To walk through the streets of Ocean Park is to step back in time. Just down the road from the bustle of Old Orchard Beach, it is a place where people look each other in the eye when they pass with a greeting of “good morning” or “have a great day.” It is a place where a stranger can show up on a cottage porch unannounced in the morning, be welcomed to stay and offered muffins and fresh fruit.

The notions of acceptance and belonging have been at the heart of Ocean Park since it was founded in 1881 by Free Will Baptist leaders as an interdenominational summer assembly place. It is also known by the name of Chautauqua-by-the-Sea for its affiliation with the Chautauqua Movement, which started in the 1870s and espoused combining religion, education, cultural arts and recreation as a path toward self-improvement.

Programs in the Chautauqua tradition have continued in Ocean Park every year since its founding. They range from Sunday religious services to music performances to talks about books and technology. There are weekly Zumba and yoga classes and shuffleboard courts. The poet Robert Frost learned to play tennis at the courts here in 1890 while employed at a nearby hotel.

For many of the families who spend part of their summers in this enclave, it has become a multigenerational gathering place. The older generation who first visited Ocean Park in the 1940s and 1950s as children have returned every year, eventually bringing their children, now grown, who bring their children.

“It’s not that we’re stuck in time,” says Pam Savage, who has come from Illinois to vacation in Ocean Park for the past 40 years. “It’s that Ocean Park is a place that has retained the values of the past.”

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