The terrific explosion of the Steamboat "Greenfield" on May 18, 1840 suddenly ended the lives of three men---Capt. John D. Crawford, Engineer Alanson D. Wood, and Mr. William Lancey. The popular engineer had been living in Brattleboro, and is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery. His memorial reads---
Alanson D. Wood
who was killed
instantly on this
river by the
explosion of the
May 18, 1840
Five epitaph lines follow, their message not now completely legible or visible.
Dreadful Accident---It is with pain we are compelled to state that an explosion took place on Monday last on board the Tow Boat used below Greenfield for the purpose of towing flat boats up the river, whereby three persons met with a melancholy death. We have no farther particulars as to the cause. We understand the boat sunk immediately as well as one of the river boats belonging to Greenfield. The remains of one of the unfortunate sufferers, Mr. Alanson D. Wood, formerly a resident of this village, was brought here on Tuesday last for interment. His melancholy death will long be remembered by many in this village and vicinity, who knew him well, and appreciated him highly as an industrious, enterprising mechanic, and a worthy and useful citizen.
Since the above was written, we have received the Northampton papers, giving more particulars, which will be found below.
It becomes our melancholy duty to record an event very unusual in this section of country---the explosion of a steamboat---which has resulted in the loss of one and possibly three lives! The steam tow boat, Greenfield, burst her boilers, Monday afternoon last, about 3 o'clock, just above Smith's Ferry on the Connecticut, about five miles below this village. The explosion was tremendous, shivering the boat almost in atoms, so that it sunk immediately. The Engineer Alanson D. Wood of Brattleboro, was immediately killed; the Captain, Mr. John D. Crawford, of South Hadley Falls, was so shockingly mangled, that there is no prospect of his life; and Mr. Wm. Lancey, Machinist, of Springfield, who was on board the boat merely to witness the operation of her machinery, was so badly mutilated, that there is not much probability of his living. The Fireman was blown up to a considerable altitude, and dropped into the river, but received only slight injury.
There were six freight boats attached to the steamer in tow. On all the freight boats and Steamer, were about 30 men. Mr. Evenezer Morse of this town, was on a freight boat belonging to Messrs. David and Henry Strong of this town, and, at the moment of the explosion, was directly by the side of theboilers of the steamer. He was thrown into the river, and slightly injured on his leg and head. We did not learn that any other person was hurt.
A freight boat, and cargo, consisting mostly of salt, was sunk. A considerable part of the cargo belonged to Allen and Root of Greenfield. The Steamboat was latelybuilt at an expense of about $6,000. and the freight boat was worth about $500; both belonged to the Greenfield boating company.
This event has spread deep sorrow through the community. Perhaps no blame should be attached to anybody, but we cannot refrain from believing from the best information we can obtain, that the boat was pushed harder than prudence and safety would warrant. It was a new boat, and there was an ambition to establish its reputation for speed.
P. S. Capt. Crawford and Mr. Lancey are both dead.
Vermont Phoenix, May 22, 1840.
Reprinted from the Northampton Gazette.
The Ariel Cooley was built in 1837 for the run from the head of the South Hadley canal to the foot of the Montague canal, and in good water stage, to Cheapside. She was a stern wheeler, ninety feet in length, eighteen in berth, with two high-pressure twenty horse-power engines. The Ariel Cooley was owned by the Greenfield Boating Company, which later became Stockbridge, Allen, Root & Co., and finally Allen & Root.
The Ariel Cooley was built over in 1839, rigged with two patent boilers by Mr. Lancy of Springfield, and named anew the Greenfield. Machinist Lancy, the builder of the machinery and boilers, was on board the Greenfield on May 18, 1840, making some needed repairs. In the explosion, Captain John D. Crawford was blown high into the air and came down on one of the four luggers that were in tow. The Ariel Cooley took boats from Stony Brook and towed them four at a time forty miles to Greenfield in ten hours.
The information here is taken from the History of Greenfield Shire Town of Franklin County, Massachusetts, Volume I, By Francis M. Thompson. (Greenfield, Massachusetts: Press of T. Morey & Son, 1904), pp. 520-521, and other places.
Captain Ariel Cooley was born August 25, 1756 in Springfield, Massachusetts and died October 30, 1822. He built the Cooley covered bridge over the Chicopee River in Ludlow, Massachusetts in 1812 and guaranteed free and safe passage across the stream for five hundred dollars. He worked on the James River Canal. For the Fairmont Waterworks in Philadelphia in 1819, Cooley built the first dam across the Schuylkill River at Conshohocken---without coffer dams, stone filling, or iron bolts. He was an hydraulic engineer and an entrepreneur. According to one level-minded description, "He was one of the River Gods".