Canal Board: Its Powers and Duties: List of Members during Barge Canal Construction -- Advisory Board of Consulting Engineers: Its Peculiar Office: Its Duties: Its Members -- Comptroller: His Duty in Issuing Bonds: His Duty in Auditing Accounts and Issuing Warrants for Payments -- Attorney-General: His Duties as Legal Advisor to Canal Board and Defender of Claims against State -- Superintendent of Public Works: His Duties in Awarding Contracts, Approving Alterations, Making Payments, and Appraising and Securing New Lands: His Membership on Important Canal Bodies: His Duty in Maintaining Navigation -- State Engineer and Surveyor: His Duties: His Organization: His Membership on Important Canal Bodies -- Special Examiner and Appraiser of Canal Lands: Creation of the Office: Duties and Usefulness of the Appraisers: List of Men Holding the Office.

While the construction of the Barge canal in the main was a work of engineering and most of it fell under the care of the State Engineer and his staff of assistants, there were several other State officials who in one way or another had vital association with the enterprise and performed certain important duties connected with its accomplishment. It is our purpose in the present chapter to mention these officials and describe briefly the parts they played, and also in connection with these descriptions to give the names of the several individuals who held the offices during the period of canal construction. Frequently in the present volume the officials are mentioned by name of office only, especially in the case of bodies composed of several persons, and so these lists are added, that they may be at hand for easy reference, if one desires to know who were the persons involved in various acts.


The chief governing body in supervising all canal affairs in the state is the Canal Board. The Board was established in 1826, only one year after the completion of the original Erie canal, and ever since then it has exercised this power of general control. The Barge canal act did not abridge its powers, if anything it increased them, and it specifically defined the duties with reference to the new work in such fashion as to give it final control, no individual officer being allowed, without the Board's approval, to go beyond certain well-defined and safe limits. In a former chapter we likened the Canal Board to a board of directors of a great corporation in which the people of the state are the stockholders. The figure seem peculiarly appropriate to apply to this body.

In the course of construction, after plans and estimates had been made, they had to be approved by the Canal Board before contracts could be let and subsequently no alterations that would increase the cost of the work could be made without its consent. No contract could be awarded on a proposal that exceeded the estimate by more than a fixed amount and also no single item of work during construction might overrun the estimate by more than a small percentage without the Board's approval and in the latter instance the Board might determine to have the excessive work done by the Superintendent of Public Works or under a special contract rather than by the original contractor. The Board had power to suspend any contract upon which construction was not progressing in a satisfactory manner and to direct the Superintendent of Public Works to proceed with the work or to order it relet to another contractor. The approval of the final account, after contract work was completed and accepted, also devolved upon the Canal Board.

The Canal Board is composed of seven State officers, six elective and one appointive. They are: Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State, Comptroller, Treasurer, Attorney-General, Superintendent of Public Works and State Engineer and Surveyor.

The first five officers named constitute the Commissioners of the Canal Fund -- a body whose existence antedates the Canal Board by nine years, having been created by the act which authorized the building of the original Erie and Champlain canals. As the name signifies these commissioners are intrusted with supervision of the canal fund.

The men who have been members of the Canal Board since 1903 and the years of their incumbency are as follows: Lieutenant-Governors: Frank W. Higgins, 1903 and 1904; Matthew Linn Bruce, 1905 and 1906; Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, 1907 and 1908; Horace White, 1909 and until October 6, 1910; Thomas F. Conway, 1911 and 1912; Martin H. Glynn, January 1 to October 17, 1913; Edward Schoeneck, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918; Harry C. Walker, 1919 and 1920; Jeremiah Wood, 1921 and 1922, till September 26.

Secretaries of State: John F. O'Brien, 1903, 1904, 1905 and 1906; John S. Whalen, 1907 and 1908; Samuel S. Koenig, 1909 and 1910; Edward Lazansky, 1911 and 1912. Mitchell May, 1913 and 1914; Francis M. Hugo, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919 and 1920; John J. Lyons, 1921 and 1922.

Comptrollers: Otto Kelsey, November 12, 1903 to November 8, 1906; William C. Wilson, November 8, 1906 to December 31, 1906; Martin H. Glynn, 1907 and 1908; Charles H. Gaus, 1909 till his death in November; Clark Williams, November 12, 1909, to December 31, 1910; William Sohmer, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914; Eugene M. Travis, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919 and 1920; James A. Wendell, 1921 and 1922 till his death on May 10; William J. Maier, 1922, beginning in May.

