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Orleans County
New York
Genealogy and History

1859 Erie Canal Bridge Collapse
at Albion, NY

The end of September 1859 brought tragedy upon visitors to the Orleans County Fair. About eighteen people died in a horrible bridge collapse and many more were wounded. The following accounts of the accident appeared in newspapers of the day. It is interesting to note the different spellings of the victims’ names in the different papers.

Central City Daily Courier
Syracuse, N.Y.
October 1, 1859

The Bridge Accident at Albion

Our readers have already been informed briefly of the terrible accident at the village of Albion, by which, in a moment, without warning, hundreds of human beings were precipitated, by the falling of a bridge, into the canal, and some twenty or more seriously or fatally inured. By an extra from the office of the Orleans Republican, and from Rochester and Lockport papers, we gather the following facts:
At the west of where Batavia street crosses, upon one side of the canal is a hotel, and opposite, on the other, a block of stores. From the tops of these a rope was suspended, and a young adventurer from Brockport was walking upon it. The banks of the canal, the roofs of adjacent buildings and the bridge were crowded with excited spectators.
At 5.15 the gymnast began his walk, but had not advanced more than ten feet, when an ominous creaking and groaning of the bridge was heard, and immediately a man was seen to leap far out into the water. The ropewalker threw him his balancing pole, and then dropped down into a sitting posture upon the rope, in which position he remained until the worst was over, when he regained his starting place in safety. This passed in a moment. In the next, the foot walk gave way under the pressure, and was immediately followed by the remainder of the structure, carrying with it into the water about 500 persons, of whom a considerable number were forced under the remains.
The west side of the bridge first sunk towards the west, and thus the heavy iron arches were brought over on the crowd upon the bridge and in the water, which is over seven feet deep. All eyes were immediately turned from the dexterity of the ropewalker to attend the call of suffering humanity. Very many were in a few moments rescued from the canal, but the falling structure wounded many probably who never rose to the surface again.
The persons killed or injured were mostly citizens of Orleans County, and among them Dr. J.W. Randall, one of the first physicians of Albion, who had his head cut across from near the right temple over the top to the back of the left ear, in such a manner as to allow the scalp to fall over backward. He was also badly bruised upon the shoulders and body, and severely strained across the stomach. He was, at last accounts, in a very critical condition, but his recovery was deemed probable. A Miss Sophia Pratt, of Toledo, Ohio, who was visiting friends in Albion, was standing upon the towing path, under the bridge, and was crushed before she could escape. Fifteen bodies had been recovered, but the precise number of the killed hand not been ascertained.
Many persons were in the water for an hour or more rendering what assistance they could, and encouraging those alive who had to be pryed out from between the mass of iron bars and bolts. Men were also engaged continuously in grappling for bodies, without much hope of success, as it was presumed that many were confined under the ponderous iron arches, from which they can not be rescued until the water is drawn off from the canal. Orders were sent to Medina, Lockport, and other places East, not to let more water on the level, as soon as practable a dam was thrown across above the bridge, and word sent to have the water drawn off at all points below, as rapidly as possible.
The accident occurred at about five o’clock in the afternoon, and the excitement in Albion was intense throughout the entire subsequent night. As it became dark, bonfires were built upon the bridge abutments and along the towing path, and a State [undecipherable] was moored across the canal, upon which men stood with grappling irons endeavoring to secure the bodies of the drowned.
The bridge was constructed about ten years ago, we think, on the Whipple plan. It was about 60 feet long – but not the full width of the enlarged canal. It was shortly to be replaced by a larger and better one, the materials for which are already at Albion. It is safe to assume that there was a defect in the structure or that it had been neglected. These iron bridges require attention, and at times the rods and bolts require to be adjusted so that the weight will be equally distributed. When they are in order they will sustain any number of human beings that can find a place to stand upon them.
Just before the bridge fell an accident occurred on the south side of the canal. The piazza floor at Buckley’s store, broke through carrying down a number of persons, some of whom were considerably injured, but probably none fatally. One woman was reported dead from the accident, but the report is not credited.
The following is a correct list of the killed, as furnished by Dr. L.C. Paine of Albion: --
Perry. G. Cole, aged 19, Barre.
Augusta Martin, aged 18, Carlton.
Mrs. Ann Viele, aged 36, Gaines.
Edwin Stillson, aged 16, Barre
Joseph Code, aged 18, Albion
Lydia Harris, aged 11, Albion
Thomas Handy, aged 66, Yates
Sarah Thomas, aged 10, Carlton
Harry Henry, aged 22
Ransom S. Murdock, aged 17, Carlton
Adelbert Wilcox, aged 17, West Kendall
Sophia Pratt, aged 18, Toledo, Ohio
Thomas Aulchin, aged 50, Paris, C.W.
Jane Lavery, Albion
These were all recovered on Wednesday evening, and no more have since been found. No effort has been spared by the citizens or canal authorities in the search. The water was drawn down Thursday, so that men could walk about in the canal, and Commissioner Gardner authorized the employment of 25 men to remove the wreck, and then to walk the canal closely together as far as the waste-wier. In this way, if there had been any more bodies, they must have been discovered. Thursday morning, at an early hour, there were people in Albion from all parts of Orleans county, fearful of the fate of friends, The unsuccessful search or the finding of their friends, relieved many heavy hearts.


