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Pine Island Amusement Park

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.

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About Ann

Ann is a web assistant and project manager with Retro Planet. After prior stints in the advertising and publishing worlds, she has found her place with the company. She is a serious anglophile and history buff, with a passion for anything from the past, especially retro inspired decor.

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  • bill celen

    I lived on Riverbank road in the early 1970′s. The park was closed but the Drive-In Theater was still open and the roller coaster was fenced off to the public. The neighborhood kids used to love to run around the park during the day. I remember the track still being in tact for miniature automobiles. And we used to climb the lift hill to the old coaster which was partially burned at the time. The cars and rails were gone but the track was still there and I remember how it used to move underneath us because it had not been maintained in about 15 years at that time. The next year (around 1975) they tore it down

  • Robert Goulet

    I can remember my parents taking my brothers and sister and I to Pine Island Park. I’ve many fond memories of that park. I especially the popcorn that would come down from the ceiling as you would enter the funhouse. I was too young to ride the rollercoaster, but I do remember looking at it in awe and wishing I could. The Drive Inn was adjacent to the park and I don’t think I was ever able to watch an entire feature without falling asleep.

  • Dickpatten17

    I remember going to Pine Island Park with my parents when my sister and I were young. I canremember the ferris wheel, merry go round, tea cup saucers and more. My parents have photographs of the park in the 1940′s.  It was sad to see it close. I know we still have Canobie Lake, but we lost Hudson’s Wild Animal Farm which had amusement rides. We can travel up north toSanta’s Village which has amusement rides. New England had many amusement parks that are closed. They were so much fun.

  • Djscdjsc

    I worked there in 1953

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/42UOEG7AH3LL3G5I2VF5TFSYMA guy

    “Benson’s Wild Animal Farm”

  • http://www.retroplanet.com RetroPlanet.com

    Hi! Would you happen to have any photos we could share?

  • Joe LaFrance

    Pine Island Park was the best, I remember the airplane tower in the front of the park next to the rollercoaster I am the Pine Island Park authority Just email me at JLaFranck@aol.com 
    I remember the airplane tower in the front of the park next to the rollercoaster
    I am the Pine Island Park authority Just email me at JLaFranck@aol.com 

  • Jlafranck

    Hey Dick its Joe LaFrance maybe we could share photos

  • Jim K

    My Grandparents and family had worked there for years.  My Grandfather was actually able to save the original float lines from the swimming area and still has them to this day :)   He also had managed to save one of the original 5 cent pin ball games from the park before it was destroyed.  The Carousel, the rollercoaster, the actual Pine Island where the roller skating rink was.  The stories I have and the pictures we still have.  My family still lives on Pine Island Pond.  My Grandfather has been here 67 years and I’m the fourth generation… Every day that I wake up and smell the water is a Blessing!  Email me if you’d like to share stories… I love hearing them :)   lovnlif@comcast.net

  • dan brady

    This is a wonderful memory for us that grew up in Manchester.  I too remember going to the park as a child.  I remember they had special days of the week when one could purchase a book of “ride” tickets for about twenty five  cents.  I think  this  enabled one to acqure about 10 rides.    I really enjoy reading about this place.

  • Joe LaFrance

    Hey Dan, I have a web site on facebook that has a group called Pine Island Park. I would like for you to see it and tell me what you think.
    Joe
    Jlafranck@aol.com my facebook is Joe LaFrance