely.” There were also exhibits from Milford Machine Works, the Old Grist Mill, Powers’ Photography, French & Heald Co. Furniture, and dozens more. Nearly every store and club in town was open throughout the fair.
The entertainment options were also impressive. On Thursday morning, a long procession of Milford schoolchildren marched past a huge illuminating arch and through the Oval as flags flew and the Milford Laurel Band played. Spectators proceeded to Endicott Park to watch the big game. At 11:00 an alarm went off signaling a “fire,” and three companies raced to McLane’s where they soaked the factory with streams of water just to show what they could do. Perhaps most spectacular of all was the “largest basket in the world” created just for the carnival by the Hawkins Manufacturing Company. Nearly two dozen men and boys crowded inside as a photographer snapped the photo above.
The requisite speeches were conducted by politicians and town leaders, including the Honorable A.E. Pillsbury (of Pillsbury Bandstand fame) who spoke on “Milford as I remember it.” Governor Bass said he was proud that “Not one of New Hampshire’s eleven cities, but one of its 200 towns could produce such an exhibition as this.” Indeed, it seemed the 6-point type just would no longer do.
A 1911 Carnival ad. Photo at the top of the page courtesy of MHS.