Ray City History Blog

Railroad Horror! 1888 Train wreck kills John T. Ray and 30-odd others.

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The 1888 train wreck of the Savannah, Florida and Western at Hurricane Trestle near Blackshear, GA  was one of the worst in Georgia history.  The SF&W route ran from Savannah through Valdosta to Bainbridge, with connections to all points. The victims included citizens of Valdosta, GA and John T. Ray, who grew up in Ray’s Mill (nka Ray City), GA.   John T. Ray (1845-1888)  was raised by his uncle Thomas M. Ray, who founded Ray’s Mill along with his father-in-law General Levi J. Knight.

The Railroad Disaster to the West India Mail Near Blackshear, Georgia, an engraving from a photograph published in Harper’s Weekly, March 1888.

The Hurricane Trestle railroad disaster was widely reported, with accounts and follow-ups appearing in newspapers all over the country from New York to Minnesota.  Transcribed here is an account that appeared in the Valdosta Times, Valdosta, GA:

The Valdosta Times
Saturday, March 24, 1888

Railroad Horror! Frightful Disaster On The Savannah, Florida And Western Railroad Near Blackshear.  Thirty-Odd Passengers Killed! Among Whom Are Some Of Our Colored Citizens. A Broken Axle Causes The Train To Plunge Through Hurricane Trestle.  Full Details Of The Disaster.

We are indebted to visitors to the wreck and to the Jacksonville Times Union for much of the information contained in the following. It was almost impossible to get specials from the scene of the catastrophe owning to the press of railroad work on the wires.

Blackshear, Ga., March 17.  The first section of the fast mail train going west was derailed before reaching Alabaha, one mile from Blackshear.  Upon reaching the trestle the entire train of five cars crashed through.  Twenty persons were killed and as many wounded.  The coaches are a total wreck. The entire community went to the rescue, caring for the dead and wounded. Superintendent Fleming with a large force is now on the spot.

Waycross, Ga.,  March 17.  Train No. 27, the first section of the fast mail came thundering along down the S.F. & W. railroad this morning at the rate of forty miles an hour, when it struck the trestle crossing at Alabaha Creek.  This trestle is fifty feet high and one hundred feet wide.  Engineer Welsh was in charge of the engine and Conductor W.L. Griffin in charge of the train. The engine and tender had nearly reached land on the Jacksonville side of the creek when the front axle of the baggage car breaking, the car left the track followed by others of the train, consisting of the private car of President Wilbur, of the Lehigh Valley road, Pullman car, first and second class coaches, and a baggage and mail car. The coupling between the tender and the baggage car broke loose and the engine reached the other side safely.

In the creek all was chaos and confusion.  The cars were piled on the top of each other,  and the cries of the frightened injured passengers arose from a caldron of death.  Nineteen dead bodies were taken from the wreck as soon as help could be organized.  There may be others yet to be found.

As soon as practical medical aid from Savannah, Jacksonville and Waycross, was secured, and several wrecking trains  soon reached the scene. The passengers were taken out and as far as possible removed to hotels in Waycross.  Hospitals were made of the hotels here,  and the good ladies of the town turned out en masse to attend upon the wounded  and dying.  Six wounded have died since reaching Waycross and it is suspected that others will die to-night. The bodies of eight colored men unidentified are at the depot awaiting identification.  Numerous surgical operations were performed, and at a late hour the patients had all been attended to and wanted for nothing.

Drs. Henry Bacon, Neal Mitchell, John Domingo Fernandez, and Charles J. Kenworthy, all of Jacksonville, FL were among the doctors to arrive at the 1888 train wreck at Hurricane Trestle,near Blackshear, GA

The physicians who came up from Jacksonville were Drs. Neal Mitchell, J. Kenworthy, J.D. Fernandez and Henry Bacon, and they have done noble work in saving life and aleveing suffering.  They were on the ground before any of the Savannah physicians and have worked like heroes.

Your representative arrived here at 7:15 PM on the Montgomery train, and found the little city wild with excitement. Visiting the “Old School House” first I found there one dead body, that of Mrs. W.A. Shaw of Jacksonville, and eleven wounded persons.  The Grand Central Hotel was next visited and there were found four badly wounded. At the Commercial House there were seven wounded and two dead.  At the depot lay the corpses of eight colored men. At houses scattered through the town are numbers of other wounded.

The number of dead aggregates twenty-seven, about equally divided to color.  Seven of these have died at Waycross this afternoon.  Nineteen persons were killed outright at the wreck, and thirty-five were wounded. The list of those killed outright cannot be verified at this time, on account of the confusion going on at Waycross, to which place the ladies have been brought.  From passengers on the ill-fated train a partial list is made up.

Killed.

Mrs. Marion G. Shaw, of Jacksonville, wife of Captain W.A. Shaw
Miss Mamie Shaw, of Jacksonville, young daughter of the preceding. These two were instantly killed in the wreck.
M.A. Wilbur of South Bethlehem, Pa., son of the President of Lehigh Valley Railroad, who was on the train with his private car.
W.G. Geiger, of Savannah, drummer for Ware Bros. Aged 35.
W. Martin, a tourist of Cleveland Ohio.
Major J. H. Pate, Hawkinsville, Georgia. Aged 60.
John T. Ray and Daughter, of Dale’s Mills, Ga.
P.C. Smith, conductor of the Pullman Car.
Charles Fulton, Master of Transportation of the Brunswick and Western Railway.
W. M. Martin, Union News Company’s agent on the train.
Fred Meynard, of New York.
E.P. Thompson, of North Carolina.
W.H. McGriff, of Savannah, Ga.
Mrs. Kelly, residence unknown.
Cuffie Williams and Charlie Cason, both colored, of Valdosta, Ga.
Caesar Foster and Moses Gale, both colored, of Waycross, Ga.
Charlie Pierce, colored train hand.
One unknown white man, dark hair and brown moustache, supposed to be a minister.
One unknown young lady, white, with plain gold ring, inside which is engraved “P. to K., 1883.”
Also, two unknown negro men and two unknown white men.

