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.
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.