Transportation and Prouts Neck: A History of the Movement of People and Goods from the 1850s
By Caroline W. Willauer, August, 2014
Part of the reason Prouts Neck was able to be transformed from a farm to a popular summer colony is due to the advancements in transportation, which allowed more people to get out to the Neck. From Oak Hill to the Prouts Neck Yacht Club is a full five miles, and the route is quite literally over the (Spurwink) River and through the woods.
The steam-powered train was a common way for people to get to Maine coming from Boston or Philadelphia, while New Yorkers would often take a steamship. Trains could move people and goods up and down the East Coast in large quantities, and became widely used in the Northeast by the 1840s. The Boston & Maine Railroad had a station at Oak Hill, which trains would stop on their way up to Portland.
The Horse-drawn Carriage
The horse-drawn carriage allowed for families and their luggage to travel overland from the train station at Oak Hill, through the marsh and down the hill past today’s Scarborough Fire Station, and finally flattening out for the last mile to Prouts. In America, 1850 to 1910 is known as the era of the carriage, and this time coincides with the hotel era at Prouts Neck.
The Checkley House Hotel was at one point the largest hotel at Prouts Neck, and it ran a buckboard carriage from the train station to the Checkley, which many visitors would use. Nearly all of the hotels had stables and carriage houses, which means they also had smaller scale carriages, probably buggies, to move people and goods around the Neck.
The electric streetcar, also known as a tram or trolley, was invented in Germany in the 1880s and reached Scarborough by 1900. This was a way for people to get around within urban areas, instead of taking a horse-drawn carriage. The advent of electrified rails allowed for the trolleys to run on tracks powered by electricity.
“Some time after Portland became electrified in the 1880s, the horse cars were converted to electrics or “trolleys.” By the early 1900s, electricity came to Scarborough and trolley service soon followed. Like the railroads, trolley lines connected with one another, allowing passengers to travel greater distances. People could live in the smaller towns outside of Portland, yet be able to work or shop in the city. The trolleys also allowed residents to visit area amusement parks and beaches for pleasure at an affordable cost. For a period of thirty years, the Portland Railroad Company provided Scarborough with frequent and convenient rail service to Portland, Old Orchard Beach and Saco following what is now Route 1.”
–Excerpted from Maine Memory Network
Henry Ford may have made the car more widely available and affordable after introducing the assembly line in 1913, but automobiles showed up in Prouts much earlier. In 1903, a guest at the Atlantic House showed up in his brand new Ford.
On June 26, 1910, just two years after the first Model T was produced, the Ford Auto Club of Portland held its inaugural caravan from Portland out to Prouts Neck. The club took a photo of its members and their 22 Model T Fords on the lawn of the Southgate Hotel (today’s Black Point Inn), as seen at the top of this page.
As with the automobile, the summer residents of Prouts Neck purchased and used airplanes in the nascent years of the flying age.
Perhaps the earliest vehicle used for individual transport and recreation at Prouts Neck was the bicycle, which remains today the easiest and quickest way to go to the beach club for lunch after a tennis lesson, and everywhere in between.