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Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling – A West Haven CT Tradition Learn About This Unique Style of East Coast Bowling!

Posted on: January 26, 2014

What is Duckpin Bowling? It is the least familiar of all of the bowling styles in the US, mainly played in Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and a handful of other states. Since Mod B’s a New England gal she was glad to discover the Woodlawn Duckpin Lanes in West Haven, CT during a swing back up home.

Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling West Haven CT - Building Front

There is some controversy surrounding the true year and location of where it was invented. Earlier documentation indicated that around 1900 two Baltimore Orioles, Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw originated the term and sport in Baltimore. But recently available online archives of The Boston Globe have shown reference to Duckpins as far back as 1893.

Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling West Haven CT

Some say the sport got its name because the small pins resemble the bodies of ducks in flight.

Upon first glance Duckpin bowling appears to be a scaled down version of ten-pins with a few slight differences. The game is played on a standard sized bowling alley and scored the same as Ten-pin, but the player rolls 3 balls per turn instead of 2. The balls are roughly the size of a softball and have no holes in them, and the pins, while similar in silhouette to ten pins, are smaller too.

Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling West Haven CT - Duckpin Bowling Balls
This small scale of Duckpin ball is a bonus when looking for an activity that the entire family can enjoy, says Bob Nugent, owner of Woodlawn Duckpins in West Haven, Connecticut. “The balls are the perfect size for small children.” He adds, “since they are much lighter (than Ten-pin balls) grandparents can join right in and have fun alongside the kids.”

Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling West Haven CT - Vintage Sign

Nugent, who grew up bowling at Woodlawn, has owned the lanes for the last 10 years. Established in 1954, they still use the sturdy but antiquated automatic pinsetting machinery that was installed 60 years ago. While durable, this machinery is considered one of the reasons why this style of bowling isn’t more well known.

Woodlawn Duckpin Bowling West Haven CT - Pinsetter

The inner workings of the Sherman pinsetter – a marvel of industrial ingenuity.

According to “Duckpin“, a history of the sport that was partially filmed at Woodlawn, inventor Ken Sherman refused to sell the patent to his machine to the Brunswick Corporation, who held the patent for the automatic Ten-pin pinsetter. Without the corporate investment and ability to scale production of the Duckpin equipment, the sport remained in the alleys where it had originated, and was never was able to grow much past there.

Since parts for these machines have not been made since 1973 owners like Nugent will often travel to Duckpin lanes that have closed in order to source parts for their machines, warehousing what they might need in the future, so folks like us can experience this unique form of bowling for years to come.


See more photos of Woodlawn Lanes here on the Retro Roadmap Flickr Page