1887 Great Chatsworth train wreck

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The 1887 Great Chatsworth train wreck
A Harper's Weekly impression of the accident
A Harper's Weekly impression of the accident
Date August 10, 1887
Time Approximately midnight
Location Chatsworth Township, Livingston County, between Chatsworth and Piper City, Illinois, USA
Country United States
Operator Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad
Type of incident Derailment
Cause Bridge collapse
Trains 1
Passengers 700
Deaths 81–85
Injuries 169–372

The 1887 Great Chatsworth train wreck was a major rail accident that occurred late on the night of August 10, 1887, 3 miles (5 km) east of the town of Chatsworth, Illinois, in the United States. A Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad (TP&W) train bound for Niagara Falls from Peoria crossed over a trestle, weakened earlier in the day by a fire, causing it to collapse. Between 81 and 85 people were killed, and between 169 and 372 injured.[1]


[2] 900 people were on the train when it wrecked. The death count according to the Chicago Daily, August 13, 1887, was 355 people. On August 18 Timothy Coughlin was arrested and held responsible for the devastating crash. The summer of 1887 had been hot and dry. Fearing that sparks from the steam engines of the trains could ignite brush fires, the TP&W company began performing controlled burns to prevent an uncontrollable brush fire. On the day of the accident, TP&W crews performed a controlled burn near the site of the accident—it is suspected that failure to extinguish the fire resulted in charring of the bridge.[3]

That evening, a TP&W train departed Peoria, traveling east through Eureka and Chenoa. Two steam engines pulled six fully loaded wooden passenger cars, six sleeper cars, and three luggage cars. In total, the train carried about 700 vacationers taking advantage of a special offer to visit Niagara Falls.[4] Just before the accident site, the coach accelerated down a slope, reaching 40 miles per hour (64 km/h). The first engine successfully crossed the weakened bridge as it collapsed; the second engine crashed into the side of the hill, while each following passenger car telescoped into the next. Sleeper cars attached to the rear of the train halted just short of the bridge.[3]

Four days later, the TP&W gathered together the remaining wreckage and set it on fire. The crash resulted in the increased use of steel in passenger cars.[3]

Historical marker[edit]

Historical marker erected by the state of Illinois in 1954 to commemorate the Chatsworth wreck.

In 1954, the state of Illinois placed a historical marker commemorating the event along U.S. Route 24. The marker has the following text:


  1. ^ Harper's Weekly (1887-08-20). "The Illinois Railroad Accident". Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  2. ^ the Chicago Daily
  3. ^ a b c Kemp, Bill (2007-08-05). "1887 train wreck near Chatsworth one of worst in U.S." The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL). Retrieved 2008-05-12. 
  4. ^ Unknown (1887-08-12). "Over One Hundred Dead; And Four Times As Many Wounded. A CROWDED EXCURSION TRAIN CRASHES THROUGH A BURNING BRIDGE-PERHAPS THE WORK OF THIEVES" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°45′18″N 88°15′28″W / 40.75500°N 88.25778°W / 40.75500; -88.25778