Canobie Lake Park Memories
In the early 1900s, The Hudson, Pelham & Salem Railways (HP&S) opened Canobie Lake Park as a pleasure resort to increase the excitement of the expanding trolley lines into Salem and the surrounding Greater Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and Nashua communities.
The expanding automobile ownership of the 1920s drastically reduced trolley use, along with revenues. The Town of Salem no longer supported the prospect of continued line operation and the last trolley rolled out of town in 1929, at which time, Canobie Lake Park went out of business.
A few years later, a private party purchased the park and erected the Yankee Cannonball rollercoaster, and Canobie became known as an entertainment destination. The park hosted names such as Guy Lombardo (my mother frequented the Ballroom during his visits), Duke Ellington, Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and, later, Sonny & Cher and Aerosmith. (Yup, saw Steven and the boys there, early 70s??) A few owners, and many improvements later, Canobie Lake Park continues to delight young and old alike.
When I look back at these pictures, I only wish I had more. These pictures were taken by a friend when I was around 21 or 22, but I had been going to Canobie Lake Park since I was about 4. For the first 12 years of my life, I was fortunate enough to have a gorgeous view of the lake – not the amusement park – from my back yard. My earliest memories include walking to the shore of the lake with my Dad to watch the speedboat races on Sunday afternoons, and attending my first Fourth of July fireworks display at the amusement park. I clearly remember scurrying up my Mother’s shoulder to hide in her neck after the first loud explosion, with my “blankie” tightly clutched in my small hands. I’m sure we left before the conclusion of the show.
Additional lake memories include attempting to fish (I never caught a thing), walking out onto the frozen, snow covered lake with friends only to rush back to the shore when you heard the cracking sound of the expanding ice, and, of course, ice skating. The lake is where I learned how to ice skate. First on those double runners that strapped to your boots and later on a pair of real figure skates I received for Christmas one year, after my infatuation with Peggy Fleming took hold. Unfortunately, you were not allowed to swim in the lake as it is the water supply for the Town of Salem. I’m sure many people have swum in the lake over the years, but my mother threatened me with jail time if I did.
After the fireworks fiasco, my parents figured I would appreciate the lighter activities offered, such as the amusement rides. The Carousel (still running since 1902), Crazy Cups, Dodgems and the Caterpillar with the cover that came over your head half way through the ride, were a few of my favorites growing up. As the years went by, the larger, faster rides became more tempting, but nothing came close to the one thing I went to Canobie for day after day during summer vacation from school – rollerskating.
At the back of the park, along the shore, was the skating rink. It was a round rink with wooden floors. The back side of the building facing the lake had benches lined up against large screen windows. You could sit on the benches to lace up your skates (as opposed to Roller Blades), or just hang out there sipping on a soda, gazing out over the lake or laughing with your friends. I remember one whole summer where my entire neighborhood was hooked on skating at Canobie. Each parent would take turns driving or picking us up and it seemed like we would have ten kids in the car at one time. It was the best time ever.
It was soooo hot some days. We would skate from the time the park opened until around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Canobie had an in-ground swimming pool back then so we would bring our bathing suits and wash the sweat away with a refreshing swim. By the time we were done swimming, our parents would pick us up on their way home from work. The whole ride home we were making plans for the next day, when we would repeat the activities all over again.
Sadly, both the skating rink and the pool have since closed. The skating rink is used for storage (such a waste!), and what was once the pool is now a larger main entrance.
Time spent at the Lake and Amusement Park continued throughout my life until the late ’90s. The company I worked for during the ’80s and ’90s held their summer company outing there each year. Once my nephew was around 3 years old I started taking him to Canobie during these outings. We would hang out in the Kiddie Area all day. He loved it and I loved taking him. At 24, he still has fond memories of our time there together.
Once I had children of my own, Canobie became a summertime ritual for my family. I took my children on the same rides my parents had once taken me. The park is much larger now and many rides have been retired and replaced by larger ones that promise more fun and thrills.
One day, and it seemed to happen overnight, I stopped attending Canobie with my children. Instead, they asked me to drop them off at the entrance gate with their friends. I remember driving away from the entrance one day with a lump in my throat. Not because I was dropping my babies off alone some place where they might get hurt or come across someone creepy, but because they would never experience the musty smell of the wood floor and the refreshing dip in the pool after a long, hot day of real, old-fashioned fun.