ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – As long as most locals can remember, during the first weekend in August, an enthusiastic crowd of thousands has gathered for the Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Rockingham Old Home Days fireworks show in Bellows Falls. It is quite impressive and has been billed through the years as, “The biggest fireworks show in Vermont, and possibly the best in the world.” It is always the feature event of the celebration.
This weekend of celebration dates back to an annual religious pilgrimage to the Rockingham Meeting House that began in the early 1800s. The pilgrimage continues today as an event featuring a historical speaker. Other events were slowly added over the years, with the fireworks added for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. The late Lolic Lisai, of Lisai’s Market, is credited as an avid fireworks enthusiast who worked with total dedication over the years to raise donations for the display, making it the great spectacle it has become. His son Brent now runs the show.
Local merchant and current Assistant Judge Lamont Barnett has been one of those in charge, in one role or another, of the event for many years. He says the Fireworks Fund has again raised about $20,000, and he predicted “the same great show as always.” He fears though that, with inflation and the changing world trade situation, “This will be the last year we’ll be able to do the status quo.” Over the years, the show organizers have become adept at obtaining surplus fireworks from Fourth of July shows at a discount, and volunteers collect donations from the crowd that usually fund about a quarter of the cost of next year’s show. Businesses and others donate the difference. Barnet says, “There are a lot of people out there who are very generous.” He says, “You can see people smiling the whole time. You can forget about all your troubles and the troubles of the community for a weekend.”
Deborah Collier of the Great Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce was organizer of the other events, most of which took place at the Way Point Center. Many downtown merchants had sales and events as well. The Flat Iron Café opened up their floor for jazz by the Vermont Moonlighters, and PK’s Pub hosted the band Intercept, as well as DJ Wade, for a dance party. The day started with a 5K race at the Recreation Center, then karaoke at noon at the Waypoint Center with food trucks, lemonade and popcorn, inflatable rides, a slide, face painting, games, and other activities for the kids. Entertainment continued through the day with concerts by Green Mountain Strummers, Ezra Holloway, and the feature act, The Road Trash Band at 7 p.m.
Larisa Demos, one of the partners at the Flat Iron Cooperative said, “We re-opened the coffee shop just this winter, and it’s been great being part of this year’s event.” During the afternoon, the crowds did not seem as big this year, likely due to the oppressive heat and humidity. Both Mack Farnsworth, there with the Touch a Truck exhibit, and Firefighter Yvonne Martin, helping display Westminster Engine No. 2 and its equipment, said, “The kids are having fun.” Later, among the viewers of the fireworks, there were a lot of “Oohs” and “Ahs” from the crowd as well as the usual ovation at the end.
On Sunday afternoon, the 116th annual pilgrimage at the Rockingham Meeting House featured author Bill Mares presenting his book about humor in Vermont.