Treasurers: John G. Wickser, 1903 and 1904; John G. Wallenmeier, Jr., 1905 and 1906; Julius Hauser, 1907 and 1908; Thomas B. Dunn, 1909 and 1910; John J. Kennedy, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914 till his death in February; Homer D. Call, February 25 to December 31, 1914; James L. Wells, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919 and 1920; N. Monroe Marshall, 1921 and 1922.

Attorneys-General: John Cunneen, 1903 and 1904, Julius M. Mayer, 1905 and 1906; William S. Jackson, 1907 and 1908; Edward Richard O'Malley, 1909 and 1910; Thomas Carmody, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914 till September; James A. Parsons, September 2 to December 31, 1914; Egburt E. Woodbury, 1915, 1916 and 1917 until April; Merton E. Lewis, April 25, 1917 to December 31, 1918; Charles D. Newton, 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1922.

State Engineers and Surveyors: Edward A. Bond, 1903 and 1904 till May 1; Henry A. Van Alstyne, May 10, 1904, to December 31, 1906; Frederick Skene, 1907 and 1908; Frank M. Williams, 1909 and 1910; John A. Bensel, 1911, 1912, 1913 and 1914; Frank M. Williams, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921 and 1922.

Superintendents of Public Works: Charles S. Boyd, December 20, 1901, to January 4, 1905; Nicholas V.V. Franchot, January 4, 1905, to January 14, 1907; Frederick C. Stevens, January 14, 1907, to January 4, 1911; Charles E. Treman, January 4, 1911, to January 1, 1913; Duncan W. Peck, January 1, 1913, to January 6, 1915; William W. Wotherspoon, January 6, 1915, to February 3, 1919; Lewis E. Nixon, February 3 to May 3, 1919; Edward S. Walsh, May 3, 1919, to January 21, 1921; Charles L. Cadle, January 19, 1921, to -- .


The board of advisory engineers was created by the Barge canal act. The members were appointed by the Governor and in this particular the board did not differ greatly from other bodies similarly appointed. But really there was a somewhat intimate relationship between the Governor and this board, perhaps not so much expressed in the law as implied, the outgrowth of a widespread feeling that because of the immensity and importance of the undertaking the Governor should keep his hand upon it through these carefully-selected expert engineers, who should be answerable only to himself. The board made its annual reports directly to the Governor. There was a feeling abroad too that there should be some continuing body, removed from the reach of party politics, that would preserve a unity of plan and operation in canal construction during changes which might occur in the coming of new administrations. When the Barge canal project had been presented to the people, great stress was laid upon this board, for both its permanency and the high order of ability and character of the men who should be appointed.

Under the creating statute the duties of the board were strictly advisory and it had no authority by law to compel acceptance of its suggestions. As a matter of fact, however, its opinions were almost always treated with as much respect as if they had legal weight. Nearly every question of moment concerning the new canal was submitted to the Advisory Board and also persons who had suggestions to make or grievances to register appeared before this Board just as they appeared before the Canal Board for like purposes. Even before the law directed such action it was customary to submit plans, specifications and estimates to the Advisory Board before they went to the Canal Board and whatever changes the advisory engineers suggested were made before the plans were ever sent to the Canal Board for approval.

Two amendments to the Barge canal law had to do with defining the duties of the Advisory Board in certain particulars. The first, passed in 1907, made it mandatory on the State Engineer to submit both contract plans and alterations to the Advisory Board before sending them to the Canal Board. The second, passed in 1908, required the State Engineer to send copies of appropriation maps to the Advisory Board before they were submitted to the Canal Board. In each instance the Advisory Board was directed to make examinations and reports on the subjects submitted. It was necessary, therefore, for the advisory engineers to keep in close touch with all the work of construction, both prospective and actual. This was the more necessary because of the stand the Superintendent of Public Works took of not paying the monthly estimates until a majority of the advisory engineers had made a certificate attesting the satisfactory character of the work performed.

