On Aug. 25, 1911, passenger train cars plunged into the Canandaigua Outlet
MANCHESTER — The Civil War veterans boarded the Pullman passenger cars in Rochester, finished with their Grand Army of the Republic reunion, no doubt sharing exploits of their days serving for the North.
None of the passengers, most of them from Philadelphia, had an inkling of the tragedy that lay ahead of them that day, Aug. 25, 1911, as they left the station where what is today the location of the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que restaurant.
The next day’s newspaper headline read: “25 Dead, Scores Injured In Lehigh Valley Wreck.” Cars loaded with passengers — by some accounts over 60 of them — plunged from a railroad trestle over the Canandaigua Outlet, near where today a kiosk with a copy of that newspaper article marks the site.
Manchester Town Historian Timothy Munn, a retired Manchester-Shortsville teacher who co-authored two local history books that include photos of the aftermath of the tragedy, said at the time it was considered the worst passenger train derailment and led to hearings with the goal of improving rail safety.
But, times passes and memories fade. To help keep the memory alive, when Munn was still teaching, he’d ask his students if they realized that only a few hundred yards behind the Bliss Shurfine Food Mart, nearly 30 people died.
“Probably for anybody under the age of 40 it’s not the top of their bucket list to hear about it,” Munn said.
Perhaps that's because of the sheer brutality of the incident. The photos taken at the scene depict a horrific event, and it was. Several of the photos show dead bodies about to be loaded into trains. Scores of injured were triaged nearby and taken elsewhere for care.
One of the victims was a boy who drowned in the outlet. Because the cars were made of wood, many of the other victims died of trauma caused by wood splinters piercing their bodies, Munn said.
The cause of the crash was attributed to impurities in the rail — transverse fissure is the technical term, Munn said.
Walking the trail near the crash site, Munn said he has heard family accounts of how Manchester swelled with rescuers and curiosity seekers when news spread of the chaos and the carnage at the scene.
“It was like a big deal, almost like a social function,” Munn said. “What a difference now. It’s such a tranquil place.”
Locals between the ages of 50 and 60 talk about heading down to the outlet area in summertime when they were kids and finding watches, rings and other things that may have been lost in the wreck, Munn said.
Manchester Village Trustee Michael Buttacio, a retired railroad employee and rail history buff, is amazed and saddened every time he walks by the site of a “terrible tragedy.”
“I still think about it when I walk by here, what it must have been like,” Buttacio said.
The same is true for Munn.
“It’s unfathomable to me,” Munn said.