Canal Engineers

William Weston (1763 – 29 August 1833) was a civil engineer who worked in England and the United States of America. For a brief period at the end of the 18th century, Weston was the pre-eminent civil engineer in the new United States and worked on the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company (Pennsylvania), the Western and Northern Inland Lock Navigation Companies (New York), the Middlesex Canal (Massachusetts), the Schuylkill Permanent Bridge at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Potomac Navigation (Virginia & Maryland).

  • His notebook (donated to the Institution of Civil Engineers, London) includes, amongst other things, a diagram of ‘centring at Sawley Bridge’, the costings of a guard lock, a diagram of a canal bridge and costings of ‘Gainsboro’ Bridge’.
  • William, an Englishman, was son of Samuel Weston, the Oxford Canal engineer: he married Charlotte Whitehouse of Gainsborough in 1792; daughter Sophia Weston (who later, in England, married a Staveley) was born in Albany.
  • Sometime after William Weston returned from America he commissioned a porcelain service, which came to light circa 2005.
  • Works
    • 1791 Trent Bridge, Gainsborough
    • 1795 Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company
    • 1798 Delaware and Schuylkill Canal
    • 1793 Conewago Canal, Pennsylvania
    • 1796 Middlesex Canal, Massachusetts
    • 1796 Potomac River Locks, Virginia
    • 1798 Western Inland Lock Navigation, New York
    • 1796 James River Canal, Virginia
    • 1801 Schuylkill River Bridge Pennsylvania
  • (from Wikipedia)

Colonel Loammi Baldwin (January 10, 1744 – October 20, 1807) was a noted American engineer, politician, and a soldier in the American Revolutionary War.

Baldwin is known as the Father of American Civil Engineering. His five sons, Cyrus Baldwin (1773–1854), Benjamin Franklin Baldwin (1777–1821), Loammi Baldwin, Jr. (1780–1834), James Fowle Baldwin (1782–1862), and George Rumford Baldwin (1798–1888) were also well-known engineers. He surveyed and was responsible for the construction of the Middlesex Canal, but today he is perhaps best remembered for the Baldwin apple which he developed at his farm, or rather he recognized its potential and propagated it throughout the northeast. The apple had been discovered on the farm of John Ball in Wilmington, Massachusetts, around 1750, and named Woodpecker by a later owner of the farm. Colonel Baldwin’s promotion of the apple occurred after 1784. He was also a surveyor and plantation co-owner in Hartford, Maine, which at that time was known as East Butterfield.

Baldwin attended grammar school in Woburn, Massachusetts. Later he would walk from North Woburn to Cambridge with his younger friend and childhood neighbor, Benjamin Thompson, later Count Rumford, to attend the lectures of Professor John Winthrop at Harvard College. He and Thompson performed their own experiments at home. Baldwin received a Master of Arts degree from Harvard in 1785.

In 1774 Baldwin enlisted in a regiment, and commanded the Woburn militia at the Battle of Lexington and Concord as a major. He is recorded as having described the events of April 19, 1775 as follows “We mustered as fast as possible. The Town turned out extraordinary, and proceeded toward Lexington.” As a major at the time he continues “I rode along a little before the main body, and when I was nigh Jacob Reed’s (at present Durenville) I heard a great firing; proceeded on, soon heard that the Regulars had fired upon Lexington people and killed a large number of them. We proceeded on as fast as possible and came to Lexington and saw about eight or ten dead and numbers wounded.” He then, with the rest from Woburn, proceeded to Concord by way of Lincoln meeting house, ascended a hill there, and rested and refreshed themselves a little. Then follows a particular account of the action and of his own experience. He had “several good shots,” and proceeded on till coming between the meeting-house and Buckman’s tavern at Lexington, with a prisoner before him, the cannon of the British began to play, the balls flying near him, and for safety he retreated back behind the meeting-house, when a ball came through near his head, and he further retreated to a meadow north of the house and lay there and heard the balls in the air and saw them strike the ground. Woburn sent to the field on that day, one hundred and eighty men. At the beginning of the war he enlisted in the 26th Continental Regiment commanded by Colonel Samuel Gerrish. Here he rapidly advanced to be lieutenant-colonel, and upon Colonel Gerrish’s retirement in August 1775, he was placed in command of the regiment, and was soon commissioned colonel.

