The Bussey Bridge Disaster
by Victoria Bocchicchio
updated February 7, 2022
Shortly before 7:30 am on the morning of March 14, 1887, an inbound Boston and Providence Railroad train crashed when the Bussey bridge collapsed under it near the Arboretum. The train was traveling from Dedham with about 300 passengers most of whom were working men and women headed to Boston. The locomotive and the first two cars passed over what was often called the Tin bridge without incident, but the bridge gave out under the third car and the remaining cars fell on top of each other onto what is now Archdale road. The gruesome accident left 38 dead and over 40 people injured.
An article on the front page of the Boston Daily Globe the next morning included this description from Walter Earle White, the train conductor:
“Monday is always a heavy day, and our freight being principally young women employees, the company a short while ago added another car to the train, making this early train one of nine cars instead of eight as it is on the remaining days in the year. However, we started on time from Dedham, though owing to the length of the train, we may have been some minutes late at the subsequent stations.
At Roslindale . . . .. as we approached Tin Bridge there was no appearance whatever of danger. The bridge lay as solid and safe as ever, the span across showing no weakness, and gradually the train approached. The engine and tender had passed when I looked backward at the cars behind me.
. . .as I cast a glance at the train behind, I saw the first car swing inward and topple over as though about to fall, and while I still looked, amazed and bewildered, the second and the third cars tipped over in similar positions and all finally jumped the track. The engine kept to the rails, however, and I turned for a moment to slack my engine. When I looked back, and the time consumed was a very brief minute, of the nine cars but three remained in sight, and the cloud of dust which rose prophetic over the bridge told to a certainty the fate of the remainder.”
Inspectors ultimately determined that the construction of the bridge was faulty and that the bridge had not been properly inspected prior to the accident. Engineer White was credited for his quick actions in these moments to prevent even more fatalities. Community members and rescue workers arrived on the scene quickly to tend to the injured.
Others came in the following days and weeks from all over Boston to see the site of the tragedy, but also to collect relics! The Globe article notes that people took broken glass, brass knobs, pieces of iron, and bell rope among other things as souvenirs. Many of these people were impressed with the sparsely populated area of Roslindale and so bought property and settled here. So the tale of this tragedy is forever woven into the history of the growth of Roslindale.
The Boston Daily Globe of March 15, 1887 features the crash on its front page. The Jamaica Plain Historical Society has a transcription of the article here. There is also a Wikipedia page about the crash here.
Here's a great little Youtube video from 2012 by Bob Ward:
The Bussey Bridge today.
The plaque shown below is posted on the left side of the bridge.