East Liverpool Historical Society

These articles originally appeared in the "Wellsville Union" (1866) and the "East Liverpool Evening Review" (1946)
The following article appeared in The Wellsville Union on Thursday, March 1, 1866, on pg 3.

Terrible Disaster

Steamer Winchester Burned

From Twenty to Thirty Lives Lost

It Is our painful duty to record the destruction, by fire, of the fine passenger steamer Winchester and the loss of between twenty and thirty lives, at 3'/2 o'clock, on Friday morning, the 23d ult., at the head of Babb's Island, about two miles above East Liverpool. The Winchester was a new side-wheel boat, built expressly for the Pittsburgh and Parkersburg trade, at an expense of $81,000, Her owners last week refused $91,000 for her. She was on her first return trip. The Fire originated In some bales of hay that were about ten or twelve feet in front of the boiler. The alarm was given by the fire-men and efforts were made to extinguish the flames but all In vain. In a very few seconds they communicated to a large lot of full and empty oil barrels, which added to the intensity of the flames, and soon - much sooner than it takes to tell it - the whole boat was enveloped in the devouring element - a sheet of flames. They shot up first at the front, surrounding the pilot house, and then at the rear, cutting off the retreat of many who were burned to death. The Captain, Asa S. Sheppard, our fellow townsman, directed the pilot to steer for the shore, and when the boat struck had a chain run out, fastening It to the beach, - thereby, no doubt, saving many lives. He did all that he could, regardless of danger, to save the lives of his passengers.

The pilots - William Gordon and William Abrams - deserve high commendation. With true courage and American heroism they stayed at their post of danger - the wrathful flames sweeping over and burning the pilot house -until the boat struck the shore. They then escaped by jumping into the river, the steps giving way as they did so.

The engineer, Washington Dunbar, put on a full head of steam and rushing through the burning oil, Jumped into the river and was saved. Mr. Oliver C. Bunting, the second clerk, was up at the time the alarm was given, and deserves great praise for the self-sacrificing spirit in which he tried to save the passengers, many of whom are indebted to him for their lives. He left all his effects in his state-room, and after arousing the first clerk, Capt. Dan. Moore, formerly a citizen of this place, went through the cabin to the rear, awakening up the passengers. By this time it was impossible for him to return, and, driven by the flames, he lumped into the river and swam ashore. He lost all his personal effects.

The passengers, aroused from their slumber by the wild alarm of fire, rushed, in their night clothes, Into the cabin. The way to the front was cut off by the flames, the cabin was filled with smoke and very soon the wildest confusion prevailed. The stoutest hearts quailed, and the agonizing cries of the women and children were heart-rending to the extreme. The evening before all was pleasure and contentment - joy and happiness ruled supreme. Now all was consternation and horror. Death met Its victims on every hand and reaped a rich harvest. Without respect of persons, it laid its pallid hand upon the infant, strong in its mother's love - the mother, rich in Its possession - the father anxious for the safety of his family - the child clinging to the father for support - the wife seeking protection from her husband, and the husband only solicitous for the preservation of his wife, and they are not. Most escaped from the cabin to the guards, but several perished in the flames, among whom are supposed to be Mr. James Algeo and wife, of Matamoras, Ohio; Mr. Martin, from Sistersville, Ohio; Mr, George Walters, and his child; Mr. Walters, with his family, consisting of his wife - Mary - and two children, were moving to Pittsburgh, and had all their property on board, which was lost. He, with one of the children in his arms, went into the cabin, tried to go forward, and perished in the flames. Mrs. Walters could not follow her husband but with the other child - an Infant - In her arms, jumped overboard. They were saved. When picked up she was floating on her back, with the Infant on her bosom.

Those who had sought safety on the guards were soon compelled to jump into the water - certain death by fire if they did not, and probable death by drowning If they did, The water was very deep and swift, and many who committed themselves to the river for safety found a watery grave. Upon dropping into the water they became so chilled that many who were good swimmers were barely able to reach shore, and had to be assisted out of the water. Capt, Tate Sheets, one of the owners of the boat, fasted a life preserver around his wife, and telling her to follow him, jumped overboard, which she did. Her clothes en-veloped her arms, preventing her from doing anything to save herself, and she was drowned. The Captain mistook a German lady, who jumped at the same time, for his wife and took her to shore.

