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An Ode to the Spring Lake Arcade in Burrillville

Jul 01, 2023

Photograph by Alex Gagne

John Bateman was fifteen when he fixed up his first arcade game, an old bowling machine that had belonged to his father’s coworker. The Smithfield native grew up visiting Hampton Beach in New Hampshire with his parents, where the boardwalk arcades gave him an early taste for coin-operated games. “We’d rent a house up there or stay in a hotel for a week, and that was our summer vacation,” he says. In 1989, he turned his tinkering into a business and purchased the Spring Lake Arcade in Burrillville from George Stearns. Stearns’ father-in-law, Edmund Reed, founded the beachfront arcade in the 1930s when the lake was a popular destination for local city dwellers. Visitors could take a trolley from Woonsocket to Glendale and walk a mile to the beach for a day of sunbathing, novelty games and dancing at the shore dinner hall. “Back in the thirties and even the forties, when you played Skee-Ball, there was actually an attendant who would walk up the row of Skee-Ball machines and if you got a high score, he gave you a ticket,” Bateman says. Today, visitors to the town-owned beach can try their hand at the original penny games or sample the newer additions, including a row of antique pinball machines. Bateman says he often gets questions about the games’ values. “It was a piece of Spring Lake and a piece of many people’s childhood that was important,” he says. “Having a handful of change and being able to stretch that dollar — you just can’t do that today.” Except at Spring Lake, where the penny arcade lives on for a new generation.