• Franklin Pierce's Train Crash in Andover, MA

  • Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.
Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.

Moderator: MEC407

  by Arlington
In January 1853, President-elect Franklin Pierce was travelling by train through Andover MA when his railcar broke an axle and crashed down an embankment, killing his son. He is known in trivia contests as the only President to have been in a train crash (even if he wasn't sitting President at the time)

The typical modern synopsis of the event is found in Wikipedia:
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Pierce#Beginnings and
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andover,_M ... ce.27s_son

but all re-tellings are light on railroad-related and location-related details, like:
1) What was the then-operating name of the railroad (B&M or a predecessor?)
2) The source I found says he was travelling Boston-Concord and had just left the Andover station. Does this "fit" with railroad reality at the time?
3) Where (in Google maps) is that embankment? Is the line still in use today?

Is there a better source or more details available?
  by edbear
It was the Boston and Maine at the time of the crash. A trip to Concord, NH via Andover would probably involved the Manchester & Lawrence to Manchester and the Concord Railroad beyond.
  by markhb
I found you two more sources. First, the 1893 USGS Topo Map of the area. Second, this wiki entry from the Andover library site:
The current location of the accident is between Argyle and Arundel Street.
The relevant Google Maps link would then be here.
  by Arlington
markhb wrote:I found you two more sources. First, the 1893 USGS Topo Map of the area. Second, this wiki entry from the Andover library site:
The current location of the accident is between Argyle and Arundel Street.
The relevant Google Maps link would then be here.
That is a really helpful combination! As I read them together, the Google marker you've placed is just above the 1893 topo map's "e" in Frye Village, with Haverhill St, Burnham Rd, and the railroad all unchanged.

A plausible interpretation would be that after having left the rails northbound near the Burnham Rd crossing (visible in both maps, let's call it two "ticks" south of the V in Frye Village) the carriage went off to the left/west and after moving down the embankment (losing 40 feet of elevation) came to rest (impacted) between what is now Argyle and Arundel St, which corresponds to a "ravine"/river-bottom elevation on the topo map (above the "e").
  by Arlington
I just realized that the Franklin Pierce crash site is just (compass) south of the Shawsheen Robot Foamer, which is about as far north of Haverhill St as the approximate crash site is south of Haverhill st. Bing has a nice "fly around" view of the site: http://binged.it/O9hSDr.
  by A320
The library reference states that the Pierces had just boarded the train northbound for Concord at the Shawsheen Village station. However, the existing former Shawsheen Village station building is compass north of the accident site.

Was there an earlier Shawsheen Village station located south of the accident site; or would the family have boarded at the former Andover station just south of the current MBTA station?

('Not trying to pick nits, but I'm very interested in this piece of history. In fact, I bought a biography of the only president from my adopted state just last week, prior to discovering this thread.)
  by edbear
The Shawsheen station that was closed about 1975 when the single Haverhill train was discontinued was built as a part of an industrial complex that dated from the 1920s. I think it became a Raytheon. There's an article in one of the B & M Employee Magazines of the late 1920s.
  by Arlington
What would have been the closest station to his sister-in-law's house in the 1850s? The library says she lived on Central St in Andover. I'm guessing the team of experts we have assmbled here is the largest and best informed group to look at this in at least 50 years!
  by CarterB
From an 1872 map, the depot at Andover basically where the current 1908 station is. (Brook St.) This is only a few blocks from the Central St. location. The Shawsheen Village station was also built in 1908. No info as to whether a station there in Frye Village, before that that I have so far found.
Last edited by CarterB on Tue Aug 07, 2012 10:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by Arlington
Which way is the track graded? Even if Shawsheen is north of the site (and it was a northbound train) could the coach have decoupled after the axle broke and and rolled backwards (south)?
  by CarterB
Some info on location of wreck.

