Family Genealogists Help Document Story of Brakeman Edwin Roach Killed in Railroad Explosion

Edwin and Martha Roach. source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Roach, III, family historians

Edwin and Martha Roach. source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Roach, III, family historians

I have been investigating a deadly Delaware tragedy, an explosion that occurred over one hundred years ago in Greenwood. In the midst of a blinding snowstorm two trains collided in the center of the town of 367 people, and one pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha exploded.

While opening up the doors to the past, I’ve spent several days in the Sussex County community searching for clues at an array of places. Fieldwork took me to the town hall, public library, cemeteries, the local nursing home, and elsewhere. There has also been manuscript research at the Delaware Public Archives, which was coupled with digital data.

One added perspective to aid in piecing this puzzle together involved finding the tradition-bearers, the community and family members who carry the stories down through time. These priceless links to the past (whether firsthand accounts or family stories), help present events in a different context.

This information arrived via an unexpected email from Jane Roach Butler and Harry Edwin Roach III, family genealogists.  These recorders of family history have been doing their own inquiry, digging up those traces of earlier times. Their extensive work included death certificates, newspapers, probate records, family lore, and other typical sources for genealogy, including personal photos.

The railroad man killed in the accident, Edwin Roach, was their great-grandfather, the son of Daniel & Eliza “Sally” Jones Roach. This was a great personal tragedy “which resounded through the lives of his parents, widow, children and grandchildren. He was a purposeful man of promise, owning various properties in Sussex Co. His death at such a young age would, as it were, dampen the future of his children, forever changing the course of their lives,” Jane wrote earlier this week.

Edwin (1874 – 1903) was born and raised in Georgetown. He resided in Wilmington with his wife Martha “Mattie” Jones Roach (1872 – 1964), and their children at the time of his death. Mattie was not related to either of the two Delaware Jones family lines, as she was born in Ambler, PA. She never remarried and Edwin is buried at Union Cemetery in Georgetown.

Edwin’s name is given as Edward in newspaper accounts and that was picked up by wire services, spreading that information far and wide.  The State of Delaware’s Certificate of Death notes that Edwin Roach, 30 of Wilmington, Delaware, a railroad brakeman, died from an explosion on a train on Dec. 4, 1903. The certificate was issued by Pepper & Mc Glorhean, Undertaker of Georgetown, DE. The headstone at the cemetery marks his death as taking place on the 2nd. “We believe his death was instantaneous and the confusing surrounding the accident may have led to this death certificate error” she observes.

“It would be lovely to set the record straight on his name these so many years later,” Jane concluded. First, thanks Jane and Harry for generously sharing your research, including photos.

Hopefully this blog post helps with that, too.   The Greenwood tragedy clearly illustrates the need for multiple perspectives as newspapers and the death certificate sometimes misstated information.

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Delaware Death Certificate for Edwin Roach. Source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Edwin Roach III

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The Women and their Kitten, Scouty, Advance on Washington, D.C.

New York Suffragists, and their mascot, Saxon, in Portland after an auto trip for NY.     source:  Philadelphia Ledger, July 9, 1916

New York Suffragists, and their mascot, Saxon, in Portland after an auto trip for NY.
source: Philadelphia Ledger, July 9, 1916

By the second decade of the 20th century woman had been fighting for the right to the ballot for over 60-years. Along the way, they had become experts at figuring out how to grab attention, and one of their well-honed techniques was to take long automobile tours in specially decorated vehicles. They were frequently accompanied by a mascot, often a kitten.

Delaware was treated to one of these unique events in February 1913 as a determined band tramped across the State, advancing on their objective, the occupation of Washington, D.C.

The suffrage army stepped sprightly into Delaware on February 18, 1913, to the tune of “Marching through Georgia.” The first person to officially greet them was the Claymont postmaster, Eben H. Baldwin. A little ways down the road at the Robinson Mansion, Jeff Davis, a gentle bulldog adorned with “votes for women” strode confidentially up to the General Rosalie Jones, heading the march.

Slightly ahead of the main group of marching campaigners was the chief scout, Olive Schultz, driving an automobile. At the Philadelphia Pike Toll House William J. Whiteford, met the advance officer, motoring toward Wilmington in the muddy machine with a bright yellow suffrage banner on the side.

There the scout car driver received an animal mascot, a kitten, donated by Mrs. Whiteford. Olive named it “Scouty” and said he would occupy a seat of honor when the brightly decorated vehicle rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on March 3rd. Also at the toll house was Mrs. A. L. Steinlein, president of the Arden Suffrage Club and her supporters. For ten years women had voted on village affairs.

And Scouty occupied a prime seat when the advanced guard rolled into the District of Columbia.

suffrage delaware 2500 signaturesw suporters headquaters dover phil ledger march 22 1920

In 1920, the nation’s attention centered on Dover, as the Legislature voted on the constitutional amendment. Here supports in Dover show the 26,000 signatures favoring voting rights for women. source: Philadelphia Ledger, March 22, 1920.

