Aug. 15, 1635: The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 tears the 240-ton English galleon Angel Gabriel from its anchors off Pemaquid Point in Bristol and destroys it.

The ship – similar to the Mayflower but 18 feet longer with more gun ports – was carrying settlers to America. Many of them had disembarked at Pemaquid, but the ship’s crew and some passengers die in the storm.

Descendants of the wreck’s survivors gather in 2010 at Pemaquid Point to dedicate a plaque commemorating the event on its 375th anniversary.

Researchers are still trying to find the wreckage, which is believed to be covered by mud on the ocean floor.

Aug. 15, 1907: A firestorm devastates Old Orchard Beach, burning 17 hotels, 60 cottages, several commercial buildings – all of wooden construction – and the first 100 feet of the resort town’s pier on the Atlantic Ocean, all within three hours.

The fire starts in an annex of the Olympia House hotel and is well underway, fanned by a southwest wind, by the time it is discovered. Fire squads from Portland, Saco and Biddeford arrive within an hour to help, but their hose couplings don’t fit on the Old Orchard Beach hydrants.

The Alberta (foreground) and Velvet hotels were were destroyed in in the devastating fire in Old Orchard Beach in 1907. Image courtesy of The New York Public Library

Firefighters use dynamite to blow up buildings and create a gap that slows the fire’s progress, and by midnight it is under control.

Two die and at least five are injured in the fire. One of deaths occurs when a soda tank explodes at Horgan’s Pharmacy on Old Orchard Avenue and shoots across the street like a rocket, decapitating the victim and throwing two other people violently up against a building. It also shatters a post, and Boston Mayor John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the maternal grandfather of future President John F. Kennedy, is scratched by flying fragments as he walks by.

The disaster leaves hundreds of summer guests with no place to stay, because train service is interrupted and hotels in nearby communities are full. Many of them cluster on the beach with their belongings, struggling to ward off thieves and douse flaming embers that drift toward them. Fitzgerald, a longtime summer resident, sends the police a message begging them to do something about criminals swooping down on helpless victims at the beach.

Many of those guests on the beach lose their luggage to the rising tide.

When the fire is out, 50 acres of beachfront property have been reduced to ashes. The damage is estimated at $500,000 to $800,000 – $13.9 million to $22.2 million in 2019 dollars

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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