One popular business in Mill Creek that is still missed today is the old Bowl-A-Rama. The candlepin bowling alley was a local hangout for kids and adults from 1958 until about 1980.

Bowl-A-Rama candlepin bowling alley at 51 Market St. in Mill Creek. South Portland Historical Society photo

Before the Bowl-A-Rama building was constructed at 51 Market St. (home to CVS today), the area was pretty undeveloped. The first Shaw’s supermarket that opened in South Portland was in 1951 in a stand-alone building where the UPS Store and Dollar Tree are located today.

The Mill Creek Shopping Center opened beside Shaw’s in 1955 in a separate strip mall. The Shaw’s building was later connected to the shopping center by an addition, where the laundromat is located today.

When the Mill Creek Shopping Center first opened, there was a large open field across the street (where CVS and the Shaw’s Plaza are now located). The Fore River was much closer in those days, before much of the base of Waterman Drive and the land along the water was filled. Before the buildup of stores, that open field was sometimes used by traveling carnivals and circuses.

Bowl-A-Rama was one of the early buildings constructed on that field. The candlepin bowling alley was impressive in its day, featuring 20 lanes that all had automatic pin-setters. When you walked in, the check-in/shoe rental counter was right at the center. The bowling alley also had a snack bar, lounge and pinball machines.

A 1966 advertisement for the Bowl-A-Rama bowling alley in Mill Creek. South Portland Historical Society image

Candlepin bowling was a very popular activity in those times. Playing in bowling leagues was a common pastime. Bowl-A-Rama had leagues for men, women and children – and the professional circuit was here, as well. Both the Big 20 in Scarborough and the Mill Creek Bowl-A-Rama were sites where some televised games were played.

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With a history spanning more than two decades, there were a lot of people who managed and worked at the bowling alley over the years. One of the bowling alley managers was Ernest Angell, the son of Harrison “Hap” Angell, who was captain of the Willard Hose Company. Two women who are still fondly remembered are Doris MacVane and Edie Richards, both of whom worked at the counter, renting shoes and cashiering.

We recently posted a photo of the Bowl-A-Rama on our Facebook page, asking for people’s memories of the bowling alley. Many people had fond memories to share. Here are a few of our favorites:

– Lorene Williams said that she used to bowl there on Sundays in the winter. “My parents would drop us off and come back later.”

– Pamela Smith remembered going to the Bowl-A-Rama with her parents. Afterward, they would head for an ice cream at the Deering Ice Cream restaurant on Broadway (where Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution is now located).

A 1955 aerial photo shows Mill Creek Shopping Center with the standalone Shaw’s building next to it. Notice the empty field across the street where the Bowl-A-Rama at 51 Market St. would later be constructed. George Thompson Collection

– John Griffith said he remembered the bowling alley very well. “Used to go down with my friends on Saturday mornings. Bowled three strings and rented shoes for $1.”

– Steve Hill had a fun memory to share: “It was a good place to bowl. On Saturdays my dad would drop a group of kids off and go do some errands and come back and pick us up. One Saturday he came back and we were still bowling. Apparently, we were being kids and not trying very hard. He told us if we were paying to bowl, we should do our best. Someone muttered, ‘If you think it’s so easy, show us.’ In my memory, I had never known my father to bowl but, on hearing the challenge, he walked onto the lane in his street shoes and grabbed a ball. He rolled it straight and true and got a strike. He never said a word … great memory.”

South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with over 15,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search, and we are adding new content regularly. You can find it at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com. If you have photographs or other information to share about South Portland’s past, we would love to hear from you. South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at [email protected], or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

An aerial photo from about 1964 shows the Mill Creek Shopping Center. The first Shaw’s location was occupied by Wellwood’s and Shaw’s had built and moved to a new store, added on to the other side of the shopping plaza (the section that is now home to Shopper’s Hardware and other businesses). Bowl-A-Rama can be seen in its standalone building on the other side of Market Street. South Portland Historical Society photo

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

South Portland men’s bowling league champions in 1961: Paul Crawford, Floyd Beckwith, Walter Kaherl, team captain Frank Winn and league president, Paul Davis. South Portland Historical Society photo

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