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Radio Field Trip: Candlepin Bowling at 100-Year-Old Alley in Woodsville

Candlepin bowling is a longtime New England tradition. So this week on Radio Field Trips, we traveled to New Hampshire’s North Country to visit an alley that’s been around for more than a century.

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(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

Stepping into Room 111 in Woodsville, N.H., is like stepping back in time. Though you might be confused about which decade you’ve actually traveled to.

“There’s quite a bit of history in this building. That’s for sure,” owner Nate Swain says.

Nate has preserved over 100 years of history. There are photos and posters from the 1930s. The bowling machinery and wooden lanes were last updated in 1950s, and the computer scoring system was installed in the 1990s.

Generations of families have bowled here. Some of the posters have old bowling scores written on the back.

We have one from 1938, and you can see some of the names from the town that are still around,” Nate says. “It’s just pretty neat. You can look and see, oh hey, that’s somebody’s great grandfather on the page.”

A small wooden counter sits in the corner with bowling shoes stacked up behind it. The six lanes are full on a weekday morning with about a dozen players from a senior bowling league. Members travel from all across the region to play.

President Irene Mann drives 40 minutes from Corinth, Vermont, every week.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Irene says. “This is a much harder game than regular bowling. It’s a smaller ball and the pins are thinner.”

But Room 111 is the only candlepin bowling alley left in the Upper Valley. It’s also one of the only places left for entertainment in Woodsville.

“The town has really slowed down quite a bit in the last few years, and if you ask anybody in town and talk to them about what it was 25 years ago, there’s hardly anything now,” Nate says.

Woodsville's struggles are similar to many other small towns in the North Country. And in the past ten years, there’s been the recession, the opioid epidemic and an aging population.

But Nate is determined to help turn things around. After college he came back to town, bought the old alley and bar, and brought some new life into the business. People in town are taking notice.

“Now I’m finally seeing people that I grew up with kind of take a look around and get really sick of it,” says Nate. “[They want] to put a little more effort in and make it the town what it once was, and it’s really inspiring and nice to be a part of that.”

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
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