A statute of 1904 provided that the terms of office of the advisory engineers should continue during the construction period of the improvement, but an act of 1911 terminated the Board and this took effect on July 21, 1911,

At the beginning of its existence, early in 1904, the Advisory Board consisted of Edward A. Bond, chairman, William A. Brackenridge, Elmer L. Corthell, Alfred Brooks Fry and Thomas W. Symons, and during its life there were but two changes in membership. On July 31, 1907, Mortimer G. Barnes took the place of Dr. Corthell, resigned, and on November 5, 1909, Joseph Ripley replaced Mr. Brackenridge, also resigned.

There are four State officials who, aside from their duties as members of the Canal Board, have had much to do with canal construction by reason of responsibilities imposed upon them as individual officers. These are the Comptroller, the Attorney-General, the Superintendent of Public Works and the State Engineer and Surveyor.


The Comptroller's main duties in connection with the canal have been two in number -- to take charge of issuing State bonds for raising funds and to audit accounts and issue warrants for payments. The Comptroller's connection with the bond issue extended from the time the blank paper was received to the time the funds were paid in. The paper for the bonds, especially water-marked, was delivered to the Comptroller under a certified double count. He delivered a sufficient number of sheets to the engraver for each issue, getting a receipt for them. After the engraving, the paper was fully accounted for, either in actual bonds or in imperfect or blank sheets. Then after the bonds had been carefully examined and the signature and seal of the Comptroller had been affixed, they were sent to the State's transfer office, a certain banking house in New York city, for counter signature. Next the Comptroller advertised the sale of the bonds and awarded them to the successful bidder or bidders. Then the transfer officer, upon the receipt of payment, placed the money to the credit of the Treasurer of the State in the account of the canal fund.

Upon the Comptroller devolved the duty of auditing the accounts of all moneys expended for Barge canal purposes. These included the payments to contractors, payments for engineering expenses, payments for permanent appropriations of land and for damages thereto, the expenditures of the Advisory Board of Consulting Engineers and of the Special Examiner and Appraiser for the purchase of lands, and various miscellaneous expenses incidental to the work of constructing the canal. Advances were made for engineering expenses to the division engineers of the State Engineer's department and abstracts of expenditures with accompanying vouchers were presented monthly and duly audited by the Comptroller. Accounts and vouchers were presented by the Superintendent of Public Works for miscellaneous expenditures, together with his draft, and these drafts were paid from the treasury upon the warrant of the Comptroller. Monthly estimates were prepared by the resident engineers and approved by the division engineer, the State Engineer and the Advisory Board of Consulting Engineers (while that body was in existence) for the work of construction on each of the contracts, and drafts were issued by the Superintendent of Public Works on the Comptroller and payment of each draft was made by the Treasurer's check, issued on the warrant of the Comptroller after due audit of each estimate by him. The payments for land acquired either through judgments of the Court of Claims or by agreements entered into by the Special Examiner and Appraiser, as well as all other miscellaneous payments incidental of construction, were made, upon the rendition of accounts and vouchers in due form, by the Treasurer's check, issued upon the warrant of the Comptroller. The organization in the Comptroller's office to care for this work is the Bureau of Canal Affairs.

The names of the men who have held the office of Comptroller since Barge canal work began are given in connection with the list of members of the Canal Board.


The Barge canal law placed on the Attorney-General the duty of approving the form of contract under which work should be let and also the form under which security should be given by a contractor for the faithful performance of such work. If this had been his only duty his connection with the waterway would have been of little consequence, but as legal advisor of members of the Canal Board there fell upon him an important part in the work of canal improvement. In the letting of contracts and the construing of their terms, in appropriating lands and waters and in legal questions that have arisen during the whole progress of construction the advice of the Attorney-General has often been sought. But by far the major part of his service has consisted in defending claims brought against the State in the Court of Claims for damages alleged to have been sustained by reason of the Barge canal or its construction. For several years the Court of Claims was engaged almost exclusively in disposing of Barge canal claims. Many millions of dollars have been involved and the responsibility resting on the Attorney-General has been great. Two especially important questions entered into several of the claims -- the rules for the valuing of water-power and a decision as to what constitutes riparian rights -- questions which, although considered in original canal construction, might still be treated as open to settlement by the highest courts.

The men who have held the office of Attorney-General since the Barge canal law was passed are also listed among the names of Canal Board members.


