Calamity

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158-170 N. Main Street
Albion, New York
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Inscription

Calamity
Sept. 28, 1859
250 people & 5 horses gathered here on a wooden bridge to watch a tightrope walker cross the canal. It collapsed killing 15 people

Erected

By The Orleans County Historical Association — 2002

What was there

A wooden bridge across the canal, with buildings on both sides – on one side, a hotel – and on the other side, a row of shops.  It was between these buidings that the rope was suspended.  This was the site of the Orleans County Fair on this day in 1859.

From the Orleans Republican newspaper on October 5,1859:

At 5:15 the gymnast began his walk, but had not advanced more than ten feet, when an ominous creaking and groaning of the bridge was heard, and immediately a man was seen to leap far out into the water. The rope-walker threw him his balancing pole, and then dropped down into a sitting posture upon the rope, in which position he remained until the worst was over….This passed in a moment. In the next, the footwalk gave way under the pressure, and was immediately followed by the remainder of the structure, carrying with it into the water about 250 persons, of whom a considerable number were forced under the remains.

What is there now

A modern steel deck lift bridge across the canal, and modern downtown Albion.

More information

  • The tightrope walker was George Williams of Brockport, who was inspired by French gymnast, Charles Blondin’s, walk across a 1,100-foot-long tight rope, while suspended 160 feet above the Niagara River, just 3 months earlier.
  • Some reports indicate that as many has 1000 people may have been on the bridge at the time of the collapse, and that 18 people died.  At least one person was killed as she stood on the towpath below the bridge as it collapsed.
  • Newspaper accounts of the 1859 Erie Canal Bridge Collapse

Submitted by

We would like to thank the following for helping us with this entry:
Kelly Lucero



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