(Engineer in Charge & Chief Purchasing Agent for the LS & MS Railroad)
Born: Oct. 31, 1826 in Brunswick (Rensselaer County) New York
Married: Mary (Harmon) Collins
Died: Jan. 17, 1877 (Body found the morning of Jan. 20, 1877)
Charles Collins was a competent engineer, gentle, kind, and beloved in the Ashtabula community he visited often. He was also responsible for overseeing all bridge inspections. Even though Collins was the Chief Engineer and oversaw all major bridge construction, Stone had other plans for the Ashtabula Bridge. Stone called Collins into his office and told him he would be getting a bridge man for this job and wanted Collins to focus on completing the Jamestown to Franklin line. This perceived rebuff seemed to sour Collins to the whole idea of the Ashtabula Bridge. So when A.L. Rogers came to Collins and asked him to look at the bridge and help him figure out why it was sagging he at first refused because he had never been there to see the work and didn't want to interfere with Stones plans. Yet, when urged on a personal level, he reluctantly agreed to go look at the bridge. It was Collins that recognized the braces where placed wrong and needed to be turned so they would be stronger. Collins spoke to Stone and the next day Stone came to see the problem. After inspecting it for himself, Stone was not happy, but agreed that the braces were placed incorrectly and needed to be turned. He also could see the bridge needed more support braces on the end panels. It seemed as if Joseph Tomlinson had been right after all. Although confident they had put the beams in as originally indicated in the blueprints the men got to work turning the I-beams. Finally, when the false work was removed for the third time, the bridge remained stable. For the final test, four heavy steam engines were sent across the bridge as a proof load, showing once-and-for-all that the bridge had static strength. After two years of construction problems, the Ashtabula Bridge was complete. In the Summer of 1865, the bridge was placed into service..
Despite its construction imperfections, the bridge would hold for eleven years. It was a testament to the bridge's strength despite its unorthodox construction problems.
Although Collins showed little interest in the bridge, he was ultimately left responsible for its maintenance and care. Collins was placed in a difficult situation, since he knew little about the all-iron bridge.
On the night of the disaster A special train was readied to bring medical supplies, surgeons and a number of railroad officials from Cleveland to Ashtabula. At approximately 2:00 a.m., Charles Collins, several railroad officials and five surgeons arrived on the special train from Cleveland, Ohio. When the train arrives, Collins rushes up to the edge of the bridge's west abutment and looks down on the wreck site. He is horrified at what he sees. The fire is still slightly burning and casting a glow over the devastation. He falls to his knees, puts his head in his hands, and sobs.
With the national press watching, three separate investigations were launched. One was the Ohio Legislative Committee, which convened at the Kennard House in Cleveland, Ohio. They began calling key witnesses, top engineers, and officials from the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, railroad. On Jan. 17, 1877 Charles Collins would be called to testify. Later that night, it was believed that he committed suicide.
Collins felt a unique sense of grief over the disaster and was so shaken that on Monday, January 15th, 1877 he handed in his resignation. "I have worked for thirty years, with what fidelity God knows, for the protection and safety of the public, and now the public, forgetting all these years of service, has turned against me." However, his resignation was not accepted. In fact, his boss, Charles Paine, did what he could to reassure Collins, but nothing he said would console him.
A conscientious and sensitive man, the grief over the tragedy would almost overwhelm him, but would he take his life over it, or would someone else? This case has never been solved!
More information here:
Time Line of Charles Collins Death:
Report Collins Was Murdered:
Charles Collins Two Autopsy Reports:
Collins Mausoleum in Chestnut Grove Cemetery, Ashtabula, OH