April 16, 1778: Continental Army soldier William Bayley of Falmouth, which later became Portland, writes from George Washington’s Revolutionary War encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to his mother in Falmouth, saying he was sick with a fever but has recovered.

According to historians’ estimates, 1,700 to 2,000 of Washington’s 12,000 soldiers die of illness, in some cases exacerbated by malnutrition, during the encampment. A more pervasive problem is the shortage of appropriate clothing.

Nearly two-thirds of the nearly 2,000 deaths occur in the warmer months of March, April and May, when supplies are more plentiful. The chief causes of death are influenza, typhus, typhoid and dysentery.

A tablet at Valley Forge commemorates the participation of men from Maine – which then was part of Massachusetts – in the encampment.

April 16, 1996: A landslide in Rockland tears a cliffside house in half in the early morning darkness and prompts authorities to evacuate five other houses.

The slide, which occurs after heavy rain, sends half of the home of Dorothy Smalley, a woman in her 90s, tumbling toward Rockland’s harbor. Her garage and her car also fall into the crater. A police officer breaks down a door to enter what’s remaining of the house, awakens Smalley and removes her.

Nearby, neighbors Susan and Douglas Gerrish discover about 1 p.m. that their backyard has vanished, as has the concrete floor of their garage.

Officials estimate total damage at $700,000.

An aerial view of Rockland’s Samoset Road shows the devastation caused when a landslide eroded more than 600 feet of shoreline on April 16, 1996. Photo by Stephen Morrison/PDQ Photo

In January 1997, the Rockland City Council imposes a temporary building moratorium in the area. The harbor’s north shore, lined with 50-foot cliffs composed mostly of clay, has experienced slides in the past, the most recent of which occurred 25 years before the 1996 incident.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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