A German named Gazzet, bound for Sewickley, Pa., was drowned and his body found near East Liverpool. It was sent to his friends.

A Mr. Van Metre, with his family, consisting of his wife and five children, the oldest a daughter about 18 years of age, were on deck, going to Mercer Co., Pa. He, with three of the children lashed to him, Mrs. Van Metre with the infant, and the oldest daughter, jumped Into the water. Mr, Van Metre and the three children were lost, while the other, were saved. The body of one of the children, a boy about eight years of age, was found and buried in East Liverpool.

Mr. George Young, the barkeeper, a resident of Rochester, Pa., was drowned, also the chambermaid, Mrs. Rldgley, colored, who was one of the last to leave the wreck. Two firemen are missing. A woman was seen in the attitude of prayer on the lower deck, while she was inwrapped in flames. Many whose names are unknown, the books of the boat being lost, were seen to float down the river and were drowned, There were about 100 persons on board, including the passengers and crew. A part of the deck hands jumped Into the yawl, with out oars, and floated down the river, reaching shore as best they could. They floated so far before getting to shore that the yawl was of no use in saving the lives of the unfortunate. It is thought that most of those who drowned could have been saved, If the men in the yawl had done their duty.

Mr. Gordon with his little son, Mr. Dawson with his little son, and Mr, George R. Porter with his little boy swam ashore.

The night was Intensely cold, and, chilled by the water, those who reached the shore nearly perished, Mr, Hugh Newell willingly threw open his house to the sufferers, and generously ministered to their wants. Mr. R.R. Gardiner took his skiff up from East Liverpool and brought a load to the town. Many who were able walked down along the shore. The people of the place did all they could to relieve the sufferings of the unfortunate. Those without clothing, shoes and hats, were soon supplied by their generosity, and all the survivors partook of a hospitable breakfast. The Clerk, Capt, Dan Moore, upon being awakened, opened the outside door of the safe, but was unable to get the Inner door open, picking up about $30 in the drawer, he with difficulty, escaped In his night clothes, not having time to get his coat or pants. About $1,200 were left in the safe.

The boat was heavily laden, part of the toad being 211 barrels crude oil, 1,200 empty oil barrels, 1,000 empty nail kegs, 65 bales batting, 15 head of horses and cattle, and about 150 bales of hay - 80 of which were owned by Mr. David Nicholson, of this place. The cargo was lost,

The boat was insured in Pittsburgh companies for $50,000,

The following article appeared on pg. 3 of the The Wellsville Union on Thursday, March 8, 1866

For the Union


The undersigned would beg leave, In the name of Mrs. Vanmeter and Mrs. Walters, (survivors of the wreck of the ill-fated Winchester) to thank the citizens of East Liverpool, Wellsville, Smiths Ferry and vicinity, for the warm sympathy manifested, and the generous help given to them, In the terrible calamity which has befallen them. The following account will show the substantial tokens of kindness of which these unfortunate ladies have been the recipients. Smiths Ferry and Island Run in a few minutes after the news of the disaster was heard, and the destitute condition of these women known, raised one hundred and seventy-five dollars for them. In East Liverpool over two hundred dollars in money was given them, and about one hundred and twenty-five dollars worth of clothing. Word was sent to Welisvilte and over one hundred dollars was promptly raised, besides some private contributions. There were also many private contributions from persons living in the vicinity of the wreck, the amount of which we are not able to state.

We feel it our duty also to notice the unwearied activity of the ladies of East Liverpool in behalf of these sufferers. They seemed to vie with each other as to who could do the most to alleviate their distress.

Too much praise cannot be given to Mrs. Wm. Davidson, Mrs. Till, Mrs, Milter, Mrs, Keller, Mrs, John Croxall, Mrs. Geo. S. Harker of Liverpool, and Mrs, Newell and Marks across the river. Many others proffered their houses, some insisting that the unfortunate strangers should go and stay with them, even if it should be but for an hour or two; and when they learned that their wishes could not be granted, would go away disappointed.

