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The Thompson-Ames Historical Society writes a
weekly column for the Gilford Steamer.

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4-28-05          Coping with the Hurricane of 1938

Hurricane! The word itself is enough to send shivers up and down our spines.
We are well aware of the devastation that this terrible force of nature can wreak down South. But hurricanes are not limited to the South. They can and have unleashed their fury right here -- yes, even in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.
One such devastating hurricane that has gone down in New England history is the Hurricane of 1938. For those who lived through it, it has been the subject of many tales.
In her 1995 book The Gunstock Parish: A History of Gilford, New Hampshire, Adair Mulligan paints a vivid picture when she writes, “A number of eye-witness accounts survive from island dwellers. One woman remembers the storm bearing down upon her camp on Fish Island. Her mother bundled her up and moved over to the boathouse on the leeward side of the island for the night with the dog and cat, bringing dinner in an old dishpan. It was quite a trip, since they had to climb over downed trees to get there.”
The book goes on to say, “Wilbur Fay reportedly rode out the storm in his boat all night on the lee side of Bear Island, in order to save the fairly new craft. His icehouse was destroyed, along with many, many boats and boathouses.”
The author then states, “On Welch Island, no camps were lost, but the forest was a tangle.”
Concerning Birch Island, she relates, “Members of the Birch Island Camp Company held an emergency meeting to wring their hand at the Hotel Bellevue in Boston. They decided to hire Ernest Abbot and Mr. Lavallee to cut and burn the lumber and slash on the island’s common land or place it in the island’s swamp as full.”
A photo in the book shows the tangled results of the 1938 hurricane at James French’s camp on Welch Island, while the caption states, “The hurricane mowed down much of Gilford’s second- and third-growth forest, providing headaches for islanders and jobs to Depression-era natives.”
The Hurricane of 1938 is the topic of Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s Monday evening, May 2nd program, which will take place in the society’s Union Meetinghouse, located at 24 Belknap Mountain Road, in Gilford Village. Presenter Sarah Smith, the Forest Industry Specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, will show visual presentations to convey the magnitude of the historic devastation and clean-up efforts to salvage the lumber as she presents “Salvaging Wood from the Storm of the Century, 1938.”
Sarah Smith’s presentation will include a little-known aspect of the cleanup after the storm: the role of women.
“In 1942, a group of New Hampshire women operated a sawmill on the shores of Turkey Pond, Concord. The sawmill, one of two on the pond, was built to saw up what remained of the logs stored in the water from the 1938 hurricane. They Sawed Up A Storm is a slide presentation about this group of women, the 1938 hurricane, the USDA, Forest Service salvage effort and the determination of the people of New England,” are words that more fully address this complex issue.
The evening’s events begin with the 7:00 p.m. monthly meeting of the Thompson-Ames Historical Society, followed by Sarah Smith’s 7:30 presentation, and conclude with an opportunity for folks to socialize while they enjoy some light refreshments.
As always, the evening’s events are open free to the public.
Any persons who have photos or postcards of the Hurricane of 1938 are welcome to bring and share their momentos.
For further information, please feel free to telephone T-AHS at 527-9009.
Also, T-AHS’s website www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org includes the complete calendar of events planned by Thompson-Ames Historical Society for 2005.