Neat finds and fun stories, New Stuff

When Bowling was Yuge

A bowling advertisement from the Biddeford Weekly Record, December 1, 1916. I have found mention of bowling alleys being located in various halls throughout the Twin Cities as far back as the 1850’s and 1860’s.

Bowling in Biddeford and Saco go back over 100 years – but the mid 20th century bowling scene here was next level. Specifically Candlepin bowling. A quick look in any newspaper from the 1960’s will show you how huge the sport of bowling rose to in the “Twin Cities” – the Bowling News page was an entire section devoted to the huge number of leagues. There were at least three bowling alleys in Biddeford alone, and the city boasts seven (seven!!!) members of the International Candlepin Bowling Association Hall of Fame.

ICBA Candlepin Hall of Famers from Biddeford are: Theresa Desmarais; William Manning; Christo Anton; Sofokli “Mike” Anton; Doris and Nick Gillis; Don Saucier.

By the way, two of those Hall of Fame bowlers – Mrs. Doris Gillis and Miss Theresa Desmarais – proved our women were just as formidable athletes as the men. The “Coffee Leagues” are a deceptively demure moniker for some terrific athletes and competitors. The bowlers biographies at the ICBA Hall of Fame written for each member are a wonderful read.

The Anton family (see the two Hall of Famers above) in particular were a bowling dynasty in Biddeford, who over the generations opened first the Pastime Lanes (Main Street, building still standing), then the 20th Century Lanes (Franklin Street, building demolished in 1998), and finally the Big 20 Bowling center in Scarborough, which is still open today.

Biddeford Weekly Record, December 14, 1923 (p.7)

The two other big lanes in the Twin Cities were the Roll-a-Way Lanes on Elm Street, and Vacationland Bowling on Rt. 1, Saco (which was the last local bowling center, only just closing in 2017). My aunt worked there for many years. There was also for many years a bowling alley at Fortune’s Rocks, and there were lanes at Biddeford Pool too.

I don’t know about you, but I bowled A LOT of strings at a couple of those establishments, and even brought my own kids to Vacationland (where they both learned how to bowl). I also watched a lot of bowling tournaments on TV with my grandmother in the 1980’s, and have great memories of that. How about you? (Seriously, check out the ICBA site, it will bring it all back). There is also an International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame (focused on “big-ball bowling”) which has an interesting section on Candlepin history.

Candlepin bowling is only played in New England and the Maritimes, and I really hope it is not lost. On that note – get out there and visit your closest bowling alley!!!

Remembering Candlepin in Biddeford…

Pastime Lanes was a Main Street fixture for many years – visible below in this 1933 photo.

(Image 1548, Pasttime Lanes and the Anton buildings, 1933)
Roll-a-Way closed in the early 1990’s and became home to Hope Memorial Chapel.
Nick and Doris Gillis induction into the Candlepin Bowling Hall of Fame in 1973 (from the Biddeford-Saco Journal, Oct. 8, 1973, p. 7)
The 20th Century Lanes were built by the Antons, and later were operated by Nick and Doris Gillis for over 20 years – the Gillises were the first husband and wife team inducted into the Candlepin Bowling Hall of Fame.
Don Saucier was the most recent inductee into the Candlepin Bowling Hall of Fame (this clipping is from the Journal Tribune, April 13, 2014 p. 8). There are numerous articles in the Journal throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s of Saucier’s impressive record.
The bowling alley and casino at Fortune’s Rocks (Biddeford Weekly Journal, August 15, 1902)
The ice cream parlor and bowling alley at Fortune’s Rocks, 1908 (Image 113B, by R. H. Gay)