http://www.elvastower.com/forums/index. ... iron-down/

"...just after their train departed Andover, Massachusetts, an axle broke and the train jumped the track and went over a fifteen-foot embankment."
If it went down the Shawsheen River embankment it would be here:
http://www.bing.com/maps/#JnE9Lk4lMmI0M ... AxMjE3NjU=

Use Birds Eye view and zoom way in...rotate to better see the steep embankment.
  by Arlington
We've got to slow way down here and determine things very slowly because there are too many sources that use words too losely (e.g. "over an Embankment")

1) When a source says "out of Andover" is that the station or the town?
2) When a source says "after Shawsheen" is that the future station or the future town or the main river or just a branch or the river's valley?
3) When a source says "after" or "out of" a station, do they really know (or wrongly imply) that the train *stopped* there or the Pierces boarded there?

If the train was an express, one source might have written "just out of the Shawsheen station" (for just north of it) even though everyone at the time would have understood that that Pierce had boarded in Andover a train that did not stop in Shawsheen, but nonetheless passed through its station. I'd love to see a timetable, though, because from the 1893 topo map it seems that there was no Shawsheen station (only the scattered houses of Frye Village) at the time (only a crossing of Haverhill St which would have not have a Shawsheen station until the 1900s)

Another troubling question is whether in 1853, Argyle and Arundel streets (N 42.671 W 71.1444 actually existed on the *north* side of Haverhill St (and therefore north of the (putative) Shawsheen station too) but would have been obliterated by the industrial site later built there (now home to the Robot Foamer). From the 1893 map, the streets aren't yet in existence on either side. Is there an older topo map that 1893?

But it is also worth noting that the 1893 topo map *does not show a place called Shawsheen" http://historical.mytopo.com/getImage.a ... g&state=MA

Rather even as late as 1893, the area of the *future* Shawsheen station was Frye Village.

It is also worth noting that the Shawsheen River (or its tributaries) are really present close enough to all possible sites that to say that the embankment was near/in/down at/toward the Shawsheen is really just to confirm that basically all the embankments in the area were "above" the Shawsheen.
  by number7
Arlington is right, there are many accounts on this accident and none are very precise. What we need is either an offical accident report or a newspaper report from when it happened. It's possible that even a newspaper report may not be accurate enough.

The best information that I have seen comes from the Andover Historical society which said that it was between two present day streets next to the embankment just south of Haverhill St and the Shawsheen station.

However, they could be wrong.

The location is definitely is a possibility. I was there by chance on Sunday (yesterday), and the embankment is steep enough to go reek havoc with a wooden car.

I dont' understand how the car would have gotten all the way over to between those two streets.

Were there no houses on Arundel St? If there were I would think the car would have hit one.

Also, the train was either running wrong iron or back then the line was single tracked.

If the 40mph report is correct then they weren't planning on stopping at Shawsheen station.

At this point, truthfully, we have only enough evidence to be reasonably certain that the accident did occur in Andover. Everyone seems to agree on that.

The other problem is that it was it was 160 years ago. A lot can change in that amount of time.
  by number7
"Franklin Pierce visited the Central Street Andover home of his sister-in-law frequently. On January, 6, 1853 Pierce and his family left the home and boarded a train in Shawsheen Village Station for Concord, New Hampshire. The President-elect planned to remain in Concord until his inauguration as the fourteenth president. The train had not traveled far when it toppled down a hill. The current location of the accident is between Argyle and Arundel Street. Pierce's son Benjamin was killed in the accident.

This was the information that I thought came from the Andover Historical Society, instead it was the library.

If they were visiting someone on Central St, they would not have gone to the Shawsheen Village station, it's too far. Central St is close to the Andover station.

I still question the report of the accident being between Argyle and Arundel St. Makes no sense.

Besides, the location given in this article is south of the station where they allegedly got on going north. Thus the above report clearly was not carefully researched.

If the report of them visiting people on Central St was true then we can be certain they went to the Andover station Betweeen the Andover station and the Lawrence town line there are plenty of embankments that the train car could have gone down as a result of a broken axle.

The question is of course, which one?