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Near deadly fall gives rise to 1913

Their marriage portrait was taken in Ella's mother home in Sleepy Eye, Minn. Frank is seated and Ella is on the arm of his chair. Photo submitted

June 18 was a special day for Jackie Bradham and the St. Croix County Historical Society. It was when Peggy Clark, stopped by to visit. Clark who lives in Kansas had a special story to share.

"They called first to set up the appointment," said Bradham. Clark and her sister Barbara Ames, also from Kansas were heading to the area on vacation and knew a stop in Hudson was a must.

Clark's grandfather, Frank Armsworthy, was an iron worker during the construction of the Hudson Toll Bridge in 1913. It was the first interstate bridge to cross the St. Croix River.

February 18, 1913, would prove to be a near tragedy for the 35-year-old Kansas native. In fact, the initial report of his accident declared that Armsworthy had fallen to his death.

"He was working on the upper steel works in a high wind when he lost his balance and was seen to sway, then plunge downward, his body whirling in the air as he descended. He struck on the ice so violently that he broke both legs at the thigh and below the knees and fractured his skull. The body will be shipped back to Oklahoma by the union iron workers." This report printed in the New Richmond paper the day of the accident included some false information.

On February 20, the Hudson Star-Observer cleared up the facts in its account of the accident.

Armsworthy had fallen 60 feet to the frozen surface of the river, however, he was still alive.

"Both legs were broken near the ankle joints, his skull was fractured and a deep ugly cut was sustained by contact with the ice, extending from the top of his forehead to the upper lip."

He was transported by wagon to the Hudson Sanatorium where he was expected to die.

A week later the Hudson Star-Observer reported that he was still alive and owing to modern surgery his limbs may be saved. They were, and Armsworthy awoke, to see Ella Marie Kolbe.

An account from the Sleepy Eye Newspaper in 1916 recalled the event this way.

"One of the first things Armsworthy saw upon awakening from his senseless sleep was a beautiful maiden, garbed in immaculate white and her bewitching eyes and cold black tresses gave him a new inspiration to recover health from death and begin life anew."

Armsworthy was Peggy Clark's grandfather, who recovered from his life-threatening injuries and went on to marry the nursing student three years after his accident on April 24, 1916. Her bedside visitation inspired him to recover.

He never returned to bridge work, instead taking his new bride back to his home farm in Kansas where they raised a family and remained until his death in 1956.

"It was a story we grew up hearing," said Clark. "We have known it all our lives." The couple had three children: two daughters, Elina Edith, who died at the age of one year; Betty Lee, Clark's mother who died in 2001; and William K., who recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

"After my mother died, it was a way to keep connected to her," said Clark. "I started doing lots and lots of genealogical research."

"We had always had pictures of the bridge, every family member had some," said Clark. "I didn't know if anyone in Hudson had these pictures. It is a part of Hudson history too."

Over the years, Clark has come to Hudson several times and every family member has been here at least once to gaze at the 'bridge.'

"It was amazing to see that bridge (what is left of it)," said Clark. "I heard about it all my life." In 2002 Clark contacted Hudson Star-Observer publisher emeritus Willis Miller seeking information about the Hudson Sanatorium as well as the bridge. At that time, he gave Clark copies of the 1913 newspaper accounts written in Hudson.

In February at the time of Armsworthy's fall, Kolbe was a nursing student at the Hudson Sanatorium. She and three others from Sleepy Eye, Minn., graduated, receiving the diplomas, caps and pins in May of 1913, three months after his accident. Clark still has her diploma and pin.

There is no clear record of how long Armsworthy remained a patient at the sanatorium. It is speculated it was months. Photos of him on the grounds appear to be taken in the fall when apples were being picked.

"It is a neat story," said Clark. "It is a story that should be heard and shared."

Clark not only shared the story with Jackie Bradham, she also shared a large collection of photos, including some that have never been seen before, of the toll bridge construction.

"My sisters and I always say if it wasn't for that bridge we wouldn't be here," said Clark.