July 19, 1969: A fire breaks out in the amusement area known as the White Way in Old Orchard Beach, destroying about two blocks and one-third of the town’s famous pier, from which many visitors are evacuated by ladder.

The fire, striking at the height of the tourist season, inflicts severe burns on one person and minor injuries on several others, including a police officer and a firefighter, who suffers burns when he pulls somebody out of the flaming Noah’s Ark fun house.

About 100,000 people were estimated to be at the beach during the previous week, and motel owners said that all available rooms were rented for the weekend.

According to witnesses, the blaze consumes about 100 feet of the pier, including small booths and refreshment stands, then stops. Many amusement rides also go up in flames. A power failure casts some streets in darkness, and minor looting ensues.

Would-be spectators flocking to the fire scene intensify the normal summer weekend traffic congestion, clogging roads all the way to U.S. Route 1 in Saco and Scarborough.

The Old Orchard Beach fire broke out in the beachfront area of the White Way to the east of the pier, and left about 100 people without jobs. Portland Press Herald file photo

Fire damage is estimated initially at $500,000, the equivalent of $3.54 million in 2019.

The blizzard of 1978 destroys what remains of the pier. A new pier is built in 1980.

July 19, 1984: The Bailey Island Bridge, built in 1927, is dedicated as a national historic engineering landmark.

Cribwork Bridge At Bailey Island, a photograph by George French, 1941 Image courtesy of Maine State Archives

The crib bridge was built using granite slabs to calm the effect of ocean tides in the adjacent Will’s Gut. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.

Route 24 crosses the bridge from Orr’s Island and ends on Bailey Island. Both islands are part of the town of Harpswell.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]


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