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Researching the Greenwood Delaware Disaster of 1903

Recently I have been doing research on a deadly Delaware tragedy that spurred a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad to push for national safety transportation regulations.  Following a number of accidents involving powerful explosives, including a catastrophic one in Greenwood, DE, the Bureau of Explosives was created under the American Railway Association.

The Sussex County disaster occurred over a hundred years ago, December 2, 1903.  In the midst of a blinding snow storm two trains collided in the center of the town of 367 people.  One pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha exploded, the blast and fire severely damaging the Sussex County community.

Since I have been searching for photographs, maps, and other sources, here is some additional material that has been located:

Click here to read a narrative about the disaster.

This is a post about the research process and going about finding material on the incident.

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Scenes from the destruction in the vicinity of the railroad junction in Greenwood. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1903

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Dr. Johnson’s home and barn. His horse was trapped in the barn and died during the blaze. source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1904

One of the Locomotives.  Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1903

One of the Locomotives. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 4, 1903

This is a Sanborn Map of 1924, some 20 years after the incident.  It is the only detailed map of Greenwood I have located thus far and was the only series Sanborn published for the town.  source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924.

This is a Sanborn Map of 1924, some 20 years after the incident. It is the only detailed map of Greenwood I have located thus far and was the only series Sanborn published for the town. source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924.

One of the pages of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1929. Source:  Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924

One of the pages of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1929.
Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1924

The Delaware State Gazeteer for 1874 describes the village a number of decades before the accident.  Source:  Delaware state Gazetteer 1874 via Google Books

The Delaware State Gazeteer for 1874 describes the village a number of decades before the accident. Source: Delaware state Gazetteer 1874 via Google Books

The Delaware State Gazetteer, 1874.  source:  Google Books

The Delaware State Gazetteer, 1874. source: Google Books

Philadelphia Inquirer report on the extent of the disaster.  source:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 5, 1903

Philadelphia Inquirer report on the extent of the disaster. source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 5, 1903

A report on the extent of the damage.  Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer.  Dec. 5, 1903

A report on the extent of the damage. Source: Philadelphia Inquirer. Dec. 5, 1903

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A Day of Horror in Greenwood as Train With Deadly Cargo Explodes

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A postcard of Greenwood, DE a few years after the explosion, Circa 1910. Source: Delaware Public Archives. https://www.flickr.com/photos/delawarepublicarchives/8680928364/in/photostream/

In the little town of Greenwood a day and night of horror arrived abruptly while a blinding snowstorm pummeled Delaware on Dec. 2, 1903.  In those treacherous conditions, the brakes of a shifting engine failed, causing it to slide out on the main line as a southbound train approached town.  The extra, Engine 5160, nearing the junction of the Delaware and Queen Anne’s Railroads at 12:15 p.m., was creeping cautiously down the tracks at about 20 miles-per-hour while pulling some 30 to 40 freight cars.

Piloting 5160 and its deadly cargo down the road, Engineer William Shepherd reported that blinding snow prevented him from seeing more than a few feet ahead, the Baltimore Sun reported.  In those near whiteout conditions, the shifter suddenly loomed into view.  His whistle cried out with an urgent shriek and he applied the brakes while shouting to Conductor Hall and Brakeman Edwin Roach to jump.  But they did not have time.

In Greenwood, the people heard the shrill warning and the noise of heavy metal bending and twisting.  Moments later, there was a deafening roar when a boxcar of dynamite exploded, instantly filling the air with flying debris, fire and smoke.  That first powerful blast was followed quickly by another eruption as naphtha tank cars took fire, shooting burning liquid out over the landscape.  The combination of the explosion and the highly flammable liquid scattered a rain of liquid fire that shock the countryside, newspapers reported.

Instantly nine houses, and three wrecked tanks cars were wrapped in flames.  Dazed, terror stricken residents rushed from their homes into the howling storm, trying to ascertain what rocked the Sussex County village.  The flames were shooting up in the air so the uninjured headed toward the accident to render whatever aid they could.   They faced three urgent tasks, trying to save lives from the wreck, save their own homes, and the need to care for the injured.

To make matters worse, the storm continued intensifying and communications with outside communities was impossible as the blast brought down all telephone and telegraph wires.  As soon as possible a locomotive was sent to Seaford and it returned with a special train carrying five physicians.  The doctors began looking after the injured while citizens directed their efforts to save burning buildings and people.

In time people from neighboring areas started arriving in sleighs, offering to provide shelter to those whose homes were uninhabitable.   As darkness came to Greenwood on a day of unimaginable horror, the driving snowstorm in all its fury, was raging more intensely.

Throughout the dark, unsettled Wednesday night it was difficult to assess the full extent of the damage.  But upon the arrival of the gray dawn of Thursday, the people of the snow covered town  were better able to see the wreckage and desolation.  The explosion came with such a force that it plowed a hole in the ground large enough to bury the engine.

There was hardly a sound house in town, some having been torn to pieces, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  A number were half overturned, many had great holes in their walls, doors were torn from their hinges, and practically every window in town was smashed.  And there was the great pile of freight, one on top of another, the newspaper noted.