Until the end of 1775, Baldwin and his men remained near Boston, but in April 1776, he was ordered with his command to New York City. He took part in the Battle of Pell’s Point on October 18, 1776. On the night of December 25–26, in the face of a violent and extremely cold storm of snow and hail, General Washington and his army crossed the Delaware to the New Jersey side, and fought the Battle of Trenton on the morning of December 26. Baldwin and his regiment participated in both the crossing and the fight. In 1777, Baldwin resigned from the army because of ill health.

Baldwin was elected to various public offices between 1780 and 1796. He was appointed high sheriff of Middlesex County in 1780, and was the first to hold office after the adoption of the state constitution. From 1778-1784, he represented Woburn in the Massachusetts General Court. In 1794, he was a candidate for election to the United States House of Representatives, and obtained all the votes cast in Woburn but one.

Baldwin began work with his older sons on the Middlesex Canal in 1794 and after nine years, the canal began service in 1803. He later worked on Boston’s fortifications. His son Cyrus continued his father’s work on the Middlesex Canal as an agent for the canal company. His son Benjamin worked on the Boston Mill Dam until his early death at the age of 43.

Baldwin was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1782. He opposed Shays’ Rebellion. His published work as a member of the AAAS included early experiments with electricity “An account of a Curious Appearance of the Electrical Fluid,” (Memoirs Am. Acad. Vol. 1, 1785, pp. 257–259); and “Observations on Electricity and an Improved Mode of Constructing Lightning Rods,” (Memoirs, Vol. 2, pt. 2, 1804, pp. 96–104). The first paper was written in 1783, and the “curious appearance” described was produced by raising an electrical kite at the time of a thunder shower. The experiments, however, were tried in July, 1771. At that time the author mentions that there stood some lofty trees near his house, and also a shop near by it. His parents, family, and neighbors witnessed the “electrical effect” he succeeded in producing. The date of preparing the second article was January 25, 1797.

His home Baldwin House—originally built in 1660 and expanded in the 1800s—still stands in Woburn and is currently in use as a Chinese restaurant.

Baldwin married July 9, 1772, Mary Fowle (died 1786 age 39) daughter of James Fowle, Jr. and Mary Reed, and had four sons. He married again, May 26, 1791, Margaret Fowle (1747-1799), daughter of Josiah and Margery Carter, and had a son and a daughter. Howard Means in Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, The American Story, references Baldwin as a cousin of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed.)

  • (from Wikipedia)

When the time came to engineer and build New York’s Erie Canal there wasn’t a true engineer (a person with academic knowledge and practical experience) in the United States. Back then, there were no schools of civil engineering in the country and New York’s Canal Commissioners had nowhere else to put their faith than in the largely self-taught surveyors and engineering novices of upstate New York.

Benjamin Wright (1770-1842), a Connecticut native with some surveying and legal schooling, moved as a young man to what became Rome, New York to seek his fortunes as a frontier surveyor. Involved with the earliest Erie surveys, he was named one of its “chief engineers” in 1816. During the construction years, Wright proved an adept manager of the vast and novel project. In a long career, both here and abroad, that followed his working on The Erie Canal, he employed many of the younger men who had learned canal building under him on The Erie. The American Society of Civil Engineers named Wright the “Father of American Civil Engineering” in 1968.

James Geddes (1763-1838), a Pennsylvania farm boy and locally educated, forsook itinerant teaching to canoe into the wilderness near the future City of Syracuse to become a pioneer manufacturer of salt. Like Wright, he became an early Erie Canal surveyor, and one of its chief engineers. He spent four years overseeing The Erie’s companion project, the Champlain Canal (which linked the Hudson River and Lake Champlain).

Canvass White (1790-1834) was the grandson of the prosperous first white settler along the upper Mohawk River, and the best educated and most widely traveled (to Russia as a young officer on a merchant ship) of The Erie’s engineers. As a Wright’s protégé, White rose quickly from early survey party assistant to visiting observer of British canals to Wright’s principal engineering assistant, in charge of various portions of Erie construction. White’s promising post-Erie career as a canal chief engineer and manufacturer of hydraulic cement (essential to waterproof canals) was cut short by premature death.

John Jervis (1795-1885) was White’s equal and opposite. The eldest son of a poor farmer, Jervis entered his Erie Canal service with limited education, no worldliness, and an axe, to clear trees for a survey crew. Yet, intelligent and diligent like White, Jervis also rose quickly as a Wright protégé, becoming a superintending engineer on the eastern section of The Erie. A friend and competitor of White’s after their Erie years, Jervis survived him by a half-century as the leading canal, railroad, and water supply engineer of his time.

