What do these places have in common?
- Canobie Lake Park
- Whalom Park
- Salem Willows
- Pinehurst, Billerica
They all began as amusement parks. More specifically, amusement parks built circa 1900 by electric trolley companies. Why would trolley companies build amusement parks? To sell you the trolley tickets to get there! In the euphoric early days of public transit, “trolley parks” popped up near every major city, about 1,000 across the country. They offered no-tech amusements like baseball, bowling, vaudeville shows, concerts, dances and merry-go-rounds. Plus one high-tech amusement — the trolley rides to and from.
The Hudson, Pelham & Salem Electric Railway built Canobie Lake Park:
The Fitchburg & Leominster Street Railway built Whalom Park:
The Boston & Northern Street Railway built Salem Willows:
And the Lowell to Boston Street Railway built Pinehurst Park in Billerica, at the junction of Boston Road and Cook Street. This marked the beginning of the name “Pinehurst” in Billerica:
Here’s a 1901 press release for the local trolley line, with the new Pinehurst Park as the main attraction:
Pinehurst Park quickly became a cultural convention center, an ideal venue for just about anything:
By 1903, Billerica real estate was becoming de rigueur.
So why didn’t Pinehurst Park grow up big and strong like Canobie Lake Park? Very few trolley parks could navigate these headwinds:
- The advent of the automobile. Suddenly you could find amusement anywhere.
- The Great Depression. Suddenly you couldn’t afford amusement.
- Prohibition of alcohol. Suddenly you had to be sober during amusement.
- The worst-ever hurricane of 1938. Suddenly your amusement was buried under logs, like the PInehurst dance pavilion:
And so for every Canobie Lake Park there are many defunct Pinehurst Parks. In fact, there was indeed another Pinehurst Park in Worcester, built by the Worcester and Southbridge Street Railway:
Part of Pinehurst Park in Billerica came back to life as a drive-in movie theater. See the screen on the right?
Other trolley parks left no trace of themselves at all. Here’s Lakeview Park in Dracut, then and now:
Luckily, a large-scale amusement park came to the rescue in 1959. Never mind little trolley parks. Here came Pleasure Island in Wakefield, dubbed the Disneyland of the Northeast. Click the image to watch a video:
Alas, it folded a decade later, a victim of New England winters. The amusement business is no walk in the park, even when it’s a walk in the park.
Nowadays, Pinehurst refers to the area in Billerica surrounding the former Pinehurst Park. Because of the area’s cultural significance and population density, it’s a “census-designated place.” That means the feds gather population data about Pinehurst even through it’s not a separate town.
One corner in Pinehurst seems to be permanently earmarked for a certain function. This little Pinehurst store grew up to become a very popular barroom. For some people, Ma Newman’s was the sole reason to board the trolley. Here’s that same corner today:
Here’s a gallery from Debbie Barnes, whose great-grandparents had a general store/gas station/post office in the early 1900s:
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Special thanks to Kevin Murphy for the colorized Pinehurst postcards and the old Ma Newman’s postcard.