On December I5, 1893 a frightful railroad disaster occurred on the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad at Herrick’s Creek, two miles east of Dunkirk.
The rain and melting snow had raised the water in the creek so that it undermined the base of the railroad track over it, and the supporting bank on the Dunkirk side of the creek, so that when the westbound Mayville accommodation reached the bridge, it gave way. The baggage car, smoker and day coach were precipitated into a gorge twenty-five feet below.
Five persons were killed and six more or less injured. Of the killed, four were residents of Chautauqua county—Jesse Hodge, the conductor, of Brocton; Oscar Porter and his mother, Mrs. J. N. Porter, both of Brocton; and George Hyman, of Fredonia.
From the Dunkirk Observer – Dec. 16, 1893:
A Train Dashed to the Earth Through a Bridge at Sheridan, N.Y.
FIVE WERE KILLED AND SEVERAL HURT.
Baggagman McKane of Buffalo and Supervisor of Brocton Among the killed.
THE TRESTLE SUPPORTS WERE WSHED AWAY.
The Cars Were Piled at the Bottom of Ravine in a Confused Mass.
Dunkirk, N.Y.. Dec. 16 – A disaster in which five persons lost their lives occurred at Herrick’s Bridge, two miles east of this place, at 6:50 o’clock Friday evening.
West-bound train No. 16 on the Western New York & Pennsylvania went through the bridge and the cars were piled in disorder on the banks of the creek.
The engine had passed over the bridge before it gave way, but immediately rolled down a high embankment. The baggage car struck on one end and rests in an upright position against the abutment. The smoker and day coach were badly wrecked and the former now stands at an angle of 45 degrees.
Those killed are:
Jesse Hodge, conductor, Brocton.
William McKane, baggageman, Buffalo.
Oscar Porter, Brocton.
Mrs. John Porter, Brocton.
George Hyman, Fredonia.
The injurd are:
Charlotte Friedholm, Dunkirk,. scalp wound and perhaps internal injuries.
Mabel Williams, daughter of J. T. Williams, proprietor of the Dunkirk Observer, not serious.
Mrs. Oscar Porter, Brocton, two severe cuts o head and right ankle fractured.
Byron E. Barton, Mayville. Scalp wound and severe cut on left arm; right hand cut and bruised.
A.W. McLane, Brocton, engineer, head severely cut and badly bruised.
Barkley ????, Brocton, fireman, left arm fairly bruised; deep cut in the head; very serious.
People were promplty on hand to give assistance. All the injured were taken into the home of Mr. Lee Herrick, where doctors from Silver Creek and Dunkirk gave them careful attention.
The scene at the wreck was terrible. The dead, the dying and the search by friends and others for the missing in the dark with only lanterns and the lights from a bonfire, while the roaring of the swollen stream and the doleful moaning of the wind added to the gloom of the Scene.
The number of the passengers is not known, but it was a light train.
Herrick’s Creek, where the accident occured, is a small creek which dries up in mid-summer, but attains considerable size during heavy rain. Yesterday morning the water began to rise, and by late afternoon the melted snow from the surrounding hills and the rain had swelled the little stream to a heavy torrent.
The rushing flood washed away the rocks supporting the overpass so that, while the bridge appeared sound, it was held up only by the rails and the stiffness of its own construction.
The engineer noticed the unusual height of the water, but as everything appeared to be all right, he went ahead. Not until he was on the weakest point of the bridge, the side toward Dunkirk, did he realize that the train was going through the trestle.
It is a wonderful that anyone escaped alive. The day coach was the scene of the most fatalities. There were seven passengers in it and part of them are now lying in the Dunkirk morgue.
Byron R. Barton of Mayville, one of the three who escaped, said: “It was the most terrible experience of my life. I was sitting in the extreme rear seat, half asleep, when I felt the earth going out from under me, and in an instant I was on top of a heap of people at the other end of the car. It was all so sudden that I cannot tell how it happened. All I know is that when I cam to my senses I broke open a window and looked out.
“I saw the water bellow and hesitated to jump. I was still alive and I was not risking anything more, I can tell you.”
The Porters were sitting two seats in front of Mr. Barton’s when the car fell. Mrs. Porter, the mother, and Oscar Porter, were thrown headlong down the entire length of the car and must have been killed instantly. Mrs. Oscar Porter must have been caught by the back of a seat.
Medical aid was at once summoned from Dunkirk and soon the injured were having as good care as possible in the house of D. N. Herrick a short distance from the fatal trestle.
The dead were laid upon the grass temporarily.
Men with lanterns and crowbars went to work on the ruins. It was a tank to try the nerves of brave men. Hour after hour they searched and at midnight an arm was seen protruding from the wreckage formed by the ????, the rear of the baggage car and the front of the smoker.
It was the body of conductor Hodge. His head was buried deep in the debris and tons of wreckage will have to be lifted before his body can be taken out.
The body of McCain, the baggageman, has not yet been recovered. It was either buried deep in the ruins or was washed away by the flooded creek.
The engineer and fireman do not know how they escaped. McLane, the engineer, found himself lying beside the engine at the bottom of the embankment. ????, the fireman, went with the engine, too, and came to his senses not far away from it.
???? is seriously injured and it is feared he will not recover. He was to have been married to a Mayville young lady soon.
Jesse Hodge, the dead concutor, leaves a wife and five children.
McKane, the baggageman, lived with his wife at No. 410 North Division Street.
Mr. Porter, the passenger killed, was a man of middle age, married and with a family of children. He was a well-known resident of Portland and one of the largest and most successful grape growers in the Lake Shore region.
No surgeon could save George Hyman, who was ???? of the Forest Hill Cemetery at Fredonia an hour after the accident he died.
– J. Sample, Chautauqua County Historical Society