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History of Ocean Park

Ocean Park, the geographical place, turns its face to the sunrise and to Saco Bay. Islands edge the bay from north to south (Bluff, Stratton, Eagle, Ram, Basket, Stage, and finally Wood.) At sunset the regular flashing of Wood Island light becomes a beacon across the bay.

Visitors have been coming to this bay since the days of the early explorers. Saco Bay was summer encampment of the Wabanaki (Abnaki) and other tribes who traveled from the headwaters of the Saco River in NH to enjoy the bounty of this beautiful area. Samuel de Champlain explored Saco Bay in 1605. John Smith dropped anchor offshore in 1614 and an expedition led by Captain Richard Vines wintered at the mouth of the Saco River in 1616.

Googins Rocks, the outcropping of rock visible at low tide between Ocean Park and Old Orchard Beach, was named in 1737 for Patrick Googins, son-in-law of an early settler, Richard Rogers, who established a home and apple orchard here in 1638.

All of Ocean Park is a State of Maine Game preserve and there are several walking trails through the cathedral pines. The plants and birds of Ocean Park have been widely cataloged. Adjacent to the community is a Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Read more here > >

What Makes Ocean Park a Special Place?

What makes Ocean Park so delightful and memorable is the year-round sense of community—a key element of its tradition and the Chautauqua experience. A visit to Ocean Park is truly more than just a day at the beach.

Homes and cottages hug the sidewalks with their porches inviting visitors to stop and chat. Walk along any street and people will greet you warmly—old friends and strangers alike.

Beach House Ocean Park is about extended families. Many homes and cottages have been owned by the same family for over a hundred years. More and more families have discovered that year-round, Ocean Park is a safe harbor and sanctuary.

Ocean Park is a lifestyle choice that offers a feeling of belonging, continuing relationships, family activities, non-denominational and inspirational fellowship, spiritual growth and renewal, and bonding to a very special place.

However, Adelbert Jakeman wrote in The Story of Ocean Park that "Ocean Park is more than a place; it is an experience. It is a way of summer living...unique in New England".

In the late nineteenth century, the camp meeting movement gave birth to more than 350 assembly centers scattered across the United States. Dedicated to self-improvement, very few of these communities still exist. Typically, all the assembly centers were situated near water with a grove of trees nearby. The most famous assembly center was, and still is, in Chautauqua, New York. The name of that institution became so well known, that "Chautauqua" became the word used to identify assembly centers whose programs include religion, education, cultural entertainment and recreation. Ocean Park's identification with the Chautauqua movement was clearly stated on the cover of the 1900 booklet: Eastern New England Chautauqua. This family-style summer community is not unlike Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts or Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

Ocean Park was founded under Free Will Baptist auspices in 1881 and the Association held its first assembly season that year. The Charter, issued to the Association by the State of Maine on January 24, 1881, stated that the purpose of the corporation was "to establish a place of summer resort for holding religious, educational and other meetings at Old Orchard, in Saco, in the County of York."

The one-half mile by one-half mile tract along Saco Bay that became Ocean Park was purchased for $5,000. Following the first years of Ocean Park's existence, the directors spent (for the time) large amounts of money laying out streets, cutting through avenues, and laying out house lots (some three hundred lots initially). The original subdivided lots were uniform and measured 50 feet  by 60 feet. Currents owners of these original lots can find restrictions in their deeds that require Association approval for the sale of their property. This was a condition imposed by the Founders in 1881. Over the years additional acreage (noted above) was purchased to expand the footprint of Ocean Park.

A map of the expanding footprint of Ocean Park from 1881 onward can be found here. > >
A more detailed history of the founding of Ocean Park can be found here. > >

The Temple, seating a thousand people, was built under contract by James Bickford of Portland in six weeks at a cost of $3,550 plus an additional $42 for making and painting the shutters, and was dedicated on August 2, 1881. Legend has it that carpenters labored on the roof by moonlight for a week prior to the dedication in order to be finished by the specified date. Over the ensuing years, Ocean Park expanded through the addition of buildings needed to accommodate an expanding program and the construction of residential structures—cottages and homes which today number almost 500.

History buffs who want to delve more deeply into Ocean Park's past are encouraged to read Centennial History of Ocean Park, Maine, 1881-1981 by Adelbert M. Jakeman. An update, Ocean Park, Maine, 1981- 2006 by Douglas Keene, is available for sale in the Jakeman Hall administration building, as is the 125th Anniversary Commemorative book by Frank Gwalthney and Win Winch. More info about Ocean Park memorabilia can be found here.

Other historical materials, including previous years' program booklets and DVDs, are in the Ocean Park Association archives, also located in Jakeman Hall, and in the Memorial Library. Program booklets in the Ocean Park Association archives offer glimpses of the assembly program evolution. In addition, the Ocean Park Historical Society is an excellent source of information about Ocean Park's past.

2017 Summer Season