The official who aside from the State Engineer has had closest connection with Barge canal construction is the Superintendent of Public Works. While the Superintendent had nothing to do with making contract plans, his relation to the plans after they were prepared was very intimate. As a member of the Canal Board he had a voice in their approval. Since, however, only two members of the Canal Board, the State Engineer and the Superintendent, might be expected to have any technical knowledge of the work, the judgment of these two was generally accepted and followed by the others and from this practice the custom became established of submitting the plans and specifications to the Superintendent for his examination before they were sent to the Canal Board. This arrangement between the two officials was found to work well, for it gave opportunity of adjusting any points of difference before the plans came to the Board for approval.

After plans had been approved by the Canal Board it was the duty of the Superintendent to award the contracts. He advertised the letting in accordance with directions laid down in the Barge canal law, fixed the date on which sealed proposals would be received, opened the bids on the given day and then awarded the contract. In all of this procedure there were many details that entered into the task, such as printing books of instructions to proposers, which contained also bidding sheets and specifications, exhibiting the plans, receiving and caring for the certified checks or drafts accompanying the bids, canvassing the bids, deciding whether they were formal and proper in every respect and determining whether the proposer had apparent resources and ability to perform the contract. After the award the contract could not be assigned or transferred without the approval of the Superintendent.

During the course of construction no alteration might be made in any plan or specification until it had first been approved by the Superintendent of Public Works, the State Engineer's approval having previously been given. Also, should the proposed alteration entail an increase of cost or create a claim against the State, it had to be submitted to the Canal Board for approval.

Payments, both monthly and final, for contract work were made by drafts issued by the Superintendent. Under the law he needed no other authority to warrant him in making payments to the contractors than the certificate of the State Engineer as to the amount and character of the work performed, but deeming it expedient that he should have an engineer in his own department to pass upon estimates and construction work, he appealed to the Legislature and was granted permission to employ an advisory engineer. The Superintendent also took the added precaution of requiring with each estimate of work done a certificate signed by a majority of the individual members of the Advisory Board of Consulting Engineers attesting that the work had been done in accordance with the plans and specifications. In the acceptance of a finished contract the State Engineer and the Superintendent of Public Works were jointly responsible.

The duty of serving papers on the owners of land to be taken for canal construction devolved upon the Superintendent. In addition to the examination and appraisal of such property by the Special Examiner and Appraiser, the Superintendent caused an independent examination to be made and the valuations fixed by the two agents had to agree closely before settlement could be made. After the Special Examiner and Appraiser had agreed with an owner as to the amount to be paid by the State, such agreement had to receive the Superintendent's approval and then the Superintendent presented the matter to the Canal Board for approval. In 1915 a Bureau of Appraisal was established in the Superintendent's department, taking the place of former machinery for acquiring property, and since then the whole of such procedure has been in charge of the Superintendent. Copies of all claims brought against the State in the Court of Claims on account of Barge canal work must be filed in the department of Public Works.

The Superintendent has been a member of nearly all the various boards and commissions that have had to do with canal investigations. At the very beginning he was one of the five men to constitute the Committee on Canals, the body that formulated the Barge canal policy. On the Terminal Commission he was one of four members. On the Commission on Operation he was supreme, the body being made up of the active Superintendent, two who had formerly held the office of Superintendent, one who had been Deputy Superintendent for a dozen years, and the State Engineer. On the Jamaica Bay-Peconic Bay Canal Board, the Board of Conference on the Gravesend Bay-Jamaica Bay Waterway, and the Board of Conference on the Harlem River Improvement the Superintendent was one of three members in each case. For making the Tonawanda-Buffalo investigation the Superintendent was one of the two appointed. For carrying out the new canal water-power policy the Superintendent has most of the responsibility. He is also a member of the commission appointed to uphold the interests of the State in the St. Lawrence ship canal contest.

The Superintendent of Public Works and his predecessors before him, the Canal Commissioners, have had charge of maintaining navigation on the State canals ever since there have been any canals in New York to navigate. Since nearly all of the canal system has been kept open during the entire period of Barge canal building, the Superintendent, in order to be sure that nothing would interfere with navigation, has had to keep in intimate touch with the actual work of construction, although the State Engineer had charge of it. This has necessitated a close coöperation between the two officials and fortunately for the undertaking such a state has existed. Of course there have been many differences of opinion; it was the State Engineer's duty to build the canal and the Superintendent's duty to maintain navigation and often the two interests conflicted, but a way has always been found out of every such dilemma. Under certain conditions also the Superintendent has acted as contractor, and workmen employed by him have constructed portions of the canal. This has happened on a few small pieces of work, when the Canal Board has exercised its prerogative under the law and has decided to do the work in this manner, but it has happened also on some large pieces of work, the Canal Board again exercising its prerogative and ordering the Superintendent to complete a contract terminated by the Board or on which the contractor had defaulted. After portions of the channel or the canal structures have been completed they have been turned over to the Superintendent and thereafter they are in his charge.

