Universal York

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Road accidents didn’t just start with automobiles

1876 Pomeroy, Whitman Atlas of York County, Pa.
1876 Pomeroy, Whitman Atlas of York County, Pa.

When you think about it, cars are easier to control than horses; your Ford Mustang isn’t going to get spooked by a train. The December 4, 1877 York Gazette reported two accidents, one quite harrowing, near Smith’s Station in Heidelberg Township.

Not being as familiar with the southwestern part of York County as with the southeastern portion, I compared a present day Google terrain map with the 1876 Pomeroy, Whitman Atlas of York County. I would guess the Watson family accident occurred on Thoman Road just east of where it connects with Locust Road. The railroad tracks run very close to the road on the same level now, but there is a steep embankment just on the other side of the tracks. I think the track level might have been raised to road level sometime after the 1877 incident reported below.

ACCIDENT—On Wednesday, says the Hanover Herald, as a Mrs. Watson and her two children were coming to town in a spring wagon, an accident occurred which might have proved most disastrous. A mile below Smith’s Station the railroad and wagon road run parallel and near together, the latter being on an embankment 30 feet high, with a side as steep as a roof. The horse became frightened at an approaching train and backed down over an embankment. Mrs. W. jumped out to catch the horse, but could not, and down went children, horse and wagon.

The train was within 30 or 40 yards, but the engineer reversed the engine and brought it to a stop within a few feet of the children lying on the track. Had Engineer Miller not been prompt, or the engine not supplied with an air brake, the children and horse would probably all have been killed. One of the children had a simple fracture of an arm—the other was uninjured. The horse was uninjured, but the wagon was wrecked. Dr. Alleman set the broken arm.

The other reported mishap wasn’t as spectacular, but it also resulted in injuries:

ACCIDENT—One day recently, while Mr. Daniel Carter of Hanover was driving a horse attached to a buggy, in which a lady, Mrs. C. Wise, was also sitting, the horse became frightened at a train of cars in the neighborhood of Smith’s station, upsetting the buggy and injuring Mr. Carter slightly about his shoulders, and spraining the left wrist of Mrs. Wise.

Studebaker spring wagon
Studebaker spring wagon

In looking for an illustration for a spring wagon, I found a further tie-in to the York County area. The photo above is from an eBay listing last year for a partially restored Studebaker spring wagon, for which the seller was asking close to $5,000, plus shipping. The Studebaker family manufactured wagons in this area, as summarized in the two Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical markers quoted below, before they went west and grew into a huge manufacturing company.

John Studebaker
Location: Oxford Rd. (SR 1015), just off PA 234, 1/2 mile E of Heidlersburg
Marker Text: Had his wagon works 2.5 miles SE of here, 1830 to 1836, when he moved west. In 1852 his sons formed the Studebaker Company, the world’s largest maker of horse-drawn vehicles and, in 1897, a pioneer in the automobile industry.

Studebaker Home
Location: 200 W. King St. (PA 234) W of Abbottstown St. (PA 194), East Berlin
Marker Text: Built ca. 1790 by David Studebaker, carpenter, farmer, and minister. He was related to the family that later built wagons and automobiles. The house is privately maintained as a museum.