Thaxtons Switch, VA Train Wreck, Jul 1889



Railroad Casualty in Virginia---A Number of Passengers Severely Burned.

LIBERTY, Va., July 2.---A fearful wreck occurred on the Norfolk & Western railroad near Thaxtons, about thirty miles above this city. Five persons were killed, nearly all of whom were train hands, and quite a number of persons injured. The train wrecked was known as No. 2, which left Roanoke a few minutes before midnight. A heavy rain storm had prevailed throughout Virginia for about forty-eight hours, and the train was moving slowly and behind schedule time when it ran into a washout about 1:30 this morning near Thaxtons. The locomotive and several cars were thrown into the ditch, but the sleeper remained on the track. The cars caught fire after falling into the ditch and quite a number of passengers were severely burned in addition to those injured by the wreck. Telegrams were at once sent to Roanoke for assistance and in a short time a special train arrived from that city bearing a fire company and a number of physicians.

Engineer Patrick Donovan, Train Dispatcher Lifsey and the fireman were burned to death. Some of the passengers were also burned to death.

The New Haven Evening Register, New Haven, CT 2 Jul 1889





LYNCHBURG, Va., July 2---A fearful accident, by which many lives were lost and a large number of people injured, occurred on the Norfolk and Western Railroad at 2:30 o'clock this morning, one mile above Flaxton's switch and 31 miles above the city. Rain had been falling almost continuously and at times very heavily for twenty-four hours swelling the mountain streams greatly beyond their normal state. Several trains had passed over the road during the night and it was thought the line was safe for traffic. At the place of the accident, however, the water had undermined the railroad and caused a washout about 80 feet long and 50 feet wide. The water at this point was 8 to 10 feet deep. Into this watery gulch the engine made a frightful leap while running at a rate of 30 miles an hour, carrying with it the tender and eight cars. As the engine struck bottom the rushing of the water into the locomotive exploded the boiler.

Debris was thrown in every direction by the force of the explosion, injuring many of those on the train by flying fragments and scattering firebrands, which ignited the wood work of the coaches. The flames spread and destroyed a large amount of mail and express matter, besides spreading panic among the already terror-stricken passengers. It is supposed that some of the passengers were unable to extricate themselves from the wreck, and were consumed in the flames, but it is difficult to get accurate particulars, as the employes[sic] of the Norfolk and Western Railroad refuse to give any information to the public.

It is impossible to state the number of persons killed, but the most reliable estimate places it at between 25 and 30. The number of wounded will be far in excess of the number killed. Thirty of the wounded have been taken to Roanoke, 13 to Buffordsville and 50 to Liberty. The adopted daughter of Mrs. Judge Thompson of Augusta county was killed, and Mrs. Thompson herself is known to be very badly hurt. Pat Donovan, the engineer, with his fireman, a man named Bruce, was scalded and burned to death by escaping steam. Train Dispatcher Lipsey was also burned to death. Among the others who lost their lives were J. J. Rose, postal clerk of Abingdon, Va., John Kirkpatrick of Lynchburg, W. C. Stead, and the husband and two children of a lady passenger on the train whose name cannot be learned. Mr. Stead was an Englishman, and was agent of an Idaho hunting and fishing expedition. He was on his way to England for supplies when he met his death. Maj. J. C. Cassell, superintendent of the Lynchburg division of he Norfolk and Western Railroad, was on the train and was seriously injured, as were also Baggage Master Ford and Capt. Rowland Johnson, who was in charge of the train.

A special dispatch, which was received about 11 o'clock from the scene of the wreck, by way of Liberty, says: Six dead bodies have been recovered. The bodies of P. Donovan, engineer, and Postal Clerk Rose were recognized. The others are not known.

Worcester Daily Spy, Worcester, MA 3 Jul 1889





LYNCHBURG, Va., July 3.---The scene of the terrible disaster near Thaxtons, on the Norfolk and Western Railroad, is beyond description. There is hardly enough left of the train of eight cars that took the leap to the bottom of the awful pit to make one car. As soon as the boiler of the engine exploded the whole mass of debris took fire, and those who went down, who were not killed outright, were burned to death. Portions of eight bodies have been taken out, and it is believed that fully fifteen others were entirely consumed by the fire. A survivor of the wreck says that cries for help could be heard from all portions of the wreck, and those unhurt were powerless to render assistance. The women who managed to escape lay about the damp ground suffering from their injuries until daybreak, and many walked long distances to farm houses. The passengers left uninjured did all in their power for the unfortunate.

The following is the list of killed and wounded thus far obtained:

Capt. Wm. H. Ford, baggage master, severely cut on the back of the head, much bruised and supposed to be internally injured;

Sommers Newly, United States mail agent, slightly but about the head;

Express Messenger Ashmore, badly hurt, and will probably not survive;

Engineer Pat Donovan, Lynchburg, was killed and burned;

Traveling Engineer A. M. James of Roanoke, killed;

Fireman J. Edgar Bruce of Roanoke, killed and burned;

Mail Agent Rose of Abington, killed and burned;

Passenger John Kirkpatrick of Lynchburg, supposed to have been killed and burned;

Passenger Nathan Cohen of Roanoke, supposed to be killed;

Conductor R. P. Johnson of Roanoke, badly cut in the face and around the head;

Brakeman W. C. Glass of Lynchburg, arm broken, head cut and scalded;

Passenger Frank Tanner of Lynchburg, slightly cut about the arm;

Bishop A. Wilson of Dalton, Ga., badly burned;

J. W. Lifsey, train dispatcher, of Hicksford, Va., killed and body burned;

Mr. Peyton, stenographer for Superintendent Osborne of the western division of the road, wife and child killed and burned;

Mr. E. L DuBarry, superintendent of the eastern division slightly hurt;

Mr. Steed of Cleveland, Tenn., and John Bardwick and Will Marshall of the same city were killed and burned;

Mrs. Judge L. P. Thompson of Staunton, Va., badly hurt;

Mrs. Hattie Carrington of Baltimore, cut on the wrist and badly bruised;

Joseph Goldburg of New York, hurt on the leg and shoulder;

F. T. Dexter of Beverly, Mass., seriously injured;

Mrs. R. B. Powell of Marshall, Tex., shoulder and back hurt;

Mrs. Inez Spankman of Marshall, Tex., hurt internally;

H. W. Martin of Chattanooga, seriously hurt;

M. D. Temple of Chicago, hurt seriously about the back;

J. A. Young, dispatcher of Radford, Va., head badly hurt;

Robert B. Goodfellow, hand and foot injured.

The charred remains of what are supposed to be eight bodies were found in very minute particles. The lady of Engineer Donovan was dug out, badly mutilated, and identified by his watch.

There about 30 people who escaped with only slight injuries, and 10 who were seriously injured. The list of dead will be increased as friends of the missing people come forward in search of them.

Worcester Daily Spy, Worcester, MA 4 Jul 1889