Merrymeeting Park    Brunswick, Maine
A Brief History
by Christopher B. Gutscher

Amusement parks at the turn of the century were an important part of the trolley lines throughout this country. They added to the revenue of the trolley companies by providing another reason for riding the "electrics." They were in themselves destinations and offered a recreational reason for using the trolleys. Merrymeeting Park in Brunswick, like Casco Castle in South Freeport and Riverton Park in Portland, was just such a place.

Merrymeeting Park was situated on about one hundred forty acres of land bordering the Androscoggin River and the Bath Road. The land had previously been a shipyard and sawmill. As developed by Amos F. Gerald of the Lewiston, Brunswick and Bath Street Railway, the park contained a casino, zoo, refresh-ment stand, open air amphitheater, large pond with a dance pavilion, as well as many miles of woodland walks complete with bridges over numerous streams. Boats were available for rowing on the pond, and arc lights lit the bridges and walks.

The Park opened in July of 1898 with a reported ten thousand people that first day. They came on foot, by boat, by horse and buggy - but mostly they came by trolley. The five cent fare from Brunswick included admission to the grounds; trolleys ran every half hour throughout the day, sometimes two and three coupled together. Running time from Lewiston would have been about one and a half hours, and Portland would have been a scenic but bumpy two hour trip. The main entry to the Park was a ramp over the steam railroad tracks on the Bath Road.

The casino, situated on the highest point on the grounds, was thought by many to be the main attraction, with its view up-river probably the most admired. It even boasted a view of the White Mountains on clear days. By scaling photographs of the building, it appears to have been about two hundred feet long and at least sixty-five feet to the top of the cupola. It had four stories, two of which had verandas, plus the cupola, all on a nine foot high stone foundation. The dining room could, from reports, serve one hundred people at a time with as many as six hundred eating on a good Sunday.

The open air amphitheater could accommodate over four thousand people with seating on benches in two different sections. Two log cabins on either side of the stage served as dressing rooms and fit nicely into this woodland setting. Here, big name vaudeville acts, various band concerts, and occasional Sunday morning sermons were heard. Reserved orchestra seating was ten cents.

Other attractions and activities in the Park were the boat house museum, the fireworks and balloon ascension on July 4th, a pair of white diving horses, picnics, dances, meetings, greased pig contests, and almost anything else imaginable in such large, well-groomed grounds.

[ visitors arrive at the trolley stop near Bath Road ]

[ the casino on a crowded afternoon as seen from the entrance road ]
This image courtesy of the Pejepscot Historical Society.  From the Charles Gamache Collection. 1989.100.3

[ clambake on the lawn of the casino ]

[ Marie De Rosett appears to be twirling a Civil War rifle with a bayonet attached ]
This image courtesy of the Pejepscot Historical Society.  From the Charles Gamache Collection. 1989.100.17

[ orchestra ]
This image courtesy of the Pejepscot Historical Society.  From the Charles Gamache Collection. 1989.100.21

[ old postcard showing Merrymeeting Park ]

[ another old postcard showing Merrymeeting Park ]

The Park Now

The Park closed not because of any one event, but because of a series of changes. From the day of its conception, it was a losing proposition. Amos Gerald had grand ideas, but the population of Brunswick was too small to support financially such an impressive park. Even with the trolleys from Lewiston and Portland (a three or four hour round trip) there just were not enough people. If Amos Fitzgerald did market research before building the Park as large as he did, that research was faulty. He may have built it on such a grand scale to show people that he wasn't one of the poor Irish immigrants common at that time. This would also explain the inclusion of the "castle" on the Casino as well as that of Casco Castle, another of his holdings. At some point he called himself Amos F. Gerald, as well as just Amos Gerald. The park's audiences were now also going to the movies.

The park officially closed after the 1906 season. The animals were sold and whatever else could be salvaged was taken by the trolley company with the grounds left to picnickers until 1914. The land was sold first to Rupert Baxter and Charles Erswell, then to Arthur Barrett, followed by J. J. Bursnell who, in turn, sold it to its present owner, Earl Ormsby, Sr. The casino was eventually vandal-ized and torn down. The stones from the foundation and castle went into other buildings in the area. One of the out-buildings is now a garage belonging to Margaret Erswell of Pleasant Street, Brunswick.

The main entrance ramp to the park was about one hundred feet to the right or east of the present location of the Autometrics building. A secondary entrance road crossed the tracks at grade level where the entrance to the cement plant and auto salvage yard is presently located. The casino was located on top of the hill on the northern side of new Route 1, where a white mobile home now sits. The series of duck ponds were formed by damming the depression behind it. New Route 1 splits the park in two, passing over what would have been the zoo and amphitheater.

I have been given a reflector from one of the arc lights by Earl Ormsby, and have one of the folding benches that has "MERRYMEETING PARK" stenciled on the side. A few of the paths are still visible. Besides these few reminders there is not much tangible evidence left from its nine years of operation. But lest we be overcome by nostalgia, the title of the sermon delivered by Elijah Kellogg in the amphitheater, that September day ninety years ago, still speaks to us today: "Say not that the former days were better than these."

Below: Map of Merrymeeting Park

To see a detailed map of Merrymeeting Park overlaid on a modern aerial photo, click here. Please note that this is a very large image (almost 3 MB) and may take a long time to load if you are viewing this page from a dial-up connection.