Monument planned by canal in Albion for 15 victims of bridge collapse from 1859

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Albion Rotary Club would like a monument in this area of the canal for the 15 victims of the bridge collapse from Sept. 28, 1859. There is a historical marker about the tragedy on the west side of the canal, but that marker doesn’t include the names of the victims.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 April 2023 at 8:56 am

ALBION – The Village Board on Wednesday backed an effort by the Albion Rotary Club to have a red granite monument by the canal that would honor the 15 victims of the bridge collapse from Sept. 28, 1859.

The monument would be approximately 4 feet high and would note one of the worst tragedies to ever happen on the canal and in Orleans County.

The monument is planned to have artwork on the side facing the water, perhaps 15 handprints to represent the victims. The other side would face the one-way street next to Krantz Furniture. That side would include the names of the victims and provide a brief description of the incident that claimed their lives.

File photo: A historic marker just west of the bridge notes the calamity but doesn’t have enough room to list the people who perished in the disaster.

The deceased from the bridge collapse include: Perry. G. Cole, 19, of Barre; Augusta Martin, 18, of Carlton; Ann Viele, 36, of Gaines; Edwin Stillson, 16, of Barre; Joseph Code, 18, of Albion; Lydia Harris, 11, of Albion; Thomas Handy, 66, of Yates; Sarah Thomas, 10, of Carlton; Harry Henry, 22, of Saratoga County; Ransom S. Murdock, 17, of Carlton; Adelbert Wilcox, 17, of West Kendall; Sophia Pratt, 18, of Toledo, Ohio; Thomas Aulchin, 50, of Paris, C.W; and Jane Lavery, 16, of Albion.

This side of the monument could include artwork to show a silhouette of a wire walker and an image of the bridge.

A big crowd of 250 people and five horses were jammed onto the bridge to watch a wire walker on that fateful day. The community was hosting its annual county fair. At the time the fairgrounds was on Orchard Street about a block from the canal.

A wirewalker, George Williams of Brockport, was going to cross the canal which was about half the width as it is now. The wirewalker took a few steps on the tight rope just west of the canal and then the bridge collapsed, killing 15 people and maiming many others.

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 Rotary Club will be seeking a grant through the Rotary district to help pay for the project. It expects to hear back on that application in July. The monument may not be ready until late 2023 or early 2024. The village will put in a concrete footer for the monument, which would be delivered and installed by Brigden Memorials in Albion.

Editor’s Note: I’m a member of the Rotary Club and am “project manager” for the club in working on this monument. I believe the monument will highlight a very tragic day in the community’s past and also will help with heritage tourism efforts in the community. The Albion canal waterfront can use more elements that would interest people. This monument would leave a strong impression on local residents and visitors.

This monument would also be in place for the 200th navigational season on the Erie Canal next year, and also a year before the bicentennial anniversaries for both the Erie Canal and Orleans County in 2025.