Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Opinion

March 8, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Train crashes took local lives

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In the early 20th century people relied on trains to get them from one destination to another. It wasn’t until the 1920s that automobiles started to become commonplace on the roads of Niagara County. Two accidents, both occurring in the month of July and both involving trains, took the lives of at least 12 people, seven of whom were children.

The first of these incidents occurred on Wednesday, July 11, 1906, in Martinsville, a hamlet in North Tonawanda. The train, described as a “double headed passenger trolley,” mysteriously jumped the switch while heading south on the Buffalo & Lockport Railway. 

The train had left Olcott Beach earlier in the evening and had already been in Lockport. It was scheduled to reach the Martinsville station at 9:10 p.m. on its way to Buffalo. Most of the passengers had just spent a summer’s day at the Lake Ontario resort. Just before arriving in Martinsville, the train was given the all clear to proceed to the station, presuming that the track was clear. 

Three hundred feet before the station, the passenger train collided with a standing New York Central freight train. The front passenger car was destroyed, killing five people and injuring another dozen. Passengers in the second car were uninjured but were in a state of shock after the accident. 

Among the dead were the train motorman, John Biddleman, of Webb Street, Lockport, as well as Charles Hutchinson of Park Avenue; a 22-year-old mother and her three-year-old son, and another young woman from Buffalo. Another Lockport man, Lee Johnson, was not expected to survive his injuries. Most of the injured passengers were from Buffalo.

Ironically, Niagara County Coroner Dr. Jacob E. Helwig lived in Martinsville. He immediately began assisting the injured. The next day the Lockport Union-Sun left little to the imagination, reporting in gruesome detail the condition of the dead and injured passengers. Despite repeated denials by several railroad workers, human error was found to be the cause of the collision. 

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