• Courtesy photo

    The Willow Dale Hotel on Lake Mascuppic.

  • Courtesy photo

    The steamer Willow Dale churns through the waters of Lake Mascuppic.

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With summer upon us, we are all making plans to head to the beach or other warm-weather destinations. But for many years, folks had to look no further than Lake Mascuppic for a summer destination.

Long before year-round homes and apartment complexes dotted the shores of the lake, Lake Mascuppic was home to three summertime destinations — Willow Dale, Lakeview Park and Mountain Rock Grove.

Willow Dale, established by Johnnie Bowers in 1857, offered a hotel, restaurant, dance pavilion and summer cottages, among other things.

Lakeview Park, established in 1889, offered patrons many things to do during the summer, including a dance hall, summer theater, restaurants and amusement rides.

Mountain Rock Grove, located across the lake in Tyngsboro, had a zoo and beautiful picnic grounds.

Sometimes, these parks offered other types of entertainment like the Willow Dale Water Carnival.

The first water carnival at Willow Dale was held in 1900. It was a huge success, and the Bowers family decided to hold it again the following year. The second Water Carnival was held Aug. 7, 1901, and was organized under the direction of Miss Kittie Bowers and Carl Mason. (Kittie Bowers was daughter of Willow Dale founder Johnnie Bowers and the person for whom the Kitty B steamer was named. The Kitty B was one of the many steamers to criss-cross Lake Mascuppic.)

The Lowell Sun referred to the event as the “Grand Carnival,” and it is easy to see why. As patrons approached the entrance to Willow Dale along the tree-lined road or by street car, they would have been greeted by hundreds of lanterns lighting the entrance. These lanterns continued all the way to the boat landing.

Cottages along the lake were also brilliantly illuminated with torches, Japanese lanterns and jack-o’-lanterns. Residents also had red fires burning. (The fires were turned red most likely by the cottagers emptying the contents of flares into their fires. Flares and fireworks are given a red color by strontium salts.)

Some residents used lanterns to spell out their names, which could be seen across the lake.

The Willow Dale pavilion was elaborately decorated as well. The outside of the pavilion was lined with hundreds of lanterns, and inside the dining hall was decorated with lanterns as well — all in a variety of different-shaped pumpkins. It must have been quite the sight to see on that clear August evening.

The evening began with a vaudeville performance and at 9 p.m., the illuminated parade began on the lake.

There were many entries for the parade since the Bowers family offered two very nice prizes — first place was a $10 gold piece and second place was a beautiful silk pillow.

Heading up the parade was the Steamer Mascuppic, elaborately decorated with lanterns. Seated in the steamer’s stern was an orchestra that provided music throughout the parade.

Following the Mascuppic was the Eagle, owned by Carl Mason. The Eagle was outlined with red Japanese lanterns. Up next in the procession was a Venetian houseboat owned by Percy Moody. This boat was exquisitely decorated in bunting, crepe paper and, of course, lanterns. Smaller boats entered the parade as well. There were numerous canoes entered in the parade and, according to all accounts, many thought William Bragdon’s canoe might just snag first prize.

Ultimately, the judges awarded first place to Percy Moody’s Venetian houseboat, and second place went to Carl Mason’s Eagle.

The parade ended with a re-enactment of the Battle of Manila from the Spanish-American War on the lake, during which a terrific fireworks display was launched.

Dancing continued until midnight up at the hotel. The Bowers family arranged with the railroad for cars to run until midnight so all could enjoy the second annual Water Carnival at Willow Dale to the end.