Opened in 1902, Canobie Lake Park was patterned after other amusement areas of the time. The parks were built by railroads and trolley lines as recreational destinations to increase ridership on the trains and trolleys, especially on Sundays and holidays. Typically built at the end of the trolley line, amusement parks initially were simple operations consisting of picnic facilities, dance halls, restaurants, games, gardens and a few amusement rides often located on the shores of a lake or river. These parks were immediately successful and soon opened across America. Canobie was an instant success. It became a mecca for thousands of people seeking refreshment and entertainment.
After many successful years, times changed and ridership on the trolleys began to drop. The new mode of transportation was the automobile. The operators lost on their investments and when all electric lines discontinued in southern New Hampshire, the park closed on St. Patrick's Day in 1929. The railway company fell into receivership and attempts at a private sale failed. The park's once well-kept grass had grown high. Some buildings showed signs of decay but most were in excellent condition.
On a dreary day in 1931, when the park was fog-bound and swept by a cold rain, the auction of Canobie Lake Park was held. The more than 150 men who attended, sought shelter from the rain in the dining hall. Some were prominent businessmen from the Lawrence, Mass. and Salem, N.H. areas. Canobie's days as an amusement park were over. The auctioneers presented a plan to sell Canobie. The plan was to demolish the park and cut up the land into lots with streets and avenues running through the area. This was the depression era and there seemed to be little interest to acquire the property. Efforts by the auctioneers to increase the bid were unsuccessful.
Patrick J. Holland, a well known contractor from Lawrence, Mass. attended the auction. Pat wanted to see Canobie, as he put it, "returned to normalcy." He didn't think the days of the amusement park were over. He offered a bid of $17,000. The park sold at auction to Pat for $17,000 plus $466.64 in taxes. Pat was considered to be one of the most successful road builders of his time. He could have very easily turned the park into the house lots proposed but instead, he wanted to operate the park as an amusement center. Pat, with his skills and equipment, put hundreds of men to work developing Canobie into one of the most beautiful amusement parks in New England. Pat made the park into a wonderland of nature with beautiful trees and shrubs and erected new amusements and buildings. Pat brought modern electricity to the park. The trolley tracks were removed. Canobie was no longer a trolley park.
Pat's plan was to transform the trolley park into a park accessible by automobile. The main entrance was built on North Policy Street and opened into a parking lot for 5,000 automobiles. After being closed for 3 years, the grand re-opening of Canobie was Memorial Day 1932. Pat placed an old streetcar in the picnic grove as a tribute to the creators of Canobie, and his wife Rina dedicated a poem she wrote simply titled "Canobie". In the poem she asks people to come back to Canobie. The poem was also set to music.
"Canobie" By Mrs. P.J. Holland: "Come again to Canobie, and enjoy its beauty. Take a stroll upon the shore of the lake so loved in the days of yore. Romance and dance still hold full sway. Come and while your happy hours away. There's a joy for every whim. Not a thing can ever dim the splendor of Canobie".
During the 1930s, Pat had the ballroom and roller-skating rink built and the Greyhound roller coaster assembled piece by piece as well as the merry-go-round. During the depression and war years, Canobie became the place for thousands of people to go to forget their troubles. Employees, customers and visitors enjoyed the affordable entertainment and amusements at Canobie.
On February 23, 1943, Pat Holland died at the age of 53. It ended a career marked with many successes from the roads he built, to saving Canobie Lake Park from demolition. Mrs. Holland (Rina) was well respected and known for her business acumen. She, Maurice and his wife Mary kept the park just as beautiful for over 15 more years. Rina would spend her days in the small wood building called the office in the center of the park. Maurice would continue bringing entertainment and new rides to the park. The late 1940s brought the miniature train ride and during 1953-1954, kiddie rides were purchased and a kiddie land was developed. During these years, newspapers referred to Canobie as a lovely wooded amusement center, an institution and one of the most naturally beautiful parks of its kind.
Rina wanted to retire and Maurice and Mary had a large family which made it difficult for them to continue operating the park. The park was a big part of their lives. It was home, literally. The Hollands had a house on the grounds of the park behind the swimming pool area surrounded by the forest of pines. The Hollands wanted to find a family who would agree to carry on as they did by keeping Canobie an amusement park. It was very important to Rina, Maurice and Mary to keep the park's tradition. In 1958, the Hollands sold Canobie Lake Park for $450,000.
From an early publication dated 1909:
"CANOBIE LAKE PARK comprises fifty acres of land and forest, having its frontage on Canobie Lake, and is easily reached by trolley, from all points in New England. The Park is located in the town of Salem, N . H., forty-five minutes' ride from the cities of Lowell, Haverhill, and Nashua, and thirty minutes' ride from the city of Lawrence. Its great natural beauties have been utilized to the best advantage, and it is doubtful if any inland amusement resort in New England affords greater opportunity for rest and quiet for the old, and healthy amusement for the young. The attractions are in a complete state and afford a combination of amusements that is found in but few parks in the country. Among the many features are: the Mammoth Roller-coaster, one quarter mile in length; the Merry-go-round, with a fine orches-trion; the Incline Slide, free to all children; the enclosed Deer Park, with fine herd of Deer; the Shooting Gallery; the Circle Swing; the Penny Arcade; the Dancing Pavilion; the Restaurant, which has a seating capacity of six hundred persons; the Ice Cream Pavilion, built out into the lake; Lunch Room and refreshment booths; the Electric Fountain; the Photograph Gallery; the Boat House, equipped with boats and canoes, and Power Launches which make regular trips around the Lake; the Regulation Bowling Alleys, nine in number, equal in equipment to those in the large cities; and the Rustic Theatre where two performances are given every day during the season. The Park includes a large, enclosed Athletic Field, for out-door sports of all kinds, equipped with dressing rooms and two grand-stands of large seating capacity. Inside the enclosure is a large shelter tent containing tables and chairs ready for use when wanted. Besides this Field, the grounds include a number of large groves, any one of which may be set apart for the exclusive use of private parties. The management caters especially to Societies, Churches, and Organizations, to whom special inducements are offered. A competent force of police keep the Park free from objectionable characters; no intoxicating liquors are sold; women and children may come unattended and be assured of protection from annoyance."
These are stories from some of the most loyal Canobie fans. Our passion for the park shines through in our descriptions & words. These are our stories. Enjoy...