Old Orchard Beach is a seven-mile stretch of wide, hard-packed sand, located on the inner side of Saco Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a summertime tourist Mecca, and has served millions as a dream vacation place for over 250 years. Whether you choose to sunbathe or swim in the low surf, explore the boardwalk’s many eateries, enjoy the amusement rides or nightly entertainment, or the Pier’s recreational activities, it is impossible not to have fun at Old Orchard Beach.
Earliest historic records date back before 1600, referencing visits to Old Orchard by English, French, and Portuguese fishermen. In 1614, Captain John Smith explored the area and made a map of “New England”.
Old Orchard takes it’s name from an abandoned “old” apple orchard which had been planted by it’s first settler, Thomas Rogers, who had come from Salem, Massachusetts in 1653. He named it “Garden by the Sea”. In 1675, Rogers’ family fled to Kittery, Maine, after being attacked by Indians who burned his home. The abandoned orchard lasted for over 150 years, and was used as a landmark by sailors navigating the coast.
For many years, the early settlers came to Old Orchard Beach to swim and picnic. Big rocks on the beach sheltered them against Indian attacks. These rocks were named “Googins Rocks” in 1737 for Patrick Googins, son-in-law of Thomas Rogers.
In 1820, Maine, originally part of Massachusetts, became a State. That same year, the first Publick House (inn), called the Parson Fairfield House, was opened in Old Orchard, serving coach travelers and other transients. The first Boarding House was built in 1837 by E.C. Staples who was convinced of Old Orchard Beach’s potential as a summer resort.
The advent of railway service in the 1840s and 1850’s enabled visitors from hundreds of miles away to flock to Old Orchard Beach. The first restaurant to sell “shore dinners” opened in 1851. Many years of growth followed the end of the Civil War, with construction of homes, streets, stores, and beachfront hotels.
A Merry-go-round was the first ride to be put up in 1892. An amusement park was soon added, featuring a fun house, arcade, scenic railway, and many other attractions.
Old Orchard’s first Pier was constructed in 1898. It was built of steel, measured 1,770 feet long, and was 20 feet above the tide. At the end was a Casino and ballroom. The Pier was ravaged by many storms, each reducing it’s length, and was rebuilt many times. The first roller coaster was added to Old Orchard Beach in 1914.
Old Orchard Beach served as a vacation place for America’s rich and famous, hosting celebrity bandleaders, and other celebrities, during the earlier part of the twentieth century. After the war, it became downscale, serving mostly blue-collar vacationers.
The Pier was completely rebuilt in 1980, after being totally destroyed by the ‘Blizzard Of ‘78’. It currently extends nearly 500 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, and features shops, fast food, games, and special events such as concerts, fairs, street dances, fireworks etc.