Preserving the memory of New England's popular amusement park

About the author of the below text:

Robert F. Pollock was by far the biggest fan,  and probably the biggest advocate and historian of Norumbega Park. I was fortunate enough to view Bobs first production, Down By The Riverside  in the early nineties. Sadly, Bob Pollock passed away on September 1, 2004, just prior to the completion of his second production Return To Norumbega. As a teenager in the late 1950's, he worked along the Midway. He wrote an extensive 300+ page history as well as numerous newspaper  and magazine articles about Norumbega Park and the Totem Pole Ballroom.  He was seen on Chronicle and PBS relating the history of the park and  for many years gave slide shows throughout New England, expanding his information to include the Charles River.

The Park:
Norumbega Park opened in June of 1897 in  the Auburndale section of Newton, Massachusetts. The amusement park was  built by the directors of the Commonwealth Avenue Street Railway in an  attempt to increase patronage and revenues on the trolley line running  between Boston and Auburndale. The park's name was taken from Norumbega  Tower, a huge stone structure located across the river in Weston, built  to honor the Viking explorers who had sailed up the Charles River around 1000 AD. When Norumbega Park first opened at  "Auburndale-on-the-Charles," it featured canoing, picnic areas, an  outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a restaurant, a zoo, a carousel, and an electric fountain. The parks Pavilion Restaurant was managed by Joseph Lee, a noted chef who had been born a slave near Charlestown, South  Carolina in the 1850. Lee, also a very successful inventor, had owned  and operated the exclusive Woodland Park Hotel in Auburndale before  taking over the Norumbega restaurant.

Norumbega was tremendously successful,  attracting hundreds of thousands of patrons each season. Its location on the Charles River meant that the park was accessible by water as well  as by land. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Lakes  District of the Charles was the most heavily canoed stretch of water on earth, with more than 5000 canoes berthed along its 5.8 mile length.  Norumbega, along with the Riverside Recreation Grounds in Weston and more than a dozen other local recreational facilities in Newton and  Waltham, became famous for recreation, competition, romance and fun.  People from all walks of life came to the riverside via steam trains and electric trolleys. By the 1905 season, the outdoor theater at Norumbega had given way to an enclosed facility. The beautiful new  theater featured topnotch vaudeville entertainment, musical plays, comedies, and melodramas, as well as Mr. Edison's "moving pictures" shown on a device called a Komograph. The Great Steel Theater at  Norumbega was the largest theater in New England, and the parks zoo was  also the largest in the six-state region.

Norumbega’s success continued through the  1920s, with new attractions added frequently. Rides included the  Caterpillar, the Bug, Dodgem Cars, Custer Cars, Seaplanes, and a huge  Ferris wheel. In 1930, buses replaced the trolleys that ran along  Commonwealth Avenue. Also in 1930, the Great Steel Theater at Norumbega  was converted into the Totem Pole Ballroom. From the day it first  opened, the Totem Pole was something special. More than a hundred  ballrooms were advertising in the Boston newspapers, but the Totem Pole  was generally acknowledged as the best and the most elegant. Virtually  every famous swing band in the country appeared at the Auburndale venue, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James, the Dorsey brothers,  Lawrence Welk and Ozzie Nelson. Frank Sinatra sang at the Totem Pole, as did Dinah Shore, Frankie Laine, the Four Lads and the Von Trapp Family. Music from the ballroom was broadcast nationally over the NBC, ABC, and CBS radio networks.

The park and ballroom successfully co-existed  for decades. Young lovers danced the night away at the Totem Pole,  pausing only to flirt and cuddle in Norumbega's cozy nooks and lush  gardens. Canoes and pedal boats dotted the river, and the rides, penny  arcade and refreshment stands bustled with activity. During World War  II, a USA  Army Ordnance company was stationed at the Norumbega  restaurant. Roy Gill, owner of the park, organized numerous war bond  promotions, scrap metal drives and charity events.

The parks ball field was home to a womens professional softball team, the Totem Pole Belles.

Norumbega and the Totem Pole began a long, slow decline after the war years. Millions of automobiles, along with new  and better roads, signaled the end of many local amusement parks.  Families were more likely to travel to the mountains or the seashore on  summer weekends. Amusement parks across the country, many of which had  been built in the last century, were beginning to show their age. Huge  theme parks like Disneyland were on the horizon. Norumbega's gates  closed forever on Labor Day, 1963. The Totem Pole closed a few months  later, on February 8, 1964.

Today the Norumbega land is the site of a large and successful hotel. East of the hotels  parking lot is an area of approximately ten acres owned by the City of  Newton the Norumbega Park Conservation Land. But there are still  thousands of old-timers from across southern New England who recall with affection and nostalgia what used to be one of the most exciting spots in the world - Norumbega Park! 2005-2017

Norumbega Park, Auburndale Massachusetts