By Carol McCracken
that starting back in the 1880s, Peaks Island was home to a major amusement park?
It may be difficult to imagine that today with all the summer cottages dotting the Island, but it’s true. The late John K. Moulton, well-known local historian, says this and much more in his book, “Peaks Island – An Affectionate History.” The book is available at the Portland Public Library if you want to learn more about it.
Greenwood Gardens on Peaks southerly end was the center of the amusement area. It opened on the 4th of July in 1887 and provided lots of entertainment every day. There was a Garden Opera House among the other attractions. Later, The Gem was erected on another part of the island. It was a roller skating rink which ran very successfully for a dozen or so years. In 1898, it was converted into a theater and became the first summer stock theater in Maine. The theater opened with a seating capacity of 1,600. However, following World War I, the theater faltered and was destroyed by a fire in 1934.
Transportation to Peaks started in 1851 with regular steamboat service and was never a problem for the Island. As Moulton points out: “For example, in 1898, Casco Bay Lines carried 450,000 passengers to the islands – at least half of these to Peaks Island.”
Because of the arrival of electricity and other modern conveniences on the Island, in 1910 summer cottages began to spring up around the Island. For the next twenty years or so, the Island became more of a long-time summer colony that an amusement park. This trend continued until World War II when summer cottages dominated and the days of the amusement park were gone.
In many ways, Peaks Island once resembled a quieter and smaller version of Old Orchard Beach than you’d probably have suspected!