Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885

I have written about an unusual train wreck that occurred in late 1885 in Pelhamville. See The Pelhamville Train Wreck of 1885: "One of the Most Novel in the Records of Railroad Disasters", 80(1) The Westchester Historian pp. 36-43 (2004). For the next several days I will provide transcriptions of news articles about the wreck that appeared in local newspapers. The first, provided below, appeared on the first page of the December 28, 1885 issue of The New York Times.




The mail express train out of Boston known as the 'owl train,' due in this city at 6:25 o'clock yesterday morning, was running at a high rate of speed when it approached Pelhamville Station, 15 miles out from New-York, on the New-York, New-Haven and Hartford Railroad. It was nearly 6 o'clock and the train was a few minutes late. As it neared the station Engineer Riley Phillips saw that the track was strewn with timbers and planks. He had just time to shut off steam and apply the brakes when his engine struck the loose lumber, left the rails, plowed through the ties and frozen roadbed and finally rolled down a 60-foot embankment to the right of the track, followed by the Southern and Western mail car. The engineer and his fireman, Eugene Blake, were thrown out of the cab. The former landed in a ditch at the foot of the embankment, and escaped with some bruises and an internal injury which is not considered serious. The fireman was crushed beneath the wreck of the locomotive, and held fast. He was so badly hurt that he died on the ground a short time after the accident.

In the Southern and Western mail car, which pitched end over end down the embankment, were the head clerk, F. S. McCausland and his assistants, W. S. Hart, C. P. Turner, E. E. Clark, J. F. McCoy, Charles Mitchell, and Peter Conaty. Clark, Hart, and Turner were badly bruised about their bodies. Their wounds were dressed, and they were made as comfortable as possible. The rest of the train, which was in charge of Conductor E. Holcombe, consisted of a mail car, of the Boston and Albany line; a baggage car, the coach Martha, of the Mann Boudoir Car Company; two sleeping cars, in charge of Conductor Crane; a smoking car, and two ordinary passenger coaches. All of these cars were derailed, and the sixty or seventy passengers were thrown out of their berths or seats and received a severe shaking up, but no serious injuries. They were badly frightened by the sudden stopping of the train. One of the sleeping cars halted on the very edge of the embankment. Its heavy trucks and the coupling attaching it to the next car kept it on the roadbed. The wheels of the forward truck had sunk deeply into the ground.

F. S. McCausland, the chief mail clerk, said after getting out of his car, which was badly wrecked, that this was the fourth railroad accident he had been in, and he had been fortunate enough to escape every time with nothing more serious than some slight bruises. When he found the car going down the embankment he concluded the best thing to do was to brace himself as well as possible. This he did, and when the car landed he called out to the clerks: "Are any of you dead, boys?' To this inquiry he received answer that they were all right excepting a bad shaking up and some bruises received while they were alternately standing on their feet and their heads. The car was heated by a safety stove, which was riveted to the floor and the doors of which were locked. Not a coal escaped, and thus the horror of a fire was spared to the men.

The passengers in the sleeping cars found themselves in darkness as they were awakened and thrown from their berths, as all the lights had been extinguished. One only received a slight cut from a broken pane of glass. The men hurriedly dressed and joined Conductor Holcombe, Station Agent Merritt, and the train hands in the work of releasing the mail agent and rescuing the fireman from the wreck of the locomotive. Drs. Nutting and Carlisle, of Mount Vernon, were sent for in haste and they rendered such service as was possible to the dying man and attended to the wants of the engineer and others who had sustained injuries.

Some time after the accident the Adams Express train came down from New Rochelle, and took on board the passengers of the wrecked train and brought them to this city. At 10 o'clock a wrecking train arrived from New-Haven, and a large gang of men began the work of clearing away the wreck. The timbers and planks, which caused the accident, were a part of the station platform, which the high wind had torn from its place and piled upon the track. It is said that this platform was never permanently anchored to the ground. The planks were nailed to the timbers, which simply rested on the tops of posts driven into the ground. The rails along the platform were badly twisted and the ties were torn up and crushed, but Supt. William H. Stevenson, who was on the ground at an early hour, said that the line would be clear for trains this morning. He also said that the accident was an unforeseen and unavoidable one, as it could not be anticipated that the platform would be blown upon the track.

Eugene Blake, the unfortunate fireman, lived in New-Haven. He was 35 years old, and had been married only about five months. He was conscious but a short time after the accident, but during that time he called repeatedly for his wife. He appeared to be in great agony, and begged that the wight on his abdomen, which oppressed him, might be removed. His body was taken to the residence of W. A. McGalliord, at Pelhamville, and Coroner Tice was notified. He will hold an inquest at 11 o'clock to-day.

The news of the accident spread rapidly over the surrounding country. Pelhamville is not a village, but simply a station for the accommodation of passengers living along the line of the New-Haven Railroad between Mount Vernon on the west and New-Rochelle on the east. In a very short time people began to flock to the scene of the accident, and a crowd remained there all day viewing the wreck and watching the gangs of men engaged in clearing and repairing the track."

Source: The Platform Displaced, N. Y. Times, Dec. 28, 1885, p. 1.

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