Nathan Roberts (1776-1852) was perhaps the least likely of Erie’s engineers to find fortune and fame in canalling. The son of a New Jersey merchant ruined by the Revolution, Roberts, at age sixteen, turned to itinerant math teaching eventually finding his way to the upper Mohawk Valley where he became the adored instructor of Canvass White and other area children. A month before

When the time came to engineer and build New York’s Erie Canal there wasn’t a true engineer (a person with academic knowledge and practical experience) in the United States. Back then, there were no schools of civil engineering in the country and New York’s Canal Commissioners had nowhere else to put their faith than in the largely self-taught surveyors and engineering novices of upstate New York.

Benjamin Wright (1770-1842), a Connecticut native with some surveying and legal schooling, moved as a young man to what became Rome, New York to seek his fortunes as a frontier surveyor. Involved with the earliest Erie surveys, he was named one of its “chief engineers” in 1816. During the construction years, Wright proved an adept manager of the vast and novel project. In a long career, both here and abroad, that followed his working on The Erie Canal, he employed many of the younger men who had learned canal building under him on The Erie. The American Society of Civil Engineers named Wright the “Father of American Civil Engineering” in 1968.

James Geddes (1763-1838), a Pennsylvania farm boy and locally educated, forsook itinerant teaching to canoe into the wilderness near the future City of Syracuse to become a pioneer manufacturer of salt. Like Wright, he became an early Erie Canal surveyor, and one of its chief engineers. He spent four years overseeing The Erie’s companion project, the Champlain Canal (which linked the Hudson River and Lake Champlain).

Canvass White (1790-1834) was the grandson of the prosperous first white settler along the upper Mohawk River, and the best educated and most widely traveled (to Russia as a young officer on a merchant ship) of The Erie’s engineers. As a Wright’s protégé, White rose quickly from early survey party assistant to visiting observer of British canals to Wright’s principal engineering assistant, in charge of various portions of Erie construction. White’s promising post-Erie career as a canal chief engineer and manufacturer of hydraulic cement (essential to waterproof canals) was cut short by premature death.

John Jervis (1795-1885) was White’s equal and opposite. The eldest son of a poor farmer, Jervis entered his Erie Canal service with limited education, no worldliness, and an axe, to clear trees for a survey crew. Yet, intelligent and diligent like White, Jervis also rose quickly as a Wright protégé, becoming a superintending engineer on the eastern section of The Erie. A friend and competitor of White’s after their Erie years, Jervis survived him by a half-century as the leading canal, railroad, and water supply engineer of his time.

Nathan Roberts (1776-1852) was perhaps the least likely of Erie’s engineers to find fortune and fame in canalling. The son of a New Jersey merchant ruined by the Revolution, Roberts, at age sixteen, turned to itinerant math teaching eventually finding his way to the upper Mohawk Valley where he became the adored instructor of Canvass White and other area children. A month before Roberts turned 40, Wright appointed him to a preliminary Erie survey party, though he had no surveying experience. He proved himself a fine surveyor and a brilliant engineer and his design of the locks at what became Lockport was the most spectacular piece of engineering on the entire canal.

 

These founders of American engineering were among the dozens of future engineers who attended the so-called “Erie School of Engineering.” Thousands of other men put in time on the line, building the hundreds of miles of canal and numerous masonry locks, bridges, culverts, and other structures. In the early years, most of these workers were local farmers, their sons, and farmhands whose fields bordered the canal route. Eventually, the majority of workers were the gangs of immigrant Irish laborers who brought their knowledge of English canals and an extraordinary tolerance for grueling, dangerous, unhealthy work. These hard working laborers and self-educated engineers perfectly illustrate the frontier spirit.., trusting in hard work and common sense to meet the challenge of America’s first great civil engineering project: The Erie Canal.

Roberts turned 40, Wright appointed him to a preliminary Erie survey party, though he had no surveying experience. He proved himself a fine surveyor and a brilliant engineer and his design of the locks at what became Lockport was the most spectacular piece of engineering on the entire canal.

 

These founders of American engineering were among the dozens of future engineers who attended the so-called “Erie School of Engineering.” Thousands of other men put in time on the line, building the hundreds of miles of canal and numerous masonry locks, bridges, culverts, and other structures. In the early years, most of these workers were local farmers, their sons, and farmhands whose fields bordered the canal route. Eventually, the majority of workers were the gangs of immigrant Irish laborers who brought their knowledge of English canals and an extraordinary tolerance for grueling, dangerous, unhealthy work. These hard working laborers and self-educated engineers perfectly illustrate the frontier spirit.., trusting in hard work and common sense to meet the challenge of America’s first great civil engineering project: The Erie Canal.