Brownfield Historical Society

Boynton, Esther W. 1977. NA1222. Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History Collection,

SpC MS 1752, Raymond H. Fogler Library Special Collections Department, University of Maine, Orono, Maine.*






 A swath of total destruction 13 miles wide by seven miles long was cut, and 9000 acres that accounted for 75 percent of the town’s taxable property were lost. “Somehow they all felt it was coming. The hot dry air was explosive, the autumn leaves were tinder underfoot, they could taste the sickly-sweet smoke that hung in a pall over the town, making the mid-day sun pale and orange-colored like a harvest moon. “ These are the words of Cory Ford, a writer from Freedom NH, who arrived on the scene with the celebrated photographer Jerry Cooke, on assignment to Collier’s Magazine to document the aftermath of the fire of 47. Cooke and Ford meet up once again after 70 years. Cory Ford’s writings were obtained through his archive at the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College.


Word and image create an essay of what it was like to be there at that moment when Brownfield changed forever. Many of these images have never been seen before and most have not heard Esther Boynton’s story. New aerial video has just emerged and the Historical Society plans on showing this as well.


The Headlines read:

 Brownfield and East Brownfield in Ruins as Raging Inferno Races On.

Brownfield Although Stunned is Full of Optimism and Courage.

 Rising Up from the Ashes Brownfield Builds Anew


The Brownfield Historical Society collected donations to purchase 166 negatives and 21 prints by the photographer A grant was also received from the Keith Henney History Fund A book is forthcoming utilizing some of these images. Many of the images in the exhibit were recently purchased from the archive of photographer Jerry Cooke. He and the writer Cory Ford came here just weeks after the fire to do an essay for a magazine article. The images are captioned with Ford’s article and quotes from the Esther Boynton interview by Joyce Butler obtained through


The exhibit is printed on large panels designed and printed at the Edge of Maine Gallery in Brownfield. Included are images of the fire from the Eberly Collection provided by the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk. Additional text is adapted from an interview by Joyce Butler of Esther Boynton recorded in 1977 at her home in Brownfield. The transcript was provided by the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History Collection at the Fogler Library Special Collections Department, University of Maine, in Orono. Boynton talks about the fires of 1947 in Brownfield; the beginning of the fire and its growth; making donuts for the firefighters; her home surrounded by fire; exploding houses; generosity towards burned-out families; few human fatalities due to fires; returning to Brownfield; aid from the Red Cross; tin houses; beginning to rebuild; salvaging timber; aid from various people and companies; impact of the fires into the early 1950s; "Jerry Cooke was the closest thing to James Bond that the photography world has ever seen.He was a world traveler. He spoke five languages fluently: German, French, Italian, Russian, and English. He could cover an event wearing a sports coat and slacks. He never got dirty. He was a gentleman photographer." -- Neil Leifer, SI photographer





Website: Edge of Maine