Friday, August 20, 2010

Canobie Lake Park, Salem, New Hampshire

Trolley parks were common in our area of New England from the late 1800’s to 1900’s. In Manchester, Pine Island Park was located along the Merrimack River. In Hudson, Benson’s Animal Farm became a small zoo, and then an amusement park. In Salem, Canobie Lake Park opened in 1902. It was run by the Hudson, Pelham and Salem Railways as a way to increase their business. It was a botanical garden with canoeing, picnicking, dancing and a penny arcade. A trolley station deposited visitors in the middle of all the fun.

Even today, Canobie Lake Park is known as a beautiful garden in a park like setting, even though it has grown into an amusement park over the years. This is part of the charm that attracts visitors of all ages, not just young people, to the park. Older people stroll the gardens, cruise on the lake, ride the original 1902 “Canobie Express” railroad, and enjoy the century old merry-go-round. Local businesses still host company outings in the picnic grounds for all employees. It is still possible to see peacocks wandering around the gardens, a remnant of the old petting zoo at the park. Thrill rides attract teens and there is a large “Kiddie Land” for the smallest patrons.

By the 1920s the automobile put the trolley lines out of favor. In 1929 the trolleys and the park went out of business. Soon after, in 1932, it was re-opened and more rides were added, including the roller coaster that is now known as the “Yankee Cannonball.” The Dancehall hosted big name entertainers like Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Guy Lombardo. The park thrived and expanded.

By the end of the big band era this owner had died, and new owners expanded the park considerably into the amusement park you see today. More rides, attractions and arcades were added. Sonny and Cher, as well as Aerosmith, are some of the entertainers who have held concerts in this era. More thrill rides were added, some from other parks that have closed in New England, and there are now 85 rides at Canobie Lake Park, including the Kiddie Land. Fireworks are still part of the tradition, every Saturday night over the lake. The Canobie Queen "steamboat" no longer cruises along the lake, and I hope they bring her back soon for nostalgia's sake.

The 1902 "Canobie Express" is still chugging along at Canobie Lake Park!

The official website for Canobie Lake Park

The “unofficial” websites for Canobie Lake Park and a website with stories of the Big Band era at Canobie

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Hi Heather,

    One of the big bands that played at Canobie Lake was a local band. Band leader was Frank Consentino better known as the leader of the Frankie Kahn Band.

    When a young child, we used to take the bus to Canobie. On a Sunday morning we'd board the first bus on Broadway in Lawrence and then take over one of the kiosks. Those were the days. The whole extended family used to get together there on Sundays. We would all take the last bus home and entertain the rest of the riders with our songs.. yes, we all loved to sing!

  2. I am ready to head to Canobie Lake Park for a vacation -- however, I'd still like to be there during the Big Band era --- love that music- and the dancing.