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158 years ago, tragedy struck in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 September 2017 at 3:45 pm

At least 15 died when bridge collapsed on Sept. 28, 1859

ALBION – It’s our darkest day, Sept. 28, 1859.

It was supposed to a joyous, fun-filled occasion. The annual Orleans County Fair drew waves of people to Albion, and the celebration included a wire-walker, who would attempt to walk across the canal. A rope was strung just west of the Main Street bridge, reaching from the top of a hotel to a block of stores.

There was a wire-walking frenzy back in those days. Jean Francois Gravelet, “The Great Blondin,” walked across Niagara Falls on a tight rope on June 30, 1859. A bunch of copycats sprang up, including one in Albion three months later during the county fair.

The Main Street bridge was packed with 250 people and five horses to watch a wire walker, “a young adventurer from Brockport,” according to a newspaper account. The wirewalker didn’t get far. With a mass of people crowding to see the spectacle, he made it 10 feet. Then the wooden bridge gave out, plunging the crowd into the canal.

At least 15 people died, and many more were maimed and seriously injured.

Here are some of their names:

• Perry G. Cole, aged 19, Barre.

• Augusta Martin, aged 18, Carlton.

• Mrs. Ann Viele, aged 36, Gaines.

• Edwin Stillson, aged 16, Barre

• Joseph Code, aged 18, Albion

• Lydia Harris, aged 11, Albion

• Thomas Handy, aged 66, Yates

• Sarah Thomas, aged 10, Carlton

• Harry Henry, aged 22

• Ransom S. Murdock, aged 17, Carlton

• Adelbert Wilcox, aged 17, West Kendall

• Sophia Pratt, aged 18, Toledo, Ohio

• Thomas Aulchin, aged 50, Paris, C.W.

• Jane Lavery, aged 16, Albion

Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin and the Orleans County Historical Association put up a marker near the canal in 2002, noting the canal tragedy.

Lattin and the Historical Association deserve praise for getting the marker up to remember such a horrific loss in our local history. The community should do more than a historical marker to remember these children, young mothers and other county residents.

Orleans County is working on a waterfront plan for the canal in Albion, Gaines, Murray and Holley. (Medina is working on its own canal waterfront development plan.)

The Orleans plan should include a memorial in Albion. I think a memorial fountain by the canal between the two lift bridges in Albion would be a fitting recognition of this horrible event. The fountain would also beautify the canal and help draw people to the downtown area.

Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard wrote about the bridge collapse in his column on July 29, 2017. Click here to read it.

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