A trolley magnate sought to sell Freeport’s future through the past.
- By: Will Bleakley
Hop on an electric trolley in Portland in 1903, and you were just a seventy-five-minute ride away from experiencing Freeport’s majestic Casco Castle hotel and amusement park. Built to mimic old Spanish castles, this grand structure, situated on a high cliff three hundred feet from the water in South Freeport, lured those seeking a break from the modern world. Ironically, the castle only existed to sell Mainers on a twentieth-century concept: the electric trolley as the future of transportation.
Casco Castle was conceived by trolley tycoon Amos Gerald. A vast network of tracks crisscrossed the state, and Gerald needed a destination vacation spot in order to coax travel-averse Mainers from their immediate surroundings.
Trolley passengers would exit and walk across a suspension bridge that spanned a three-hundred-foot deep ravine filled with tidal water. Going left led one towards the famed baseball diamond, heading straight went to the castle itself, and a path on the right wound towards a zoo that included monkeys, wolves, and buffalo. Aside from the zoo, steamboat tours, croquet, bowling, and live music, a major draw were the views from the top of the tower where one could see, according to an advertisement, “scenery unsurpassed anywhere on earth, as is acknowledged by every tourist who has visited this charming resort.”
In the hotel, rooms for three to four dollars a night filled the top two floors while a restaurant that would have been the toast of the contemporary farm-to-table town occupied its grand bottom floor. It supplied cream, eggs, butter, and vegetables from their own grounds, and chickens, spring water, and seafood from local sources.
After just eleven years in operation, the castle burned down in 1914. The tower, which managed to survive, today stands on private property, but it can be seen from the bay. The site holds little of the pomp and grandiosity that captured Mainers at the turn of the century.
Image Courtesy of Freeport Historical Society, Freeport, Maine
- By: Will Bleakley