An Episode of 1881 in St. Helena

The following episode was recalled by John E. Eddy, of Castile, who was born on the farm of his father, Franklin Eddy, on Wolf Creek Road near St. Helena.

Mr. John Chase, a highly respected farmer, who lived across the river opposite St. Helena, had cut and sold two thousand railroad ties, which were to be used in building a part of the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad, near Mt. Morris, at which place the ties were to be delivered. Mr. Chase believed the quickest and cheapest way to transport the order was by water. He built a mammoth raft, on which he loaded one half of the ties, and waited for a spring freshet to furnish water enough to float the load downstream.

One bright morning everything seemed in readiness and the raft and its load were headed into the river below the former dam site. “Hi” Merithew and George Green were standing on the front end of the raft, steering with huge oars, and Mr. Chase was steering in the same way from the rear part of the load. The river was higher and the water swifter than the men realized, and immediately the raft and its occupants were in trouble. As the raft hit the swift current below the dam site, they were unable to steer the heavy load. The force of the water carried them into the high banks on the eastern side of the river, broke the raft in half, and threw Mr. Chase into the raging torrent. He clung to his oar and to the rocks until he was rescued by his eldest son, Arthur, who helped him into a rowboat. Arthur had been well taught in handling a rowboat on the waters of the Genesee and to that fact, no doubt, John Chase owed his life that day.

Many spectators had gathered to watch the launching. Mr. Eddy, then a boy of eight, was standing on the bridge. He recalled that the other two men and the remaining part of the raft were carried rapidly downstream. As they were swept under the bridge, Mr. Green yelled, “Mt. Morris, here we come!” After hurriedly changing to dry clothes, Mr. Chase set out in his rowboat to try to catch the runaway raft and its unwilling occupants. A short distance downstream, Mr. Green had jumped to some dry land, only to find it was an island being rapidly covered by the rising water. He was knee deep in water when Mr. Chase arrived. The two men overtook Mr. Merithew, still on the split raft, just as he was about to be swept over the dam at Mt. Morris. Mr. Chase hired a farmer to bring all three back to St. Helena. The remaining half of the ties were floated down-steam and some of them reached their destination.

Source: Anderson, Mildred L. H, and Marian P. Willey. St. Helena, Ghost Town of the Genesee, 1797-1954. Castile, N.Y, 1954. Print.

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