The first major railroad accident in California occurred the morning of November 14, 1869. Two trains (including the transcontinental train, which had been complete to the Bay Area for only a few months and Oakland a few weeks) collided in the fog near Simson's (later Melrose) Station. Fourteen 4 or fifteen people were killed and 21 wounded, some seriously. 1 (NB: Many accounts spell the name Simpson, but the owner of the nearby land was Robert Simson.)
The collision was between a train of the San Francisco and Alameda Railroad headed west and a transcontinental train of the Western Pacific Railroad headed east. Both were due at Simpson's at about 8:55 AM. 4 The WP train arrived at Simpson's first, and was given the "go ahead" signal. A few minutes later, the trains collided.
The account of a survivor, George Cadwalader:
"I was thrown completely to the rear of the car amid a pile of seats. All the persons who were killed on our train were in the same car with myself. The smoking car was shot into our car so far as to confine all the killed and wounded in a small space in the rear. Judge Baldwin, who was killed, was in the water-closet, at the rear of the car. I found myself after the collision on top of a pile of dead and wounded. I cannot tell exactly how many were in the car, but I should judge about thirty. There were no ladies in the car with us." 5
Except for Charles Martin and one passenger on the Alameda train, most of those who died were on the transcontinental train. The dead included: 4
- Charles Martin - fireman on the Alameda train
- John D. McDonald - road master on the California Pacific (Vallejo) Railroad
- Max Erhman - merchant at Mission San Jose
- George Thompson - fireman on the Western Pacific train
- James Conley - farmer from Corral Station, Livermore Valley
- Ritchison (Henry L.?) Peterson - IDed by papers in his pockets
- David Wand - dry goods merchant, San Francisco; brother-in-law of Erhman
- Judge Alexander "Sandy" W. Baldwin - U.S. District Court judge, Nevada (brother-in-law of Hon. John B. Felton, Oakland)
- Edward Anderson - engineer on the Western Pacific train
- Arsene Boullet - French Private School, 5th and Franklin, Oakland
- Bronson H. Fox - IDed by his ticket; from Illinois; buried by the Masons in Mountain View Cemetery
- Frank B. Milliken - fireman on the Western Pacific train
- J.P. Lowell - leather dealer, Sacramento; taken alive from the wreck but died of his injuries
- Thomas F. Sandoz - native of Natchez, Mississippi, age 48
Initially it was thought that Robert Owens, conductor on the Alameda train had been killed, too. But he had been injured, and in the confusion, taken to his home at the Haywards. 1
Many of the wounded were taken to the Alameda Park Insane Asylum, which was the nearest medical facility of any sort.
An inquest was held, and the cause of the accident was determined to be "the ignorance and incompetency of the switchman, Bernard Kane," who gave the "all right, go ahead" signal to the Western Pacific train. 4 Kane had been given written instructions and a timetable, but it turned out he was unable to read. Kane was later tried for manslaughter, but acquitted. 1
Note regarding the location
The exact location of the crash is not known. The rails in 1869 were closer to E8th St. than the current railroad right of way; they were moved in 1870, possibly to better align with things after the rerouting around the accident site. One account of the accident says the crash occurred east of where Seminary Ave. is now (there was a flag stop there, for young women headed to or from Mills), so our best guess is near 66th Avenue.
The location of Simson's Station is thought to be where E8th St. would be near 47th Ave. Several palm trees are nearby.
Links and References
- San Francisco and Alameda Railroad on Wikipedia
- The Railroad Disaster Daily Alta California November 16, 1869
- The Late Collision Between the Trains... The Huntington Library
- The Centennial Year Book of Alameda County, California published by William Halley, 1876
- California Disasters, 1812-1899 by William B. Seacrest Jr. and William B. Seacrest Sr., Quill Driver Book 2006