Niagara Gazette

February 27, 2013

GLYNN: Family ties traced to train crash in the 1890s

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Descendants of two Niagara area families — the Lynches and Butterys — encountered an unexpected reunion nearly 120 years after a railroad accident one day that thrust their ancestors into the news.

Jim Lynch, whose family roots run deep in this city's North End, recalls that day in 2011 when he was doing research at the Lockport History Center. While there, he happened to meet Lewis Buttery, another local history buff, and his sister, Carol. Lynch explained that he was searching for articles about his great-grandmother, Anna Piper Lynch and her children who were hurt in a train accident  in 1894. 

As Lynch talked about the incident, Buttery expressed intense interest in all the details. "Believe it or not, that was my great- uncle (Earl Buttery) operating the train along the gorge that day, when the accident happened," Buttery said. Quickly they started comparing mental notes, sharing family backgrounds. They struck up a friendship that continues to this day.

Lynch, now a Ransomville resident, has dedicated countless hours researching his ancestors. He also regularly delves into microfilm, newspaper articles and cemetery records, among other sources to piece together the family story. His brother, Brian Lynch, has focused on, digging up information on relatives dating back to the year 700.

Anna P. Lynch, 40, and her four children were riding on a branch of the New York Central & Hudson Railroad after attending her brother's wedding in Lewiston. The train had left the village below the Escarpment at 1:25 p.m. and was due at the Tenth Street Station in Niagara Falls at 1:45 p.m. According to witnesses, the train was passing opposite a stone quarry just north of Niagara University — the present site of the Robert Moses Niagara Project — when a car loaded with stone came hurtling down the incline railway of the plant site and smashed into the rear end of the observation car next to the engine.

Witnesses described the scene as a nightmare. The side of the railway car was crushed and several large stones tumbled through the opening, striking Lynch and the children. After the conductor and trainman checked out the injured, the train continued to the Tenth Street station, less than five minutes away where a doctor was immediately involved. He determined that in addition to injuries to her head, shoulders, arms and legs, Lynch may also have suffered internal injuries. The children, Mary, 13, Kittie, 11, and Ida, 9, had only scalp wounds. Arthur, 2, escaped with a few scratches.

Mrs. Lynch's husband, John Lynch, worked on the Michigan Central Railroad which operated numerous trains from the Buffalo Niagara area across the border into southwestern Ontario.

In the wake of the accident, the Lynch family pursued legal action against the railroad, as undoubtedly other passengers on that ill-fated trip did. The Lynches accepted a $10,000 settlement that the company offered. At the time, it was considered a hefty payout as the short headline in the Niagara Gazette stated: "Get a Big Sum." According to some accounts, however, their initial lawsuit was reportedly asking for $85,000.

At first, an Erie County District Court ruled that Earl Buttery, as the quarry owner, was primarily responsible for the accident. Later, however, the New York State Appellate Court found that the railroad was fully aware of the risk involved since the quarry cars had crashed into the New York Central & Hudson cars on two previous occasions.

Buttery, a Lockport resident, found through his exhaustive research that his great-uncle's company had been delivering limestone from the quarry to build the Monroe Hall Chapel on the nearby DeVeaux School campus. The Buttery family was widely known for its tourist attraction, the Buttery Elevators, at the foot of Chasm Avenue, which then extended to the river bank several decades before the Robert Moses Parkway opened.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.