Pine Island Park, Manchester, New Hampshire
I am not originally from Manchester, New Hampshire, but have lived here for nearly 30 years. In the years that I have been here, I’ve heard many stories about the former glory days of Pine Island Park and the memories that many people still have of the place. I have learned to appreciate how much of an impact Pine Island Park has had on the inhabitants of Manchester as well as visitors to the area.
Pine Island’s story began when the Traction, Light & Power Co. opened an amusement park in the south end of Manchester in 1902. Pine Island Park, as it became known, was one of the many trolley parks appearing at that time in the US. In the early 19th century, many companies that owned and ran trolleys opened recreation areas at the end of their lines to give people a reason to use their services on the weekends. These trolley parks were summer resorts that usually included amusements parks, pavilions and picnic areas. Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts (now a Six Flags), that we blogged about earlier, began as a trolley park. Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire also began as a trolley park. Recreation areas like these would have been a very welcome break for the workers at the city’s wool and cotton textile mills and shoe factories.
It was an 18-minute trolley ride from City Hall on Elm Street to a location down on Brown Avenue opposite the present-day Pine Island Plaza shopping center. There, one disembarked from the trolley and climbed up a set of stairs to the park. The steps can still be seen today amidst the overgrowth and trash alongside the road, if you look closely. An old brochure for the park described it as being located among “a wonderful pine grove on the shores of a beautiful lake”.
Some of the attractions offered were fireworks, live entertainment, dancing, boating, swimming, in addition to the amusement park rides. There were two wooden rollercoasters (the Figure 8 and Wildcat), a carousel and a variety of other rides and games. One thing that was not to be had (at least in the early days of the park) was beer. Pine Island was created as a family destination. Roughly 15,000 people would gather in the evening to see the fireworks displays. Large companies like Boston & Maine Railroad and Public Service traditionally booked the entire park for company outings.
An interesting thing to note is that the first dirigible flight in New Hampshire took place at the Pine Island Amusement Park. The flight took place in July of 1910 and ended abruptly when the aircraft collided with the rollercoaster because of heavy winds and became entangled in the ride. The pilot, Evan Jenkins Parker was unhurt, but did give up flying the following year in 1911, admitting his line of business was too treacherous for a family man.
In 1936 the park was delivered a huge blow when the Board of Health declared the pond was too polluted for swimming. A damaging flood followed the elimination of the park’s main attraction, all within the same year. The Hurricane of 1938 felled roughly 3000 of the large pine trees that had given the park its name. Many rides and buildings were damaged as well, including the rollercoaster and Ferris wheel. The structures and rides were replaced or repaired, but the park was already on the decline. With the advent of the automobile, people were able to travel further distances to find recreation, and trolley parks were no longer as popular as they had been.
A lot was invested in the park to revitalize it in 1951 and by 1953 there were 20 rides and 10 concessions still operating in the park. A real push was made to promote the park and make it successful once again.
A terrible fire destroyed many of the best attractions in 1961, including the Merry-Go-Round. Built in 1904, the hand-carved carousel was the very first machine built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. The park closed for good in 1962.
Today Pine Island Park exists as a playground, picnic area and nature trails. My family enjoys going to the park in good weather, riding the swings, kicking a soccer ball and walking the trails. I try to visualize what the park must have looked like back in the early days. There are a lot of people who remember what Pine Island Park was like and we’d love to have you share your stories. Please send us your comments.