The following is as complete a list of the wounded as could be obtained:
Charles Rosevelt, a young man aged 19, of Sandy Creek, once reported dead, was living Thursday evening, but his case is deemed hopeless.
George Rosevelt, a brother of the above was hurt on his back and hip. [undecipherable].
Wm. Derby, Albion, arm broken.
Cyrus Clark, Yates, leg and three ribs broken.
A boy named Walker, from Gaines, leg broken.
Dr. J.W. Randall, Albion.
A man named Stearns, and his son, were injured, but how badly we could not hear.
Mrs. Alvah Tripp, Barre, had an arm fractured.
Dochia Stacy and T.H. Baldwin, Gaines, each had a shoulder broken.
Peter Green, wife and child, injured, but not seriously.
Mrs. Jordan, slightly bruised.
Miss Lamont, injured, but not fatally.
Mrs. Isaac Wilcox, badly hurt.
Others who were in a condition to be removed, were taken away by their friends before their names or the extent of their injuries were ascertained. Probably all such will recover.

The New York Times
New York
September 29, 1859

Terrible Accident at a Fair
Albion, N.Y., Wednesday, Sept. 28

Main-street canal bridge, in this village, fell this afternoon, with an immense crowd of people who were attending the County Fair. Eighteen dead bodies have already been taken out and it is supposed that many more are still in the water. A great number were injured.

The following are the names of the killed as far as they have been learned:
ADELBERT WILCOX, of West Kendall.
Mr. STILSON, of Albion.
THOMAS CADY, of Albion.
JANE L. AVERY, of Albion.
SARAH THOMAS, of Carlton.
Mr. HENRY, of Carlton.
Mrs. ANN NIELE, of Barre.
SOPHIA PRATT, of Toledo.
PERRY COLE, of Barre.
Mr. COANELL, of South Barre.
A middle-aged man, name unknown.
There are others, but their names cannot yet be got.

The New York Times, New York
Rope Walking – Frightful Accident by the Falling of a Bridge- 18 Persons Killed and Several Wounded-names of the Dead
Albion, N.Y. Sept. 28
The Main street Canal bridge in this village fell this afternoon with a large crown of people, who were attending the County fair. Eighteen dead bodies have already been taken out, and it is supposed as many more are still in the water. A great number are injured.
The crowd at the time of the accident were watching Mons. Cornise walking a rope.

The following are the names of the killed as far as has been learned: Adalbert Wilcox, West Kendall, Mr. Stillson, South Barre, Thomas Cody, Albion, Jane S. Avery, Albion, Sarah Thomas, Carlton, Augusta Martiry, Carlton, Mr. Henry, Carlton, Ransom Murdock, Carlton, Mrs. Ann Viela, Barre, Middle aged man, name unknown.

Hornellsville Tribune
October 06, 1859

Frightful Accident at Albion

Fall of a Canal Bridge with a Thousand People – Eighteen Dead Bodies recovered – Many Injured
One of the most frightful painful accidents which has devolved upon the public journalist to record in a long time, occurred at Albion, Orleans County, on Wednesday of last week, at the time the County Fair was being held at that place, by the falling of an iron bridge over the canal when crowded with spectators who had collected in a dense mass upon it, to witness of the vanity-fair feats of “rope-walking,” which has of late become a perfect mania among the fashionable entertainments of the day. The following particulars which were communicated to the Rochester Democrat, on the evening of the accident, is the best account of the disaster that has reached us:

ALBION, Sept. 28, 1859
The canal bridge at this place broke down at 5:15 this P.M., with one thousand people, and from five to eight horses and wagons. There have been fifteen persons taken out dead, and there is no knowledge how many more are dead, or will die. A great many are injured.

Adelbert Wilcox, West Kendall; Mr. Stillson, South Barre; Jane L. Avery, Albion; Lydia or Sophia Harris, do; Thos. Cady, do; Sara Thomas, Carlton; Augusta Martin, do; Mr. Henry, do; Ransom Murdock, do; Mrs. Ann Viele, Barre; One man, middle aged, name unknown; Thomas Handy, Yates; Sophia Pratt, Toledo, [here on visit;] Perry Cole, Benton Corners; Mr. Cornell, South Barre.
A dispatch by the Morse line, says that in all, eighteen bodies had been taken out of the canal before 10 o’clock, and it was supposed as many more remained. No more names could be ascertained in the confusion and excitement that prevailed – [line undecipherable] County Agriculture Fair was being held about half a mile from the scene of the disaster, which called a great many people to the vicinity.
From Mr. Alonzo Grant, of this city, who came down from Albion on the 8:30 train, [undecipherable] some particulars and that may be of interest. A young man from Brockport had caused a rope to be stretched from the roof of the Mansion House, on the north side of the canal to a building on the south side, and announced that he would walk across on it. The rope was about two rods west of Main street bridge, an iron arched structure like most of the new canal bridges, which of course offered an eligible stand point from which to view the performance. It was accordingly crowded with people and teams. The rope walker had got part way across the canal, when the bridge broke in tow at the centre, precipitating all who were upon it into the middle of the canal. Men, women, children, horses and wagons, were all piled in an indiscriminate mass. The west half of the bridge went down first, and of course many of those who stood near the break, were pitched off in such a way, that when the east half of the bridge came down, which it did immediately, it fell upon and covered them up. Mr. Grant informs us that a pair of horses and a carriage full of people were crushed in this way so completely that nothing had been found of them when he left – two hours after the accident. He thinks that the number killed must be greater than reported by telegraph. According to his account the name of Dr. Randall, one of the most prominent citizens of Albion, should appear in the list of killed, but we hope it will prove that he was misinformed. The scene must have been most horrible. What became of the rope walker nobody appeared to know. He was not seen to cross the canal or to return to the side form which he started, so far as Mr. Grant could learn. He may have been startled by the crash so that he fell off his rope into the canal and swam ashore.


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