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Massachusetts Must-Trys – Candlepin Bowling

February 6, 2015

This looks inherently wrong to us… (

The internet has introduced us to a world of unknowns – we’ve learned some great things and even more scary ones.  Most importantly, though, the internet has taught us that there is a big, wide world out there where people bowl rather strangely.  This is something we learned first-hand on our first trip to Kings in Lynnfield- alongside the fantastic food and fun atmosphere is a version of bowling not well-known in Massachusetts.

You see, bowling is a little different here…

In post-Civil War America, bowling became very popular  There were many different pin types and shapes to suit a bowler’s preferences.  Shockingly, most bowlers preferred the fatter, bottle-shaped pins which were easier to knock down.  Easier bowling meant that the game easily became boring, so around 1885 billiard room-owner Justin White (of Worcester, MA) sought to make the game a little more interesting by using thinner “candlestick” pins (pictured below) and a smaller, 4-inch ball.

Another Worcester man, John J. Monsey loved the idea and ran with it.  He upped the ball size to 4.5 inches (today’s standard ball size) and popularized the new “version” of bowling throughout the city.  Candlepin bowling quickly spread throughout New England.  According to one source, candlepin bowling tended to be confined to dark basements of buildings.  In the 1950s, a 12-lane alley (with a rollers skating rink) opened in Newburyport.  It was bright, fun, and utilized the new automated pin setting technology.  Other bowling proprietors saw this bowling alley and used it as a model for building similar establishments.  Today, candlepin is played throughout Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Canada’s Maritime Provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.  It’s a Northeast thing.




So what makes candlepin bowling different from “big ball” (as we call “tenpin”) bowling?  Well, for one, it’s harder. Much, much harder.  The game is played with a smaller, solid ball (a little larger than a softball) and the tall, thin pins are spaced farther apart.  “Wood,” or pins that have been knocked down during your frame, is not removed between each time you bowl (they’re quite helpful in knocking down more pins).  The player bowls 3 times per frame, not 2 as in tenpin, and the maximum score is 300.  The highest recorded score in candlepin bowling is 245 (set in 1984 and matched in 2011).  We average a 60. On a good day.

So, if you are visiting the North of Boston region and are up for a challenge, we highly recommend you try your hand at candlepin bowling. It’s a lot of fun and, in our opinion, one of those hidden gems in the treasure chest of Yankee tradition.

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