Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | May 11, 2014

Cornwall Bridge Disaster, June 23, 1908

Bridge Disaster0008

Construction started on the two spans of the New York Railway and Ottawa international bridge at Cornwall in 1898. In early September of 1898, pier two on the American bridge failed claiming 15 lives. Repaired the two bridges were open for rail traffic along the 129 mile line until the second failure in 1908.

Bridge Disaster0004The Cornwall “Freeholder” of June 26, 1908 reported:
The worst break in the history of the Cornwall Canal occurred on Tuesday morning of this week, when a large slice of the south bank, just above lock 18, was washed into the river, and the swing bridge of the Ottawa & New York Railway, which crosses the canal at this point, was totally wrecked, in consequence of the collapse of the pivot pier on which it rested…

Bridge Disaster0003The first intimation of trouble came at 4:45 a.m., when Lockmaster Michael Gleeson noticed that the usually clear water of the river was rather dirty. This suggested the possibility of a bank wreck in the canal, and investigation revealed a big leak a few yards west of the O & NY
Railway Bridge, and about 500 feet west of lock 18. The water was pouring through the rough stone wall on the river bank, below the bottom of the canal. The leak at that time was about as big as a barrel, but it soon grew, and it was no long that the whole bank gave way under the
terrific pressure of the water. This level is about 200 feet wide, and a mile and a quarter long and 14 deep. The bank for some distance at the place of the break was supported by a heavy dry wall of stone on the outside, with dovetailed piers at intervals. The gap in the bank soon became 150 or 160 feet wide, the force of the water throwing the masonry and earth out into the river like so much chaff.

Bridge Disaster0002As soon as the leak was discovered Alexander Eamer, the lockmaster, opened all the valves of lock 18, and telephoned to lock 19 to close all valves, at the same time asking the lockmen at the locks below him to lower their levels. Despite these precautions the rush of water through the break into the river 25 or 30 feet below was terrific, and it was not long after that the water from the level below lock 18 forced back the gates and augmented the flood by flowing westward or upstream. The torrent was around the base of the centre pier of the swing bridge, and about 6 a.m. the pier gave way. It seemed to buckle in the middle and the
bottom of the pier turned uppermost. The bridge was open or parallel with the canal, the ends resting on wooden trestles. Of course, these could not stand the strain, and the bridge, falling on the wreck of the pier, was twisted all out of shape and badly broken. By 7 a.m. the level was dry except for the leakage from the lock above and surface water.
A temporary bridge was opened in November 1908 and the bridge reopened in 1909.


  1. I remember this bridge so well and the NYC rr. Always wanted to ride the NYC .Great post

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