While we make no invidious distinction, we desire to make special mention of the services of Mrs. Wm. Davidson. It was to her house that the dead bodies were brought, as they were recovered from the river. They were prepared for burial, and the funeral services conducted there also. She had the delicate task of caring for Mrs, Vanmeter, whilst the husband and two children were brought to the house, and one after another taken to the grave. This duty was performed with such genuine kindness and tenderness as to call forth praise from all who witnessed It.

May God reward all who assisted in alleviating the wants and lightening the sorrows of these truly bereaved women.

Rev. J. W. Martin, }
Geo, Anderson, }
Wm. S, George, }
W. Davidson, }
Josiah Thompson, }
This final article written by Lucille T. Cox appeared in the East Liverpool Evening Review on June 27, 1946.

Tragedy Rode Ohio's Waters Here in 1866

THE only major river disaster to take place off East Liverpool occurred early in the spring of 1866.

The Winchester, a Cincinnati packet and one of the finest boats of its day, was making its maiden voyage when the tragedy broke. The boat was bound for Pittsburgh with a full passenger list and a heavy cargo of cotton and empty whisky barrels. The river was high and full of debris washed down by a recent freshet.

About 2 this fateful cold spring morning, the Winchester nosed its way into the wharf at East Liverpool, unloaded freight and headed out into midstream. As the boat neared Babb's island, a sheet of fire shot into the air off the hurricane deck where the inflammable cargo was stored, In a few minutes the entire bridge deck was ablaze.

The passengers tumbled out of their cabins. The captain gave the order to beach the boat and the bow of the burning Winchester was driven into shore near the future site of the American Tin Plate Co. on. the West Virginia side of the river. The stern, of the boat swung out into the swollen stream and the flaming hurricane deck lay on the beach, cutting, off all escape for the frantic passengers.

Passengers Plunge Into Water

The river was filled with struggling bodies. Many persons could not swim and their plunges into the icy water meant certain death. Screams of terror added to the horror of the night. Crazed members of the crew conceived the idea of throwing the empty whisky kegs overboard to aid those who were drowning. The barrels, however, killed more passengers than they saved.

In the boat, a young woman, dressed in billowing crinolines and carrying a baby in her arms, rushed to the stern. The flames now were making their way through the vessel. Bravely, without hesitation, she climbed to the gumwhale and jumped off, holding the child tightly to her shoulder. The wind filled her skirts and the young mother settled down gently on the muddy waters.

Boat Broken in Two

The boat, shattered by the impact of the drive into shore and nearly eaten through by the fire, broke in two. The part remaining in the water rolled on Its side and gradually disappeared. The pursor's safe, containing the log and the ship's papers together with the valuable possessions of the passengers, was lost and never has been recovered.

Meanwhile, excitement prevailed in, the village. Every boat was pressed' into use and the dancing lights of tin lanterns flickered across the water like fireflies.

Among the fleet of rescue boats was a "Johntub". It was being handled, unassisted, by "Git" Simms, then a young man.

"Help! Help!" The voice was just ahead of him. "Please don't run me down!"

"Just hold on a minute!" the boy called assuringly. I'll be right with you."

Mother, Child Rescued

He maneuvered the unwieldy boat with sharp, skillful strokes and came alongside of a floating upright figure.

"Why!" he ejaculated as he went down on his knees in the middle of the boat, "it's a woman and a baby! Ma'm what in the name of Pete is holding you up?"

He lifted the baby cautiously into the boat and laid it on the floor of the "tub". Then catching the womans' arms, he unceremoniously hauled her over the side of the rocking boat.

"Ma'm," he repeated after a short period of silence, "if you have the breath, would you mind telling me how you managed to float down the river?"

"My skirts," she gasped. "I jumped over the side of the boat and the wind filled my skirts. I've been floating ever since."

Daylight brought the full significance of the disaster. The once magnificent river packet sprawled like a broken skeleton on the beach. Some of the dead lay on the shore., but many never were found. Six Negroes, members of the crew, were buried on the bluff overlooking the river where the Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery now stands. The wreck of the burned boat was not raised and taken away for some months.

Trials and Tribulations of River Towns Part 1


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