Old Orchard Beach was visited by English, French, and Portugese fishermen before the year 1600. These were the first summer visitors.In 1614, the famous Captain John Smith came here along with Pocahontas. He explored the Saco River and Bay and made the map which gave the country the name of "New England."
The first settler was Thomas Rogers, who came from Salem, Massachusetts in 1636. He planted the first grapevines and fruit trees, and his plantation was so unusual as to be known on the maps as "Rogers' Garden." The Rogers home was burned down in an Indian raid in 1675. Rogers lost a son in the attack, and fled with his family to Kittery, Maine. His abandoned apple and pear orchard existed for 150 years, or until after the American Revolution. This was the "old orchard" from which the town is named.
Also in 1675, there was a famous Indian ambush, the "Battle of Googins Rocks". The pine forest then came down to the shore. The Indians hid themselves in the woods, near what is now Union Avenue, and fired on a party of about a dozen white men. Fortunately for the whites, it was low tide and they sheltered themselves behind the big rocks on the beach, which were later known as "Googins Rocks." The whites finally drove the Indians off, but not until several of their party were killed.
For many years, the early settlers came to the beach to bathe and picnic on St. John's Day, June 24th. If they never bathed on any other day, they did then, as there was an old tradition that on that day the water had a great healing power. Many miraculous cures were claimed. Later the date was changed to June 26th.
What might be called the first hotel, Parson Fairfeild House, opened in 1820. As one feature, it boasted a bowling alley. The Staples family began accepting summer tourist boarders in 1837. Other hotels opened later in the 1800's. The railroad from Portsmouth came through in 1842. The Grand Trunk was built from Montreal in 1852. Before that time Canadian families summering at Old Orchard would drive all the way from Montreal in horse drawn carriages.
The first ride, a Merry Go Round, was put up in 1892. Later, in 1902, an amusement park called Seaside Park was added. It featured a scenic railway, a fun house, a miniature train, an arcade, and other attractions.
The pier was first erected in 1898 and originally was 1770 feet long and made of steel. It has been destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly, always shorter than it was previously. Today the pier is made of wood and only 500 feet long.
The first wood rollercoaster was added in 1914.
Aviator Charles Lindbergh was forced by fog to abort a flight to Portland and land "The Spirit Of St. Louis" on Old Orchard beach in 1929.
Many fires ravaged the town of Old Orchard Beach throughout it's history, destroying all or part of the town. Fires occured in 1907, 1919, 1922, 1923, 1948, 1969, and 1975. These fires forced Old Orchard Beach to continually reincarnate with an ever changing face.
Additionally, the "Blizzard Of '78" destroyed the midsection of the pier, which was subsequently rebuilt shorter.
Despite periodic tragedies, Old Orchard Beach always bounces back. Canadian and France-origin French are the single largest ethnic group in the local town population and also a significant element in the visitor poulation, as Quebec residents head for the nearest Atlantic beach. The resort continues to be a popular tourist mecca for Quebecois and local New Englanders each summer, as has been the case for over a century.
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