William E. Morris engineer's notebookCreation: circa 1839
William E. Morris (1812-1875) was a civil engineer and railroad executive. The notebook contains fourteen separate specifications for canal and railroad work copied in longhand and a fifteenth in the form of an inserted printed handbill. They offer a good snapshot of early civil engineering practice and construction techniques. Evidence points to Morris as the notebook's author.
- Creation: circa 1839
William E. Morris (1812-1875) was a civil engineer and railroad executive. He was born in Muncy, Pennsylvania, on January 29, 1812, and died in Philadelphia on October 15, 1875.
Morris spent the first years of his career on the state-owned railroad and canal system of Pennsylvania, serving as an appointee of Democratic administrations. In 1836 to 1838, when the Anti-Masons were in power, he worked for a number of private companies, including the Bald Eagle & Spring Creek Navigation and Union Canal in Pennsylvania, and the extension of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad west of Harpers Ferry under B. H. Latrobe (1806-1878).
When the Democrats returned to power in 1839, Morris returned to the Public Works, being named chief engineer of the Juniata and Western Division Canals and the Allegheny Portage Railroad. In this capacity he designed the Allegheny Mountain reservoirs to supply both canal divisions. With retrenchment caused by the state's default, Morris returned to the private sector, eventually serving as president of the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad from 1843 to 1853, of the Long Island Railroad from 1853 to 1863 and as acting president of the New York & Harlem Railroad from 1863 to 1864. He resigned the last position for health reasons in 1864 and retired to a consulting practice in Philadelphia.
Scope and Contents
The notebook contains fourteen separate specifications for canal and railroad work copied in longhand and a fifteenth in the form of an inserted printed handbill. The entries are not in chronological order and were probably copied as a single endeavor, most likely in 1838 or 1839, to serve as a reference volume and model for specification writing.
When purchased, the volume also contained a booklet which proved to be the index to the minute book of the Norristown & Valley Railroad Company (1835-1842). This index has been placed with its parent volume in the Reading Company archive (Hagley Museum & Library Accession 1520, Vol. 1276), from which it which it had presumably been separated since the 1840s or 1850s.
Many pieces of internal evidence point to William E. Morris (1812-1875) as the notebook's author. He is the author of the only printed item, which was presumably placed in the volume after the handwritten entries, as it is the last project (circa 1839). He is also the only early civil engineer whose career touches a majority of the projects. Most of the others were the work of his colleague, Edward F. Gay, who also returned to the public works in 1839. Finally, the Norristown & Valley Railroad was basically an extension of the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown, and as PG&N president, Morris was the only likely candidate in a position to acquire the minute book index after the N&V dissolved in 1842.
The specifications consist of very detailed instructions for the construction of canal prism, locks, dams, culverts, and bridges, and railroad roadbed, buildings, and cars, circa 1831-1838. They offer a good snapshot of early civil engineering practice and construction techniques.
The individual specifications are as follows:
Locks, bridges, and culverts for the Tide Water Canal Co., by Edward F. Gay, circa 1837.
Locks, dams, and prism sections for the Bald Eagle & Spring Creek Navigation Co., circa 1835.
Culverts and excavations for the Genesee Valley Canal, circa 1837.
Locks for the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Canals, undated [circa 1831].
Culverts for the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Canals, undated.
Masonry and graduation for the B&O Railroad west of Harpers Ferry, by B. H. Latrobe, circa 1838.
For the Wiconisco Division of the Pennsylvania Canal, 1838.
For the Hollidaysburg engine house, shop, and depot of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, by J. P. Bailey, circa 1833.
For "burthen" (i.e. freight) cars for the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, undated.
For the manner of clearing ground overflowed by reservoirs, by William E. Morris, circa 1839.
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- 2020: Ashley Williams