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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Fatal Tragedy At Mathers Mill Bridge

Dallas Bogan on 4 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

With the many waterways and bridge crossings in Warren County, tragedies tend to happen. One such incident was recorded January 20, 1890, at the Mathers Mill Bridge over the Little Miami River, which is located at the intersection of Wilmington and Corwin roads in Washington Township, just below Oregonia.
A new structure over the river at this point was contracted for in 1889 by the Columbia Bridge Company, of Dayton, at a cost of $5,400.
At about ten o'clock, Monday, January 20, 1890, the bridge was in its final stages, being placed upon its decisive resting place. The cutting away of the underpinning was nearly completed when the bridge yielded to the extremely high water due to two weeks of recent rains, the temporary trestle giving away to the elements.
The bridge abruptly swayed to one side and went down into the river with a violent crash. The center section struck the river first, leaving both ends protruding upward.
Completely startled by this event, and after the initial shock, it was found that William Debord was missing. He was soon found to be fastened to the iron work in such a way that it was impossible to rescue him until the high waters declined.
Reports said that Henry Breen held Debord's head up for three hours and then, in turn, it was held up for a time by John Breen, Jr., and Fayette Robertson. It was said that when food and water were brought he could not take them and consequently succumbed.
Several reporters from which the writer will disclose two of these recorded an account of this accident. The Oregonia correspondent wrote:

"Last Monday, shortly after 9 o'clock, the new iron bridge, which is being erected by the Columbia Bridge Company across the Little Miami river at the old Mather's Mill site, and one and a half miles south of this place, suddenly gave way and almost instantly fell into the maddened, swollen stream, carrying with it the twelve or more workmen who were engaged upon it.
"All of the men, except two or three, were more or less injured. One of them, William Debord, was, in the fall, pinioned by the fallen irons and timbers so deep under the angry waters that with difficulty but his head and shoulders could be kept above the water.
"In that position he was held for three long hours, while every conceivable effort was being made by stout-hearted men to rescue him from the awful position, without avail.
"In that sad and terrible imprisonment he died - all efforts to rescue him failing in consequence of the heavy irons, which held him being so deeply covered by the angry flood.
"Alonzo Hiday sustained a double fracture of one leg, and other bruises. Harry McCabe was severely injured around the head, and had one foot broken. Seven or eight others received more or less injury from the falling structure.
"The river was considerably swollen by the heavy rains of last night. Almost the entire structure, which would have been swung in a day or two more, is down the river. The loss is heavy."

Another reporter sketched the scene. He wrote:

"The bridge which has been building across the Little Miami river at Mather's Mill fell into the river at 10:30 a.m., last Monday, killing one of the hands and wounding ten more. The dead one is Wm. Debord, aged about twenty-two and leaves a young wife. "He was fastened in the wreck down in the water, with only his head and shoulders visible, and there he died, after four hours work in trying to extricate him.
"The wounded are: John Young, foot mashed; Lou Hidy, right leg broken; Charles Shaw, head badly cut; Harry McCabe, head badly cut and foot hurt; Gus Myers, head cut and wrist hurt; Andy Hidy, hurt inwardly and right hand mashed; James Crawford, hurt in the back. Horace Phillips, foot hurt; Ed Staley, hurt in the back; Robert Martin, boss of the crew, hurt in the back and face cut.
"None are considered dangerously hurt, though it can not be definitely ascertained yet. "The bridge is the property of the Columbia Bridge Company of Dayton, O. The loss is about $5,000. The bridge was a 230 feet span, thirty feet high and twenty-three feet above the water."
Statements were taken from several workers. One of these men was W.H. Garner. He declares:
"Being first duly sworn, says his age is 31; occupation, farmer, residence near Morrow, Ohio. I was employed by the Columbia Bridge Works, and at the time of this accident was at work on the bridge spanning the Little Miami river near the ford, known as Mathers mill, in Warren county, Ohio, between 10 and 11 o'clock on January 20, 1890. I was with the gang of workmen on the bridge, and near the center.
"In an instant I heard a crack and stepped back on the bridge, and do not remember seeing it fall, but found myself among the ruins under water. As I came up I struck something, then sank again and in coming up the second time I again struck the bridge, but I caught onto a piece of drift and got hold of a cord and drew myself out and to shore.
"After that I went to assist in getting Debord out, who was fast among the ruins, and all efforts were made that could be made to get him out, but every effort failed, and he died from exhaustion, after being held fast by his limbs for several hours.
"The accident, I think, was caused by the false work or underpinning being undermined by the high water and drift of Sunday last night."
Another deposition was taken by Abel M. Raws. He states:
"Being by me first duly sworn, stated that his name is as above given, that his age is 43 years and upward; that he resides at Dayton, Ohio, is by occupation a traveling salesman for the company, and further testified as follows: The bridge was up except being swung off; part of the connections were made, and while making the others, all at once the bridge seemed to give away, supposed to be caused by the water undermining the false work, which had previously been moved by high water and drift, but had been replaced.
"In the fall of the bridge the men were precipitated into the water, but all escaped to the shore mores or less bruised - except Wm. Debord, who was caught among the wreck and held fast, until he died from exhaustion in about two hours after being caught.
"I am salesman for the Columbia Bridge Company, Dayton, O. The bridge was a high truss pin-connected wrought iron bridge, 230 feet long, of 15 panels."

(Many thanks to Marlene Debord for her donation of this article. Her husband, Clive, is a descendant of our subject, William Debord.)

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