The Larchmont Disaster of 1907
By James Donahue
In its day, the collision that sank the steamship Larchmont and took an estimated 150 passengers and
crew to the bottom of Long Island Sound was dubbed "the Titanic of New England." It still ranks among the worst marine disasters
to ever occur on that coast.
The Larchmont, an aging 252-foot-long wooden hulled side-wheeler was on a night trip from Providence,
Rhode Island to New York City with an estimated 200 passengers and crew members on board. The date was February 11, 1907,
and a vicious winter gale producing high seas and 60-mile-per-hour winds was ravaging the area. To make matters worse the
temperature dipped to around zero degrees. Visibility was extremely poor. Thus all of the ingredients were present for the
horrific event that happened.
At the helm of the Larchmont was Captain George McVey, 27, reportedly in command of his first ship.
After leaving Narragansett Bay and entering Long Island Sound, McVey retired to his cabin and left pilot John Anson in charge
of the ship.
It was only minutes later that the watchman spotted the lights of an approaching sailing ship. Anson
ordered the wheelman to alter course to make sure the steamer steered clear, but he was not aware that the approaching ship,
the heavy coal-laden schooner Harry Knowlton, was also altering course. Consequently the two ships struck, the schooner driving
its wooden bow deep into the side of the Larchmont.
The collision cut a large hole in the side of the steamer, cut its main steam line, and immediately
left it afloat and without power. The force of the storm quickly tore the two ships apart and they drifted off, both sinking
The schooner’s master, Captain Frank Haley, first attempted to make a run for the nearest shore.
When he realized the vessel was sinking too fast to make it, he ordered the crew to abandon ship. The entire crew survived
although there were cases of severe frostbite and exposure.
Conditions on the Larchmont were filled with panic and extreme horror. Passengers groped their way
from their cabins, many dressed only in their night clothes, in total darkness. The broken steam pipes released scalding steam
through the lower decks. Those who found their way to the open deck met cold bitter wind and spray from the high waves that
quickly covered them in ice.
Captain McVey ordered the lifeboats lowered. McVey, seven members of his crew and a few passengers
boarded the boats and looked for survivors in the water. None were found. The ship sank within minutes. By the time the lifeboats
drifted ashore, many of the people in them were frozen to death. Other ice-covered bodies floated ashore.
There were only 17 survivors from the steamer.
The Larchmont was launched at Bath, Maine, in 1885 and given the name Cumberland. It was purchased
by the Joy Steamship Line in 1902 and given its final name, Larchmont.
The wreck lies in 135 feet of water about three miles off Watch Hill.