Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, July 31, 2005, pg. 16
We all know that some of Albion’s bridges are in need of replacing, and are on the “critical list” of bridges to be replaced next year. Several years ago a chunk of bridge deck from the N. Eaton St. bridge fell into the river and it had to be repaired. Fortunately, the E. Erie St. and N. Eaton St. bridges are scheduled to be replaced next year. How would you like to be driving on one of Albion’s critical bridges when it “gives way”?
This actually happened on the morning of September 1, 1914, when the North Albion St. bridge over the Kalamazoo River collapsed over the weight of the traction-engine of area thresher operator William M. Sebastian (1854-1938). This particular engine was used for a number of projects in our area, including moving the large boulder for the DAR to mark the Territorial Road east of town along Michigan Avenue, and for pumping out water in the old Red Mill when water-powered electric generating equipment was being installed there.
The engine on that fateful day was driven by Robert Nelson, accompanied by Peter Lucas, and Alfred McCartney. Mr. Sebastian was sitting behind the separator portion of the apparatus, which was also involved in the accident. As the vehicles headed north along N. Albion St. that morning, the south side of the bridge collapsed without warning. The men dove safely into the River as their heavy vehicle went down with the bridge, except Nelson who suffered foot injuries as he became caught.
The engine was smashed and fell into the River, while the separator portion of the vehicle laid partway over the south abutment of the bridge. Over the next few days the thresher sunk several feet into the mud, to the point where all of the engine but one wheel was submerged. A capstan (a contraption for moving heavy objects that involves turning cables around a spool) had to be rigged to slowly drag the vehicle out of the River and away from the bridge. This took much labor and effort over a several day period. Cables were attached to trees nearly two hundred feet down the river to accomplish this task. The railroad tracks of the nearby Lake Shore & Michigan Southern RR were even used to help anchor cables.
It was surmised that that steel on the bridge had given way first before the bridge deck followed. City officials ordered an inspection of all city bridges.
This created quite a scene in town as the thresher had to be removed before the bridge could be repaired and traffic on the street opened again. It provided a good shot for local photographers, who placed the incident on postcards they sold. From our Historical Notebook this week we present one of those photographs, showing only the large tire and steering wheel of the vehicle wheel still above the water line, while the mangled and missing pieces of the bridge are above it.
Albion Street bridge collapses, September 1, 1914
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic