“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near High Bridge in Hunterdon County, New Jersey — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

The Gorge Bridge Train Wreck

The High Bridge Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey

The Gorge Bridge Train Wreck Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Alan Edelson, August 20, 2009
1. The Gorge Bridge Train Wreck Marker
Inscription.  The most memorable train wreck in the history of the High Bridge Branch occurred on the morning of Saturday, April 18, 1885 when the central and southern spans of the 250' long Gorge Bridge (now called the Ken Lockwood Gorge Bridge) collapsed as a heavily laden iron ore train drawn by a powerful Baldwin 4-6-0 locomotive (#112) named Columbia, just started to cross the southern span of the wooden Howe Truss bridge.

The 46 car train was coming from the iron mines in Chester, Port Oram (Wharton) and Hibernia, to High Bridge. It had 40 freight cars loaded with 500 tons of iron ore, 5 freight cars containing 90 tons of pig iron and a caboose. As the locomotive and first few cars of the ill-fated train passed over the bridge, the center and southern spans collapsed, dropping the locomotive to the hillside below. The remainder of the train plunged 60' into the South Branch of the Raritan River. The northern span remained intact. Daniel Bryant, the engineer, jumped out of the locomotive window believing death was imminent and landed on several rocks, receiving only minor injuries. John McGran, the locomotive fireman, also jumped to safety.

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McEvoy, the middle brakeman, saved his life by leaping from his position on top of the freight car just a second or two before it plunged into the river. John Bangham, the conductor, and August Gess, the rear brakeman, were both located in the caboose and looked on in horror as the tragedy unfolded before their eyes. They also jumped from the train with only seconds to spare.

Henry Haltiman of Port Oram, the head brakeman, was not so fortunate. He was on top of the fifth freight car when the bridge collapsed. The 26 year old tried desperately to apply the brakes on his freight car to stop the train, but it was too late and in an instant, rode the freight car to his death. He was buried under the twisted wreckage. This was the only fatatlity in the history of the High Bridge Branch. The following morning Mr. Haltiman's body was recovered shortly before noon. His watch had stopped at the time of the accident: 10:05 A.M.

Following the accident, the railroad quickly cleared the wreckage to restore train service. To keep the locomotive from falling, workers tied it to nearby trees, then jacked it up and built an earthen support under it to bring it back up to track level.

When the wreckage was gradually removed from the bottom of the rocky gorge and the waters of the South Branch, it was apparent the bridge and the train were a total loss. For a few
The Gorge Bridge Train Wreck Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Alan Edelson, August 20, 2009
2. The Gorge Bridge Train Wreck Marker
days the site attracted hundreds of curiosity seekers from miles around. Six days later, trains began using the new temporary bridge. The flagman's shack, which stood near this sign, served as a telegraph station for communication with railroad officials during the removal of the wreck and repair to the bridge.

A new steel bridge was built in 1891 to replace the temporary wooden structure that was in use before the collapse and in 1931 this new steel bridge was strengthened to accomodate much larger, more powerful and heavier locomotives. This is the bridge that stands today.

Locomotive #112 was quickly repaired and returned to service. However, since this was its third serious wreck on the Branch, many railroaders considered it to be jinxed and it was transferred to the main line, where it hauled coal trains for the next 17 years. It was sold in 1902 to the New York Equipment Company for re-sale to another railroad.
Erected by County of Hunterdon - Department of Parks and Recreation.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Bridges & ViaductsNotable EventsRailroads & Streetcars. A significant historical date for this entry is April 18, 1885.
Location. 40° 41.835′ N, 74° 52.357′ W. Marker is near High Bridge, New Jersey, in Hunterdon County.
View of the current bridge from the gorge below. image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Alan Edelson, August 20, 2009
3. View of the current bridge from the gorge below.
Marker is located on the Columbia Trail at the south end of the bridge. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: High Bridge NJ 08829, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Voorhees State Park (approx. 0.8 miles away); Hamlet of Readingsburg (approx. 1.1 miles away); High Bridge and Longwood Valley Branch (approx. 1.2 miles away); High Bridge Company 1268 / Civilian Conservation Corps (approx. 1.2 miles away); Lebanon Township Veterans Monument (approx. 1˝ miles away); Welcome to the Twp. of Lebanon (approx. 1˝ miles away); a different marker also named Lebanon Township Veterans Monument (approx. 1˝ miles away); Taylor Steelworkers Historic Greenway (approx. 1.7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in High Bridge.
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on August 20, 2009, by Alan Edelson of Union Twsp., New Jersey. This page has been viewed 4,972 times since then and 310 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on August 20, 2009, by Alan Edelson of Union Twsp., New Jersey. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page.

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Dec. 10, 2023