Canobie Lake Park is dormant now, this first day of March. But spring is in the air, and we’re close to turning the corner on another winter. Soon the gates will open for another season for this salty veteran. Canobie Lake Park is a survivor, one of a baker’s dozen trolley parks still in existence today.
Trolley parks were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as a destination at the end of the trolley line to give people a reason to use the trolleys on the weekend. After a long week of commuting to the mills, you needed a good reason to jump back on the trolley on a Sunday afternoon after church. Trolley parks were a destination. Set out in the countryside, next to a lake or along the river, it gave families a fun place to picnic and play together. Adding rides, a midway and a dance hall expanded the appeal. With more people came more money. And these people were coming in cars.
The 1920’s saw the rapid decline of the trolley. And over the next few centuries the decline of the original trolley parks followed. I remember going to Whalom Park in Lunenburg, which closed in 2000 after a 107 year run. It was once celebrated as one of the oldest trolley parks in the world. The site is now condominiums and most of the rides were scrapped or sold off. I’m sure the condos are lovely but I don’t ever want to see them.
Back at Canobie Lake Park, you enter a time warp when you walk in and stroll past the original Looff-Dentzel Carousel from 1903, past the Yankee Cannonball, bought from another dying trolley park and installed here since 1936. According to Wikipedia the roller coast was named to commemorate the Civil War, and was painted in blue and gray, united on the red, white and blue superstructure. That color scheme is long gone, but the Yankee Cannonball survives. And walking through the park you can see the old charm in the picnic grounds, midway, Dancehall Theater and the old pine trees that have seen a lot of thrill seekers over the years.
There were another 15 or so trolley parks that have faded into history over the years, just as the trolleys that spurred their construction faded. Time marches on, and with cars and relatively cheap flights going to Six Flags or the parks in Orlando are within reach of most families. I’m glad that Canobie survives and thrives. Right down the road from Canobie are the grounds of Rockingham Park, opened just a few years after Canobie, but closed permanently and bulldozed into history for condos, retail and restaurants. Time passed Rockingham by while the old trolley park up the road marches on.