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One of Thomas Edison’s crowning achievements was the invention of a practical light bulb. If you think about it, though, he had a little problem when it came to light bulb sales: people didn’t have electricity in their homes and businesses.
Edison had to design and build massive dynamos, power stations, and wiring systems in order to attract customers. A lot of work had to be done before he could sell his little bulbs.
I always think of Edison when I think about Casco Castle in Freeport and Merrymeeting Park in Brunswick. These large hotel, casino, zoo, and concert facilities were built for one purpose: selling trolley tickets.
According to the Freeport Historical Society website, these amusement parks were the brainchild of Amos Gerald of Fairfield, who wanted to be Maine’s trolley baron. While the gas-powered trolleys we have today only carry people around town, the old rail trolleys could take people from Bangor to Boston. Gerald planned a series of amusements along the line to attract visitors and sell tickets.
Casco Castle was built in 1903, using local fieldstones for the tower and walls. While the tower was actually built of stone, the hotel itself was made of wood, which was painted gray to look like stone. Many described it as “A Yankee’s dream of a Spanish castle.”
A hundred guests could stay at the hotel, paying $3 a day for a room at a time when the average laborer earned $1 per day. A shore dinner would only set you back half a day’s wages, at 50 cents.
If you weren’t fancy enough to stay at the hotel, you could still enjoy the grounds, which were open to the public. The Castle ballpark hosted baseball games, and there was a small zoo with monkeys, bison, Angus cattle, and sometimes a couple of other animals. The picnic grounds were nice, too.
Merrymeeting Park was built in Brunswick a few years earlier, and it also had a castle-like entrance. According to the Maine Memory Network, the casino was four stories tall and had a dining room for 100 guests. There were 140 acres of grounds with walking trails, and a bridge across the water with a dance pavilion in the middle. A 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater allowed people to see concerts, vaudeville acts, and Sunday sermons.
As grand as Casco Castle and Merrymeeting Park may have been, Amos Gerald’s timing was poor. The automobile, which could go anywhere, soon replaced fixed-rail trolley cars as the favored means of transportation.
Merrymeeting Park closed down in 1906. The building changed hands several times and then was dismantled. While the building is gone, there is a curious house in Bath on Tarbox hill, which overhangs High Street: it features some of the round windows from the old casino, as people have pointed out to me on Facebook.
Casco Castle struggled, then was abandoned and burned down in 1914. The stone tower, however, remains. For a time it was a hangout for local youth, who attempted to scale the walls and filled the inside with broken beer bottles and trash. Today it stands on private property, but can still be seen from the road.
Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.The entrance to Merrymeeting Park, Brunswick, circa 1898.