Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Chapter, ACBS

Volume 17, Issue 1.................................................................. March 2007

UPDATED: March 13, 2007


















A Bridge Too Far? A true story by A. H. Barben

Background: Near the northern end of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes, there stretches a railroad line that connects the village of Cayuga on the lake's northeastern shore with Seneca Falls and points west. Before the opening of the "new and improved" Barge Canal in 1918, that east-west rail line crossed a now-abandoned and filled-in waterway leading from Cayuga Lake to Old Lock 10 on the Cayuga portion of the Old Cayuga & Seneca Canal which flowed north to the Erie Canal. At that crossing a lift-bridge was built to raise the railroad tracks up out of the way of boats passing below. A bridge-tender was employed to manually crank the lift-bridge into the proper position as on-coming boat and rail traffic dictated.

The story: The bridge-tender hired in the summer of 1915, was something less than dedicated. He had been known, on occasion, to slip away to a nearby tavern for "the cup that cheers," leaving the bridge unattended. One day, anticipating the arrival of a boat, he raised the lift-bridge and repaired to his "club" with a thirst that demanded immediate attention. Unfortunately, what he forgot to anticipate was the arrival of the train. It chugged through right on schedule and right off the end of the open lift-bridge into the water below! It took railroad crews over a week to rescue the locomotive from its watery resting place, leaving both the channel and the railroad blocked for the duration.

The bridge-tender must have had some very good connections, because for some unknown reason, he retained his position at the bridge. Later that summer, a great thirst again descended upon him, and again he ambled up to the tavern for a little restorative, leaving the bridge in its elevated position to accommodate passing boats.

Shortly thereafter, the same engineer, driving the same locomotive, again approached the bridge. Unable to clearly see the position of the lift-bridge from the cab of his engine, but having no reason to suspect the same dereliction of duty by the bridge-tender for a second time, he chugged along with confidence -- and over the edge he went! This time, handily enough, a barge happened to be passing through the entrance to the old canal and slowed the falling engine in its downward plunge.

Apparently, no one was seriously injured in either incident, but it was believed that the bridge-tender "went south" immediately after learning of the second mishap. He was never seen or heard from again around Cayuga.

Arnold Barben of Seneca Falls was a Vice President of Goulds Pump Co. of Seneca Falls, NY and a well-known expert on Seneca Falls history and the Erie Canal. He delighted in telling the above story at gatherings of historical societies, service clubs, etc. He passed away in the early 1980s. Cayuga village historian

Florence Pharis McIntosh records that there were a total of four train wrecks at the bridge with all but one of them occurring on Sunday! -Ed.