The people of North Windham went to sleep on Nov. 26, 1930, expecting to wake the next morning and begin their Thanksgiving preparations for a day of feasting on turkey and pies and giving thanks for their many blessings.
Instead, at 12:45 a.m., local businessman George Ede, proprietor of Ede’s Garage, was awakened in the night by the sound of crackling flames.
From his bedroom window, he could see a fire raging from the rear of the IGA store across the street from his house and business at Boody’s Corner on Roosevelt Trail in North Windham. Ede quickly woke his family and then hurried on to the street to spread the word, arousing friends, neighbors and local firefighters to come help squelch the flames.
His son, Norman Ede, was a member of the North Windham Fire Department and the driver of the town’s chemical fire engine. These fire engines were powered by a combination of sulfuric acid and bicarbonate of soda, which produced a chemical reaction that forced water from the tank to the hose.
In his haste to get to the garage that housed the fire engine, Norman accidentally left his keys to the building at home and was forced to break and climb through a window. He then drove the vehicle right through the garage doors to make his way to the site of the burning building.
About a half an hour after the fire was initially discovered, the North Windham Fire Department decided they were no match for the blaze and sounded their first call for help. Departments from Portland, Westbrook, Standish, Gorham, South Windham and Sebago Lake all responded to the call.
A second call for help went out at 2 a.m. as the flames, hastened by the wind coming from the northeast, continued to ignite neighborhood buildings. Two more fire engines from Portland arrived on the scene about a half an hour later.
When all was said and done, six buildings were razed and seven families were homeless. Succumbing to the devastating inferno were the Taylor home, formerly the Windham Hotel; the IGA grocery; Boody’s Store; Sanders Garage; a three-family apartment building; and a two-story residence and storehouse owned by H.H. Boody. A member of one of the families was burned slightly around the face and hands making an escape down a flight of fiery stairs.
Fighting the fire was no easy task. Crashing telephone wires and exploding cartridges from the Boody’s store inventory, as well as the constant threat of the underground tanks of five gasoline pumps exploding, kept firefighters from getting any closer than 100 yards from the burning structures.
Luckily, a change in wind direction, the added assistance of the Portland Fire Department and a women’s bucket brigade helped save Ede’s Garage and family home and the G.W. Freeman Grocery Store from being destroyed.
The Thanksgiving Day Fire of 1930 was one of the most spectacular blazes the area had ever seen. Leaping flames lit up the night sky for miles. The red glow of the fire could be seen as far away as Portland’s Western Promenade.
Ruins were still smoldering on Thanksgiving evening and firemen kept vigil to prevent sparks from setting any other nearby buildings ablaze. The heart of North Windham was destroyed, businesses and homes were lost, and it all happened in the span of just two short hours.
But North Windham residents proved to be resilient. Boody’s Store was rebuilt, bigger and better than ever. Ede’s Garage and Freeman’s Grocery Store made repairs and reopened for business. Life in this business district of town began to flourish once again and it’s still flourishing to this day.
Haley Pal is a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.