Early 1900s tourism changed Falmouth Foreside landscape

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FALMOUTH — Built in 1899, Underwood Spring Park only existed for eight years.

But in that short time the trolley park, casino, hotel and outdoor theater helped make Falmouth a tourist destination in the early 1900s.

The park and other tourist attractions from the same era, including the Portland Yacht Club and Portland Country Club, will be the subject of a 300th-anniversary talk entitled “Destination Falmouth: From Farmland to Vacationland,” Thursday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Falmouth by the Sea.

Richard Judd, a professor of history at the University of Maine, will lead the discussion of coastal tourism in Maine.

The talk is free and open to the public, but reservations are required at www.falmouth300.org. The event is part of the ongoing “Changing Landscapes, Shifting Tides: The Story of Falmouth” series.

According to the Falmouth Historical Society, “the extension of trolley service from Portland to Falmouth Foreside in (the late 1800s) catapulted the town into the modern era. Trolleys cemented Falmouth’s economic connection to Portland and transformed the Foreside neighborhood into a relaxation spot for nearby city dwellers.”

“To promote its line, the Portland and Yarmouth Electric Railway Co. opened Underwood Spring Park, north of (today’s) Town Landing in 1899,” the historical society said. And the park’s attractions brought hundreds of people to Falmouth during seasonable weather.

Fire destroyed the trolley park in 1907 and it was not rebuilt.

The historical society also said the Portland Yacht Club and Portland Country Club moved to Falmouth Foreside in 1885 and 1913, respectively.

Erin Bishop Cadigan, Falmouth’s tercentennial coordinator, said this week that it was not just the town’s scenic coastline that attracted tourists and summer visitors. It was also the rural countryside and mountain views.

“As early as 1853, Falmouth was a tourist destination,” she said. “A wooden observation tower built on Blackstrap Hill offered unobstructed views of both Casco Bay and the White Mountains.”

The extension of trolley service from Portland to Falmouth Foreside in 1898 “transformed that neighborhood into a vacation retreat for Portland’s elite,” Cadigan said. With the construction of the trolley park, Falmouth ended up “drawing crowds of visitors in the summer months.”

To capitalize, Cadigan said, area farmers subdivided their properties, creating new developments of small vacation homes and campgrounds along the shoreline and even farther inland.

“Given the significant part tourism played in Falmouth’s development, especially during the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, it seemed important to explore this part of our community’s history during our tercentennial year,” Cadigan said about the upcoming talk.

Following “the advent of automobiles, people (could) live in Falmouth and work elsewhere (and) the railroads and trolleys (also) brought increased mobility and an influx of new residents,” which all combined to make Falmouth more like the community it is today, Cadigan said.

“To make room for these newcomers, Falmouth’s farmland was increasingly sold for suburban development. Construction of the interstate highway system in the mid-1950s allowed easy access to Portland and decreased travel time for a growing workforce of commuters who now made Falmouth their home year-round, bringing a population boom,” she added.

The goal of the “Changing Landscapes, Shifting Tides” storytelling series is to “explore the interactions between humans and the landscape over Falmouth’s 300-year history,” Cadigan said.

“Land use in Falmouth shifted drastically over the course of the 20th century. As farmers sold off and subdivided property for new developments of vacation homes and recreational amenities, Falmouth shifted from a primarily agricultural town to a tourist destination to a suburban community.”

What Cadigan hopes attendees of the upcoming talk will gain is “an appreciation for how the landscapes in which we live have been transformed over time and how that story impacts our community today.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Underwood Spring Park, built in 1899 just north of today’s Town Landing, boasted a casino, hotel and outdoor theater. The trolley park and other tourist destinations in town is the subject of a May 17 Falmouth 300th talk.

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