Friday, April 29, 2011

The Hartford Bridge Disaster of 1887

A newspaper illustration of a train car half-submerged in under ice, with fire behind it and several escaping figures in front of it.In the frigid early morning hours of Saturday, February 5, 1887, a Vermont Central train, the “night express,” was heading north to Montreal. Having just left the station in White River Junction, it approached the 650-foot long wooden trestle bridge across the White River, four miles north of town. The train consisted of an engine, a baggage car, a mail car, two passenger coaches, a sleeping car from Springfield, Massachusetts, and a Pullman car from Boston. All told, about 80 people were on the train that morning.

There was a jolt as the train approached the bridge abutment. The rear sleeper jumped the tracks and fell from the bridge onto the frozen river 40 feet below, taking with it the three cars ahead of it. These cars uncoupled from the front of the train, which was able to get off the bridge to safety. The impact of the fall scattered the coaches, and they almost instantly caught fire, likely from the burning stoves and oil lamps on board. The burning cars then set fire to the bridge, and it, too, collapsed onto the ice.

A photograph of a house amid a snowy field.
The Paine house where the wounded were first taken,
and where Conductor Strutevant died February 6.
Reports indicate that the temperature was nearly 20 below zero, and the ice on the river nearly 2 feet thick, so water was not readily available. Unable to abate the fire, survivors and the volunteers who had rushed to the scene placed their efforts on getting as many people as possible out of the wreckage before the flames made it impossible be near the train. Accounts vary, but approximately 35 people died in the crash and fire, and another 40 were injured, making this the worst rail disaster in Vermont.

A photograph of trucks and debris on snow.
South abutment from the ice,
showing broken trucks, etc., in foreground
This photograph of the disaster, along with several others, were taken by Hanover photographer H.H.H. Langell. During the subsequent investigation, he also photographed the section of flawed rail blamed for the accident.

Ask for the "Hartford, Vermont Bridge Disaster" photo file and the "Hartford (Vermont) Bridge Wreck" vertical file to find out more about this incident.

1 comment :

  1. At least one Dartmouth student, Edward Franklin Dillon 1888, was among the dead.