Another Account. A Correspondent At Blackshear Describes The Awful Scene.
Special to the Times-Union. Blackshear, March 27.  The first section of fast mail train No. 27, for Jacksonville, leaving Savannah at 7 this morning, fell through the Hurricane Trestle, about a mile and a half east of Blackshear, at 9:30 this morning.  The entire train, consisting of a baggage car, smoker coach, the Pullman car Saxon and the private car Minerva, of President E.P. Wilbur, of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, went down, and all except the last named were totally wrecked. The engine broke loose from its tender and escaped, but the tender went with the cars.  The engine came on to Blackshear and gave the alarm.  All the stores closed and everybody went to the wreck and to the wants of the wounded and dying.

The trestle is about 300 feet long, where the train fell is about 25 feet high. Two thirds of the trestle fell with the cars, and of that standing there is nothing but the columns and the stringers. The cross ties are cut into splinters.

The train caught fire from the stoves, but the heroic presence of mind of Engineer Welsh, who leaped from his engine and put out the fire, prevented an awful cremation.

The accident is supposed to have been caused by a defective truck under the baggage car, and the mark of machinery dragging along the ties extends for several hundred yards beyond the train.

Doctors Smith, Moore, Whatley and Fuller, of Blackshear, were on hand shortly after the accident. Drs. Redding and Walker, of Waycross; Drs. Drawdy and Little, of Jessup, and Dr. William Duncan, of Savannah, were there soon after, and as rapidly as the wounded could be moved they together with the dead, were carried to Waycross.

President Wilbur was fearfully cut in the head and otherwise injured. He never lost consciousness, however, and when the doctors got through sewing up his wounds he dictated a telegram about the accident. His son R.H. Wilbur is badly hurt.

Among those who escaped were Mr. and Mrs. George J. Gould, New York.  Mrs. Gould was bruised some, but not badly.  They are now at the Brown House, in Blackshear.  They were going to Fernandina to meet his father, who is expected there in his yacht.

Blackshear, March 17.  Superintendent Avelihe, Train Dispatcher  Davis and other officials, have a large force of hands at work, but it will be several days before trains can pass. Arrangements have been made for trains to come arround by Brunswick over the E.T.V. & G. and the B & W. roads.

It is a singular coincidence that one year ago the same car of President Wilbur with almost the same party, was derailed near Blackshear. It is also remarkable that during the long years the the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway has been in existence, it has never until to-day killed a passenger.

The ladies of Blackshear did noble service. They were everywhere and many a poor sufferer died easier for their gentle caresses. They never tired but stayed on the ground until the last sufferer was moved. Superintendent Flemming expressed himself as especially grateful to them for their assistance and devotion.

The officials of the railroad were tireless in their efforts to relieve suffering, and all day long, and not until the last wounded one was gone did they turn their attention to the wreck.

A commendable feature of the community was that no discrimination was shown between the races in the efforts to rescue each from the debris and alleviate their suffering, but as fast as found kind hands took care of them.

Many touching scenes were witnessed and many instances of devotion strong in death transpired, as where husband refused to leave wife and wife refused to leave husband.  Newsman Martin saw others were hurt worse than himself, an refused assistance, but in a few minutes he was dead.  Major Pate said he was not hurt and fell back dead.

Mr. Ray, who was killed, was a prominent citizen of Blackshear. He was general manager and part owner of the Dale Saw Mills, near Jesup.  Fears have been entertained for Editor Ellenwood, of the Journal, and Mr. W. J. Balentine, who were expected  home on the ill-fated train.  They have not been found, however, and although unheard from the uneasiness is abated.

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. George J. Gould, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert B. King and Miss Alice Simpson, of New York, are in Blackshear. Miss Simpson is seriously hurt. All the others are in Waycross.

Undertaker Dixon, of Savannah, with about thirty coffins, has arrived and gone on to Waycross. He will take charge of the embalming.

Jno. T. Ray. Mr. Jno. T. Ray, who was killed, was a cousin of Mr. T. M. Ray of Valdosta.  He was a Berrien County boy and raised by the late T.M. Ray, of Ray’s Mill.  Just after the war he married Miss Wilkins the daughter of the late Rev. J.J. Wilkins, of Naylor, in this county, and moved down the road and engaged in railroading. He rose rapidly and then engaged in the saw milling business with J.J. Dale. At the time of his death he was a partner with Dale, Dixon & Co.

His little daughter Mattie, 8 years old, is not dead as at first reported. She has a broken thigh  and other injuries and will likely die.

Mr. T. M. Ray of Valdosta went down to his burial at Blackshear yesterday.

Our Local Dead.

Cuffy Williams and Charles Cason were both colored citizens of Valdosta. Cuffy’s remains were brought up Sunday morning and were buried this afternoon. A large concourse of sorrowing friends and relatives followed his remains to the burying ground.

There was some trouble in Charles Cason, and his relatives did not learn of his death until last night. His remains will likely come up today.

Mr. Charles Fulton, who was killed in the wreck, was recently appointed master of Transportation of the B. & W. He was well known in Valdosta. His aged parents, Mr. and Mrs Silas Fulton, lived many years in Valdosta. He was a brother to Mrs. Patterson of Valdosta.

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