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Mysterious Train Wreck of 1909 - Chewton PA

At 12:30am on Saturday, September 4, 1909, a Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad train with about two hundred passengers, headed from Pittsburgh to Chicago, derailed in a horrible accident along the Beaver River near Chewton, Pennsylvania. Three members of the crew were killed and almost twenty other persons were seriously injured. The tracks had been sabotaged to deliberately derail the train, but no clear motive was ever established.

The locomotive and five-car train had just departed from Ellwood City, rounded the tracks at Rock Point, and raced along the east bank of the Beaver River in the direction of New Castle. A drizzling rain and light fog hampered vision but the train was making about 50-60 mph as it passed adjacent to the Crescent Portland Cement Company (later Medusa and then CEMEX) across the river in Wampum. It passed through Lower Chewton and headed up the tracks towards West Pittsburg. Somewhere near the present-day entrance (Tony Dytko Road) to the CEMEX stone quarry on River Road, the train ran into a fouled-up section of track without warning. The train derailed, careened along the railroad bed, fell over onto its side, and slid down a steep embankment towards the Beaver River before finally coming to a stop.

Engineer Charles A. Dill of Chicago Junction (now Willard), Ohio, who was at the helm, was crushed to death when the locomotive rolled over him as it went down the embankment. Another crewman also was crushed to death at the scene. Injured and dazed passengers gathered on the tracks in the steady rain while another member of the crew ran back to Lower Chewton to raise the alarm. Many of the injured were transported to hospitals in New Castle and unfortunately another crewman died later.

Investigators quickly determined that the track had been sabotaged with tools stolen from a Pennsylvania & Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE) facility just across the river in Wampum. Bloodhounds were called in but failed to develop any credible trails. Almost immediately rumors abounded that the derailment was the work of bold robbers, as it was reported that the train was carrying a large amount of money bound for bank institutions out west. B&O officials denied this was the case. It was learned that one passenger, a broker from New York City, was personally carrying $45,000 in cash, but nothing was apparently stolen from the scene of the wreck.

Two suspects, strangely enough a one-legged man and a one-eyed man, were rounded up and interrogated. Local machinists of B&O, who were striking against the company, also came under suspicion. Despite vigorous efforts by the authorities no one was ever formally charged with the sensational crime and its remains unsolved to this day. The incident was national news back then and the two New York Times articles below detail the aftermath of the wreck.


Read more about the investigation of the train wreck in these articles that appeared in the New York Times a few days later: SEPT 6 ARTICLE and SEPT 7 ARTICLE.


Just after midnight on Saturday, September 4, 1909, a B&O train loaded with passengers headed to Chicago derailed in a horrible accident along the Beaver River just north of Lower Chewton. Three members of the crew were killed and almost twenty other persons were seriously injured. The tracks had been sabotaged to deliberately derail the train, but no clear motive was ever established. The wreck was sensationalized in newspapers across the country. (1909) Full Size


Rumors abounded that the derailment was the work of bold robbers, as it was reported that the train was carrying a large amount of money – but nothing was apparently stolen from the scene of the wreck. Two suspects, strangely enough a one-legged man and a one-eyed man, were rounded up and interrogated. Local B&O machinists – currently striking against the company – also came under suspicion. Despite vigorous efforts by the authorities no one was ever formally charged with the sensational crime and its remains unsolved to this day. (1909) Full Size


Standing near Tony Dytko Road and looking south towards Chewton. You can see that at one time there were two sets of railroad tracks. The wooded area on the right of this photo features a very steep and rugged drop off to River Road below. I believe the wreck occurred near this area, but at that time it was more wide open with less tree cover. (Aug 2010)

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