A historic look back at an ICONIC Easton establishment that’s up everyone’s alley
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Less than a year earlier, the USSR had beaten the United States into space with the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, followed by the successful launch of a living creature — a dog named Laika — into orbit.
In January, the U.S. had responded with Explorer 1, the first American satellite in orbit.
In February, Egypt and Syria had unified as the United Arab Republic, with overwhelming majorities in both nations voting in favor of its creation. (The Republic would last 3 1/2 years before Syria declared its independence after a military coup.)
That fall, NASA would officially be created in the U.S. and the Hope Diamond would be donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
In September, the microchip would be invented by engineers at Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductors and later marketed by Intel, sparking the modern technological revolution.
But in Easton, something else was making the news in late August and early September: An eagerly anticipated new recreation facility that would open for business on Monday, Sept. 1 (Labor Day).
A week before the official grand opening on Friday, Sept. 5, The Easton Star-Democrat (then still a weekly newspaper) had featured a “Special Bowling Section” highlighting the coming attraction on U.S. Route 50 — Chesapeake Bowling Lanes.
Announcing the plans for the bowling alley in late March that year, owners Charles P. Howard and William H. Fletcher said the center would have automatic pinsetters, air conditioning and a modern soda fountain and snack bar.
The facility had 16 lanes —10 for duckpin bowling and six kingpin lanes — advertisements touted, and included a completely equipped nursery, with a television set and a competent attendant.
Maryland Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin came to Easton that Friday night, where he was feted at a reception and dinner at the Tidewater Inn before officially cutting the ribbon for the new business.
“The governor was here. It was very important for my mom and my dad and everybody,” Will Howard, Charles’ son, recalled.
“Let’s Bowl .. and Keep in Trim,” one advertisement for Chesapeake Bowling Lanes urged. “Yes, bowling is the ‘fun way’ to keep a youthful figure or physique.
“Stay Youthful by bowling at Chesapeake Bowling Lanes,” another ad claimed. “Get rid of those kinks! Loosen those muscles and tighten stomach flabbiness with regular bowling where bowling is best … at Chesapeake Bowling Lanes where electric pinsetting and air conditioning add to fun!”
In a statement of policy, Howard and Fletcher wrote: “Chesapeake Bowling Lanes, Inc. has been organized to offer residents of the upper shore, good, clean family-type entertainment in an atmosphere which is congenial, free of rowdyism and ideal for wholesome entertainment.”
Five years after opening on Route 50, the bowling alley relocated to its current location, what was then a farm with a dirt road on the west side of Easton. The property was being developed as a new shopping center, with the A&P grocery store eventually anchoring one end of the plaza.
The new, and larger, facility had 24 lanes, 16 duck pin and eight ten pin.
But expansion was not the primary reason for the move, Will Howard said.
“My father thought it would be much better to be here than on Route 50,” he said. “They thought that kids would ride bikes, they would not want them on the roads. So he moved it here.”
Although he was a bowler himself, Charles Howard had no background in the bowling business before opening Chesapeake Bowling Lanes. An entrepreneur, Howard had managed theaters and owned and operated other businesses, including a furniture store that ultimately expanded to a chain of five stores. The original bowling alley was built next to the furniture store on Route 50, but set farther back from the highway with parking in the front and in the rear along Calvert Street.
There had been a push to establish a bowling alley in Easton for several years before Howard and Fletcher made it a reality.
“I think he wanted to do it, so he was able to do it,” Will Howard said.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said of working in the family business. “I loved working here, doing the snack bar and all that stuff, I enjoyed it.”
After college and working as a journalist, Will returned to Easton to help his father with the family businesses, including the bowling alley.
“The bowling business was very good for my father,” Will Howard said. “They had daytime bowlers, they had lady bowlers, then they had the men’s bowling and they filled the house twice in the evening. They would go home and these are guys that were hard workers. And they’d go home at 11:30, 12 o’clock and get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, 5 o’clock in the morning. But they loved it too.”
In July 1986, the bowling alley had a major renovation and became the fourth center in the U.S. to add Brunswick AS/80 automatic scorers, with new seating and 2000 ball returns. Its name was changed to Chesapeake Bowl 2000 to reflect the new equipment.
About two years later, synthetic bowling lanes (the Brunswick Anvilane system) were installed.
Will’s son James assumed ownership in January 2014, becoming the third generation of Howards to own and operate the business.
James Howard also recalled growing up in the family business, with memories of “eating really delicious cheeseburgers” at the snack bar, as well as enjoying the video games that had been installed.
“We had a really good arcade,” James said, recalling time spent playing such games as “Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles” and “Terminator 2.”
As the video game craze swept over America, the Howards and the bowling alley were at the forefront in Easton and Talbot County.
The family bought its own video games -- the arcade replaced the nursery in the bowling alley -- and also rented video games to other businesses in the area.
“We had them all over town, all over the county,” Will Howard said.
“It’s always been like a family environment,” James Howard said of his memories of the center. “... (E)verybody who hangs out there is like one big family.”
James recalled a trip to Dover, Del., to check out “Cosmic Bowling” with “lights and black lights and fog machines and such” and discussing various names for a similar concept at the Easton bowling center.
“I think I came up with Astro Bowl, which was accepted,” James said. “And that ended up being a really cool thing for kids my age and older kids.”
The name was changed to Extreme Bowl during a period when a tenant operated the bowling alley.
While the opportunity to take over the bowling center “came a little sooner” than he expected, James said “it ended up being a really great move … and it’s been going really well since then.”
“It’s always been like a cool place,” James said. “A place I’ve been proud of.”
The pinsetters still in use at the center are those installed in 1986, the year James was born. “I’m kind of fond of those old machines,” James said. “They’re not without their quirks, but I know how to use them pretty well at this point and I think it’s pretty cool that they still work.”
But other things have changed. James said he’s been taking a “slow and steady approach” with minor upgrades every year since he took over.
What once was the arcade room is now Lebowski’s, a place for private parties and events. James and his sister pried the bar for Lebowski’s out of the floor of a business in Philadelphia. The back wall is plastered with old scoresheets.
The plastic chairs were replaced with red booths and the facility was painted.
“We replaced all the screens to flat screens. They use way less energy for one thing,” he said.
It took two men on a ladder to slowly lower the old, and heavy, CRT monitors.
“We’ve kind of been working on the aesthetics and the comfort angle,” James said.
Online booking was added this year to help address the misconception that the lanes are full every night with league bowling.
“Now you can see when there’s lanes available,” James said. “That’s a new technology for this year that I’m really excited about.”
Online booking, hours of operation and prices are available at Easton Bowl’s website at eastonbowl.com.
Easton Bowl is located at 101 Marlboro Ave. #39 in Easton and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-822-3426.