The Wilton Winter Carnival

CLICK HERE for a slideshow of 40 historic photographs from the Wilton Winter Carnival - 1926-1936.

Arriving crowdsFor eleven years beginning in 1926, the Wilton Winter Carnival brought thousands of visitors from all over New England and beyond flocking to Wilton every February for this annual event.  Originally created along the lines of an “Old Home Days” celebration, the Carnival was seen as a way to bring folks back to Wilton to enjoy the many winter sports, games, and pastimes available in and around town.  

Almost from its inception, the Carnival was such a draw that the Snow train tixB&M railroad ran special Winter Carnival “snow trains” from Boston and Worcester just for this event.
   The center of the festivities was Whiting Hill (which later became known as Carnival Hill), a hayfield for Whiting’s Dairy which was across the road.  It was home to what were arguably Ski jumpthe two most prominent aspects of the entire Carnival; a ski jump, as well as a giant Toboggin runtoboggan slide.This slide, owing to the vagaries of town boundaries, actually began in a corner of Lyndeborough, crossed through a sliver of Milford and ended in Wilton, which earned it a mention in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.”

The entire town though, it seemed, was transformed.  As the popularity and reputation of the Carnival grew, so too did the yearly number of visitors.  The Souhegan Hotel on Main Street was booked to capacity months in advance, and many out-of-towners took advantage of the hospitality of local families who were willing to offer (for a modest price) a room or two as well as a good home-cooked breakfast and dinner.

Buttons and ribbinsPrizes were given – medals, ribbons and trophy cups – for a multitudinous array of athletic events.  Skating and hockey competitions were held at nearby Frog Pond (just across the road through the woods); near Whiting’s Flat downtown  were the ski and Queen trophysnowshoe races, dogsled team exhibitions and races, and basketball and baseball games which were played by teams in snowshoes!   There were sleigh rides and a parade, wood chopping contests and evening bonfires; while church groups and local restaurants provided an array of hearty food and drink all day long at locations throughout the East Village.   The Carnival extended well into the evening hours, with concerts, dances, costume balls, and plays, culminating in the crowning of the Winter Queen

By the mid-1930, however, with the Depression tightening its grip, attendance began to fall off.  In addition, the Carnival’s organizers were beginning to tire of the logistical challenge of both mounting such a large scale event and hoping that Mother Nature would cooperate with adequate snow.  The final Carnival was held in February of 1936 ;  1936 posterthe Managing Committee decided to take the funds remaining in the Carnival’s account and invest them, the proceeds from which would be used to provide medical services for children in need. The Carnival, for the length of its existence, consumed the energies and enthusiasms of a great many of the town’s residents all year round, who generously and gladly gave of their time and expertise.  It stands as a testament to the kind of civic engagement that has always characterized Wilton, and is yet another piece of this remarkable town’s remarkable history of which we can all be proud.

This article was compiled from research done by many members of the Wilton Historical Society – David Potter, Nancy Clark, P. Jane Bergeron, and the late Phyllis Talarico.

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