Winding down at Duffy’s Cut

The tragic story of Duffy’s Cut is recounted in this recently published book authored by Bill and Frank Watson


By Ray O’Hanlon

All’s quiet at Duffy’s Cut.

It usually is in mid-winter but excavation work at the site of an 1832 tragedy involving the death of dozens of Irish immigrant railroad workers has pretty much neared its end – this after more than a decade and a half.

“Geologist, Tim Bechtel, predicted back in 2012 that we probably wouldn’t find any more skeletons down there because the Ground Penetrating Radar indications were that the other skeletons were moved to the area under and around the stone monument up by the tracks where he got a large image of a ‘stopping void’ as we got for the initial seven skeletons in the valley,” said Dr. Bill Watson who has led the Duffy’s Cut team, along with his brother Frank, since 2002.

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“He (Bechtel) thinks the remains will be very fragmentary at the spot under the stone monument having been moved circa 1872-73 and probably not having been in coffins to begin with,” said Watson.

“We will figure out what to do with the remains at that spot this winter and look to try to finally start a DNA analysis if we can obtain the funds to do so,” he added.

That said, the work in Malvern – which is on the mainline railroad track that links Philadelphia with Pittsburgh and about twenty-five miles west of the former - may not be complete, even with a winding up at Duffy’s Cut.

Duffy’s Cut is the last resting place of an estimated 57 Irish railroad workers who died there in 1832. They succumbed to a condition called Cold Cholera, or to murderous attacks by local nativist gangs. The remains of some have been recovered, but the mass grave site is believed to be the resting place of many more.

Said Watson, a professor of History at Immaculata University: “We also have another spot to investigate next year in Downingtown, eleven miles west of Duffy’s Cut, and connected to Duffy’s Cut.

“Another Irish railroader crew is buried there dating from the same 1832 cholera epidemic in a potter’s field at the base of present-day Northwood Cemetery.

“One of the men from Duffy’s Cut ran west to avoid the quarantine in the Duffy’s Cut valley and, according to the records, infected the crew of another Irish immigrant contractor, Peter Connor. No subsequent record of Connor exists, so he may himself have become a victim of cholera too.”

The Watsons, meanwhile, have penned a book giving a full account of their work over the years at Duffy’s Cut.

“Massacre at Duffy’s Cut” is published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, and It is also available on Amazon and the Barnes & Noble websites.