On December 29, 1876, at about 7:30 in the evening during a snowstorm, the iron bridge over the Ashtabula River collapsed as a train carrying 156 people was crossing it. When the bridge collapsed, the train fell into a seventy foot gorge and caught fire, killing at least 80 people.
An investigation after the accident revealed flaws in the design and construction of the bridge, and concluded the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railway company was to blame. Chief engineer Charles Collins, after giving testimony regarding the bridge, shot himself. Amasa Stone, the principle designer and erector of the bridge, committed suicide a few years after the disaster.
The citizens of Ashtabula and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad erected a memorial to the victims in Chestnut Grove Cemetery on the 20th anniversary of the disaster.
The Ashtabula Disaster was immortalized in Julia A. Moore's Sentimental Song Book which was published in 1876:
The Ashtabula Disaster
Have you heard of the dreadful fate
Of Mr. P. P. Bliss and wife?
Of their death I will relate,
And also others lost their life;
Ashtabula Bridge disaster,
Where so many people died
Without a thought that destruction
Would plunge them 'neath the wheel of tide.
Swiftly passed the engine's call,
Hastening souls on to death,
Warning not one of them all;
It brought despair right and left.
Among the ruins are many friends,
Crushed to death amidst the roar;
On one thread all may depend,
And hope they've reached the other shore.
P. P. Bliss showed great devotion
To his faithful wife, his pride,
When he saw that she must perish,
He died a martyr by her side.
P. P. Bliss went home above --
Left all friends, earth and fame,
To rest in God's holy love;
Left on earth his work and name.
The people love his work by numbers,
It is read by great and small,
He by it will be remembered,
He has left it for us all.
His good name from time to time
Will rise on land and sea;
It is known in distant climes,
Let it echo wide and free.
One good man among the number,
Found sweet rest in a short time,
His weary soul may sweetly slumber
Within the vale, heaven sublime.
Destruction lay on every side,
Confusion, fire and despair;
No help, no hope, so they died,
Two hundred people over there.
Many ties was there broken,
Many a heart was filled with pain,
Each one left a little token,
For above they live again.