Terrible Railroad Calamity at the C & D Canal Drawbridge

Early one Wednesday morning in January 1862, a train pulled out of New Castle while a furious ice, sleet and rain storm gripped northern Delaware.  The extra with 13 empty platform cars and a passenger coach was proceeding down the Delaware road, with 25-laborers for a load of wood. It rolled safely past the quiet St Georges Station in the pre-dawn darkness.

As it neared the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal the conductor, Albert Butler, stepped out onto the platform to look out for the drawbridge and apply the brakes if necessary.  But there was no light about the bridge as there should have been.  The draw, in order not to impede navigation on the canal was kept open, only being closed to allow trains to pass over.  He applied the brakes but the discovery came too late to stop the forward motion, especially with the ice on the road making things slippery.   Mr. Butler jumped to safety from his position in the back of the train, but about that time he heard the engine plunge into the canal, with car after car following behind, until all of them were piled upon each other.  The scene was one of horrible confusion, a mass of iron, timber, and human beings.  The engineer, Josiah Anderson was killed instantly, as well as the firemen, Edward Menam.

bridge-collpase-delaware

The January 15, 1862, accident at the C & D Canal drawbridge is the first one found in the records, but there were others railroad accidents at the draws. This image shows an accident that occurred at Laurel early in the 20th century.

Friends noted that Mr. Anderson, who had worked for the P. W & B. Railroad Company since 1836, was a careful engineer.  Sy, as his friends called him, seldom traveled this road so he must have momentarily lost his reckoning, not thinking that he was near the bridge, they speculated.  Seven people were killed and a number were injured on that cold winter morning in Delaware so many years ago.

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4 Responses to Terrible Railroad Calamity at the C & D Canal Drawbridge

  1. Michael King says:

    Thanks so much for this page! I found this via Google. I go to Bo Manor High, and for Mr. Means’ history class, I had to do a local history project. I used this picture as part of my paper on the C & D Canal! Then I realized it was you, Mike Dixon, Kyle Dixon’s dad! Very cool. Again, thanks for the great blog and finding this awesome picture.

  2. Mike says:

    Thanks Michael. Let us know if you need any additional images for your project.

  3. Chris says:

    Great post! I came across another photo of this train wreck, taken from a slightly different angle, and your post helped me confirm the date and location of my photo. I wrote about it here: http://papergreat.blogspot.com/2011/05/photo-from-1862-train-accident-in.html

  4. ray says:

    Sorry but this is June 20,1904, the bridge is over the Laurel River in Laurel Delaware, the train was the Norfolk Express No85, the engine is a class E2a #5252, and the boat the engine is resting on is the Golden Gate as it was passing the bridge out to the Delaware River. Engineer William E County was killed in the accident (who was successor to engineer Cooper of this run, who was recently killed in an accident at Farnhurst De). There are at least three different views know of this accident, this is one of two photos looking to the west, the other view is looking from the west to the east on the other side of the bridge. For details see the Evening Journal Mon and Tue June 1904.

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