In 1928, when Mrs. Edward Bok purchased land for the Camden Public Library, she also purchased all the land around it and across the road to the Camden Harbor. The place had been filled with small shipyards at that head of the harbor, and she had it cleaned up. She then put in the Garden Theater and Harbor Park. The land runs from the high water mark of the harbor, bordering little Megunticook River and the falls.
Many today call it the Bok Amphitheater, which is one of Camden’s jewels. She hired Fletcher Steele, a well- known landscape architect from Boston. We are fortunate enough to have one of only three existing works of art by Fletcher Steele with public access.
Mrs. Bok hired Olmstead to be the landscape architect for Harbor Park, and the two men consulted with each other to make it what it is today. The little clump of birch trees and boulders give it a vision that leads the eye to the harbor.
The work was done during the Great Depression and Mrs. Bok said they were to hire local men (because jobs were so scarce), and it would help them put food on their table.
In addition to the pure enjoyment of the beauty of these places and a chance to relax from busy Main Street, it has been a beautiful setting for many events. They held Camden High School graduation shortly after it was completed. When the Camden Snow Bowl was built, the coronation of several of the queens was held in the Amphitheater with a very large throne made of ice.
There have been band concerts, Christmas-By-The-Sea lighting of the tree, juried arts and craft shows, jazz festivals, Salzado Harp concerts, Shakespearian plays performed there, ice sculpturing, several movies used it for part of the film (Captains Courageous, Peyton Place and The Bedroom) and also many lovely weddings have been held there.
As I mentioned, these parks were built during the Depression, so Camden could not afford to take good care of the plantings. Volunteer maples grew where they should not be and some other plants or weeds appeared. A few years ago, the town appointed a committee, who spent about five years studying the original plans and money was raised to restore both the Amphitheater and Harbor Park. Another group was appointed to see that it would always be kept as it should be. An old building was removed and a parking area was made with a road leading to it. The public was welcome to attend all meetings and some had comments and suggestions.
Many tourists are seen sitting in the Park or Amphitheater, and probably do not know its history and special works of art that Camden was so fortunate to have, due to the generosity of a special lady, Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist.
Barbara F. Dyer has lived in Camden all of her life, so far.
More Barbara Dyer