Islanders who want to go bowling today have to go to the Cape, and many do, especially when a boat is cancelled and they find themselves on “the other side.”
It was not always so.
There was a bowling alley on Nantucket as early as 1833 on the site of the present-day Dreamland Theater on South Water Street. There was also an early bowling alley in ‘Sconset.
In the 1880s, a bowling craze hit Nantucket during a time when sports were proliferating. Nantucket was recovering from an economic depression and beginning to attract summer tourists. However, bowling was not just for summer folk and the year-round population embraced it enthusiastically.
In 1887, there was an advertisement in the Inquirer and Mirror for a four-lane duckpin bowling alley that was up for sale and which included a billiard parlor. In 1891, a bowling alley opened at the Surfside Hotel that catered to summer tourists who could hop on a train at the steamship terminal to take them there. The ‘Sconset Casino built two bowling alleys in the early 1900s that operated until 1920.
However, the most successful bowling alley of the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century was at the Nantucket Athletic Club on the site of the present-day Nantucket Yacht Club. Summer members enjoyed the club’s tennis courts and yachting activities, but locals enjoyed the club’s bowling facilities in the off-season.
Tournaments were covered most weeks in the Inquirer and Mirror. A sample: “Wednesday evening it was the battle of the butchers, and when Bennet was through rolling, he had shrunk up like a sausage.”
The island held a yearly battle of the bowlers against their archrival Brockton every May for several years. The towns hosted the tournament on alternating years. In 1913, for example, forty-four islanders traveled to Brockton to cheer on the local bowlers. It was noted that, although the Nantucketers were defeated, those who went off island had the chance to ride in automobiles which were barred from the island.
For several years, students at the Academy Hill School walked to the Nantucket Athletic Club for physical education to use the gym and the bowling alleys.
From 1943 to 1949, Preston Manchester opened Nantucket Bowling Alley on Main Street where the restaurant The Whale is now.
Roger Young operated Mid-Island Bowl off Old South Road from 1964 to 1983. It had had eight candlepin alleys and thriving leagues. It was the last bowling alley on the island. Periodically, the idea of reviving bowling surfaces, but land is expensive and it is dubious that such a venture would be profitable.