Haley Pal, a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society, can be contacted at haleypal@aol.com.

April showers bring May flowers, but in 1936, the rain came in March torrentially for two weeks, causing record flooding from the rivers of Maine clear down to the Potomac. The epic storm, known as the Great Flood of 1936, was estimated to have caused $100 million in property damage to towns in New England alone.

The winter of 1935-36 had been more severe than most. Temperatures were consistently below normal and there was a large amount of snow on the ground after months of winter storms. In Maine, the snowpack was about 7.5 inches when the flood waters began to flow.

On March 9, a front with lots of moisture moved into the Northeast and stalled. This resulted in heavy rainfall that began on March 11. During this part of the storm, Mount Washington, for example, received over 10 inches of rain. When the second half of the storm moved in on March 18, the runoff from the melting snow and excessive water from the first round of rain flooded the low-lying areas below.

Rivers turned into raging torrents. Around 200 families across New England found themselves homeless following the devastation. Here in Maine, 5 inches of rain fell in the first storm. By the next week, the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers had risen to record levels. Their waters, laden with ice jams and breaks, laid waste to the mills and railroad tracks in towns along their paths including Hallowell, Lewiston and Brunswick. Auburn was particularly hard-hit. The Maine Central Railroad was only able to save its bridge above the Great Falls at Lewiston-Auburn by positioning railroad cars filled with granite on it to stop the angry waters.

Luckily for Windham, the Pleasant and Presumpscot rivers, though affected by the storm, did not do as much damage, but the town did not go unscathed. In the 1937 town report, the Selectmen’s Report stated, “Last spring, the flood damage to the roads and culverts caused great expense not usually necessary. A large number of rock culverts had to be replaced with pipes as a result of this flood damage, which together with the constantly growing demand for driveway culverts caused a heavy overdraft in the bridges and culvert account.

“In addition, White’s Bridge has been repaired and painted. Two steel I-beam girders have been placed at Brands Bridge and two at Narrows Bridge. Three steel beams have been added to Popeville Bridge which is now supported entirely by steel girders. The abutments of Inkhorn Bridge have been thoroughly pointed with cement and some work was done on the bridge at Wark Road. The Anderson, Newhall and Mallison Falls bridges should be painted this year. Steel girders should be installed at the two Varney bridges in East Windham and added at Brand’s Bridge as soon as possible. Steel girders provide a maximum of safety and a minimum of maintenance cost and should completely replace wood in our bridges.”

Other towns in the areas that were hit severely by the Great Flood were given some relief when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Flood Control Act of 1936 on June 22. This made way for repairs and improvements to the cities and towns most affected by the storm. It empowered the Army Corps of Engineers to build levees and flood walls and make channel improvements up and down the Northeast Seaboard. The corps dammed roughly 375 major reservoirs and the projects they completed saved billions of dollars in property damage and protected hundreds of people from life-threatening situations in the years to come.

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