Salem New Hampshire’s Canobie Lake and Park

Canobie Lake is a beautiful sheet of water, situated partly in Windham and partly in Salem, New Hampshire, and within the limits of the original Scots-Irish settlement of Londonderry, New Hampshire.  Before the incorporation of Salem, the lake was earliest

known as “Haverhill Pond” and “Haverhill Bound Pond.”  By 1715 (as noted in various records) it began to be called Policy Pond.”

Local legends says it was named after a Mr. Poliss, or Polliss, who owned land bordering on it in colonial days By a second account it was named after a local chief of the Native People [Indians] whose surname was Polis. Both of these accounts are purely speculative. Perhaps the second one inadvertently refers to the fact that Henry David Thoreau mentions a Penobscot Indian, Joe Polis, in his book “The Maine Woods.” That Joe Polis would have lived too late in history to have this pond named after him, and his ancestors probably lived in Maine.

In 1885 Salem New Hampshire petitioned the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad to build a railroad station in the vicinity of Policy Pond. About that time, and by 1892 the name of the village, and the nearby lake was changed to Canobie. This name comes from Cannobie in Scotland, a location near the English border, and once the home of famous border clans of Armstrong, Chisholm, Little, Johnston, Scott, Kerr, Douglass, Elliot, and others. This name, pronounced CAN-o-bee, with accent upon the first syllable, was suggested by a local man, Leonard A. Morrison. Mr. Morrison was an avid historian who wrote numerous books on local history and family-specific genealogies.

A 1909 photograph of the stone fountain that still exists at Canobie Lake Park, then called the Electric Fountain.

In 1902 the HP&S (Hudson, Pelham & Salem Railways) opened Canobie Lake park at the end of their new rail line, to increase customers.  Thousands of people from Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and Nashua communities flocked to Salem NH to canoe on the lake, or enjoy picnics.

By 1909 the Park included a nearby hotel, boating (and a boathouse), a theater, picnic and walking groves, walking trails and promenades, a woman’s cottage (with a matron in attendance), soda and refreshment booths, a restaurant with seating for 600, athletic grounds, dancing pavilion, bowling alley (in the House of Mirth), Games and rides included a shooting gallery, penny arcade, merry-go-round, circle swing, mammoth roller coaster.   A stone fountain, which still exists, was one of the early landmarks.

1909 photograph of the Canobie Lake merry-go-round (carousel).

By the 1920s, automobile use helped cause the rapid decline in the use of rail transportation. With the closing of the Salem line in 1929, the park closed.  In 1932 Irish immigrant, Patrick J. Holland of Lawrence, Massachusetts purchased the park for $17,000 plus $466.64 in taxes.  He added many improvements, new “rides,” and entertainments.  When he died in 1943, his wife Rina, son Maurice and daughter in law Mary K., continued the park as a popular spot until 1958 when the Holland family sold it for $450,000. [see genealogical and biographical information of the Holland family].

The owners, three close friends from New Jersey, Anthony “Nino” Berni Sr., Kasmir Ulaky (who d in 2006 at age 83), and Claude “Lou” Captell (who d. March 1993), renovated the park, and introduced new rides, games and concession stand.  For thirty years, Thomas O. Morrow, III was operations manager for the park (he died in August of 2007).

Today Canobie Lake Park has dozens of rides, seven of which are labeled “Black Diamonds” that are not for the faint of heart. Maintaining some of its historical flavor, you can also find arcades, flower gardens, and their original circa 1903 antique carousel.


This article was written as a submission for the 36th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, posted on Creative Gene. Since this is a “carousel” edition, the carousel itself became the inspiration to write this article.

**Additional Reading**

Canobie Lake Park, Salem NH [brochure], 1909. Hathi Trust.

History of Canobie Lake Park with Photographs

-Youtube: Canobie Lake History

Canobie Lake Park Appreciation Site

Canobie Ballroom

[Editor’s note: story originally written in 2007, updated in 2019].

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