Killed in the explosion were Brakeman Edwin Roach of Georgetown and an infant child.  There were also reports that three hoboes hitching a ride in a car had perished.   About eight families were homeless, at least twenty people suffered injuries, and practically every structure had suffered damage to some extent.

The shock from the blast was felt in communities across three counties.  Everyone in Caroline felt the terrific explosion, the Denton Journal reported.

Ten days later the Washington Times reported that “a secret explosive wrecked Greenwood.”  A glance over the stricken town furnished proof positive that something more deadly than 100 pounds of dynamite exploded in the wreck of the two freight trains on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the paper remarked.  This, if a dynamite explosion, was a thousand-pound job.”   The car which blew up was loaded in New York and was consigned to the government, its destination being Newport News.  “It contained a quantity of new explosive, a terrible instrument of death,” the reporter added.

The railroad junction and tower in Greenwood.  A postcard, circa 1908.  Source Delaware Public Archives:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/delawarepublicarchives/8679818901/in/photostream/

The railroad junction and tower in Greenwood. A postcard, circa 1908. Source Delaware Public Archives: https://www.flickr.com/photos/delawarepublicarchives/8679818901/in/photostream/

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Tri-State Marker Trail Dedication and Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Mason Dixon Survey

The Tri-State Marker

The Tri-State Marker

Press Release — Friends of White Clay Creek Preserve

June 6, 2015 (National Trails Day)

9am to 1 pm

Download a flyer here. It has all the hikes and details about the event!

Join the Friends of White Clay Creek Preserve and Wilmington Trail Club on National Trail Day, Saturday, June 6, 2015 as we celebrate the completion of the northern segment of the trail to the Mason-Dixon Tri-State Marker. This marker was set 250 years ago by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to settle the border dispute between Pennsylvania (and later Delaware) and Maryland. At 11 am there will be a dedication ceremony at the Tri-State Marker as hikers arrive carrying the flags from all three states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware.

This is a rain or shine event, dress accordingly. Bring water and pack snacks and/or your lunch.

Limited transportation from the Carpenter Area of the White Clay Creek State Park, in Delaware, will be available for those wanting to attend the ceremony but unable to hike to it. Email friendsofwhiteclaycreek@gmail.com to reserve a space on the bus. Seating is limited– those making reservations will be guaranteed seating. It will be available to others if available

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94-Year Old Relative of Officer Killed in Line of Duty in 1915 Attends Wilmington Police Ceremony

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94-Year-Old Francis J. Tierney, the nephew of Wilmington Officer Francis X. Tierney attended the ceremony. Patrolman Tierney’s end of watch was March 1915.

May 8, 2015, the Wilmington Police Department unveiled a memorial wall honoring the ten members of the Wilmington Police Force who have been killed in the line of duty .  A member of the current police academy, the 96th class, read the roll call of WPD’s fallen officers, as the individual plaques were uncovered.

The young recruit, who will soon be patrolling city streets, solemnly read each name.   About half-way through the roll call he announced in a deep voice, Police Officer Francis X. Tierney, End of Watch, Saturday, March 6, 1915.  Died from gunfire.

Patrolman Tierney, 31, was shot and killed as he and three other lawmen attempted to arrest two suspicious men who were attempting to pawn two watches.  When the officers arrived the men fled and exchanged shots with the authorities.  The patrolmen chased the suspects into a nearby stable where Patrolman Tierney was shot and killed and the other officers were wounded.  The two suspets were taken into custody and the man who killed the patrolman was executed on May 14, 1915.  Patrolman Tierney had served with the agency for only three months.

Wilmington Patrolman Francis X. Tierney, EOD March 6, 1915  source:  Delaware Police Chief's Council  http://depolicechiefscouncil.org/in-memoriam.html

Wilmington Patrolman Francis X. Tierney, EOD March 6, 1915 source: Delaware Police Chief’s Council http://depolicechiefscouncil.org/in-memoriam.html

The recruit added that a relative of the patrolman, Mr. Francis J. Tierney, 94, was present for the ceremony. After the memorial was over I made my way to the front of the room and talked to Mr. Tierney.  He had been named for the young city policeman and we talked about that.

I also inquired so to whether he knew Dr. Helen Tierney and he said, yes that was his sister.  There were 11 children in his family. So I mentioned how much I had enjoyed working with the retired professor and scholar of women’s studies as she returned back home to Newark, DE and eventually started living in the family cottage along the Elk River.  He said, you know I built that house on the River.

At least I had a chance to let him know that in local history circles Dr. Tierney’s work hasn’t been forgotten.

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Maryland Paper Money: An Illustrated History, 1864-1935 Released

MarylandPaperMoney_NowAvailableA new regional title, Maryland Paper Money:  An Illustrated History, 1864-1935, by J Fred Maples has been released.  This 348-page hardcover book documents Maryland’s national currency era of banking from 1864 to 1935.  Among 300 photos of surviving notes are shown, including many rarities from the landmark Marc Watts Collection of National Currency.

The book is available for purchase online at

http://www.lulu.com/content/hardcover-book/maryland-paper-money-an-illustrated-history-1864-1935/15903344

and

www.marylandpapermoney.com

 

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