Riverton Trolley Park was once home to a stately casino, seen here in 1910. The park, developed by the Portland Railroad Company in 1896 as a popular day-trip destination via trolley, offered a variety of amusements, including a dining hall, theater, boating facilities, a petting zoo and a midway. Contributed / New England Electric Railways History Society

PORTLAND — Today it is a wooded parcel of land with trails connecting to a municipal golf course and leading to the Presumpscot River, but a century ago Riverton Trolley Park was one of Portland’s top attractions.

The city next month will seek public input as it begins work to revive some of the park’s history while making it relevant to the 21st century.

“We will be looking for the community to guide the project and what improvements are made in the space,” said City Park Director Alex Marshall. “There are certainly fascinating historical elements, but we are seeking input for how the park could be used in today’s world.”

A postcard shows theatergoers boarding trolley cars for the trip home after a show at Riverton Park in Portland. The park opened in the summer of 1896, covering about 40 acres on the banks of the Presumpscot River. Contributed / New England Electric Railways History Society

At the turn of the 1900s, the park at the corner of Riverside Street and Route 302, serviced by a Portland Railroad Company trolley from Monument Square, included a casino designed by John Calvin Stevens, a small amusement park, amphitheater, dance hall and petting zoo, and it offered boat rides on the river.

It was built on the site of the J. Wilson Jones canning factory, thought to be the world’s largest canning factory when it opened in 1870. The factory burned down five years later.

Jaime Parker, a member of the city’s Parks Commission and the trail manager of Portland Trails, said a public discussion tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 30 will include  “celebrating the history, but a vision for the future will be an equal part of the conversation.”

The conversation will also focus on how to make the park more accessible, especially for those who live in the neighborhood, and how to strengthen its connection to residents at nearby Portland Housing Authority properties.

“The intent of this conversation is to be wide-ranging to generate ideas,” Parker said.

The park, designed by Frank M. Blaisdell, who also laid out the Boston Public Gardens, opened in June 1896 and drew  10,000 people on its first day.

It continued to be a draw The property was until WWI when, according to Maine Memory Network’s Trolley Parks of Around Portland exhibit, “post-war economic conditions and the rise of the automobile spelled the end for the park as a trolley resort.”

The property was sold by the Portland Railroad Company in the 1920s to a group that modernized the resort. That venture closed in 1933.

The property was one of several trolley parks in the greater Portland area,  along with Cape Cottage in Cape Elizabeth and Underwood Springs Park in Falmouth.

According to Portland Trails, which operates the two miles of trails that cut through the property, “while little remains of its previous glory, the park is still a beautiful place for a walk or a snowshoe.”

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