The names of the several Superintendents of recent years appear in the list already given in connection with the Canal Board.


The chief responsibility for constructing the Barge canal has rested upon the State Engineer. His was the task of selecting the route and showing the feasibility of the canal before the question of its building was brought to final issue. After the project was authorized it was his duty to determine and plan all details of construction and then to supervise the actual work of building. He took the measurements and computed the estimates month by month for paying the contractors and at the end he made the final measurements and estimates for completing the payments. Together with the Superintendent of Public Works he accepted the finished contracts in behalf of the State. This description briefly outlines the State Engineer's connection with the Barge canal, but there has been an almost infinite amount of detail included in this work and it is useless to attempt even an enumeration of its many phases. Perhaps the story can be told most concisely by saying that the State Engineer has done nearly everything needful which has not been recorded in this chapter as the specific duty of some other official.

The State Engineer required a large corps of assistants to carry on this work. The authorizing law made special provision for the directing heads, allowing the appointment of a Special Deputy and additional Resident Engineers. The organization has not remained the same throughout construction, but in general the Special Deputy's office contained the following divisions: Bureau of Designing and General Drafting, Bureau of Locks, Bureau of Rivers, Bureau of Water-supply, Bureau of Bridges, Bureau of Electrical Equipment, Bureau of Hydraulics, Bureau of Computing and Checking, Bureau of Publication and Reports and Testing Laboratory. These bureaus were in charge of Supervising Engineers, special expert engineers and Resident Engineers. During the first four years of terminal construction there was a separate organization for that work. Then it was made a bureau in the Special Deputy's office. In the later years it has been necessary to have a bureau for collecting and preparing material for use in defending claims against the State. Since the cases before the Court of Claims usually hinge on engineering data or questions of fact as recorded in the files of the department, it has come about that the Attorney-General depends largely on the State Engineer to furnish material for the defense.

For supervising construction numerous residencies were established, with offices at various cities or villages along the canal. All told there have been between 25 and 30 of these residencies, each in charge of a Resident Engineer, or as he is called now, a Senior Assistant Engineer. Each residency usually covered the work being done under many contracts, and as a rule there was a field office with a corps of assistants for each contract and sometimes several such offices for a single large contract.

In all that has pertained to adding new features or new branches to the canal system the State Engineer has had a part, generally the chief part. He was a member of the Canal Committee that recommended the building of the Barge canal, but he was not the head of this body. The same was true with respect to the Commission on Operation. He was chairman of probably the most important body of all, the Terminal Commission, and also of the Jamaica Bay-Peconic Bay Canal Board, the Board of Conference on the Gravesend Bay-Jamaica Bay Waterway, and the Board of Conference on the Harlem River Improvement. He and the Superintendent of Public Works jointly made the Tonawanda-Buffalo investigation, but the State Engineer presented the report to the Legislature. Of the commission for defending the State's interests in the St. Lawrence shop canal controversy the State Engineer is an important member.

There have been only five men to be State Engineer since agitation for the Barge canal began. A list of their names appears in the chapter dealing with the Chief Builders, also in connection with what was said about the Canal Board in the present chapter and again in the chapter containing lists of Barge canal engineers of the higher grades.


The Barge canal law made provision for acquiring lands or waters needed for the new canal, but it did not specify any means for making compensation for property taken except through the medium of the Court of Claims. A shorter, simpler and less expensive way was essential, not only for rapid progress but also for the convenience and satisfaction of both State officials and property owners. At the first opportunity after the passage of the original law, therefore, provision was made for the appointment of special agents whose duty it should be to negotiate with owners for settlements without resorting to court proceedings. The Legislature of 1904 (by chapter 335) authorized the Governor to appoint three Special Examiners and Appraisers.

After papers for appropriating lands or structures had been served and maps duly filed, it became the duty of these appraisers to visit the localities, to inspect and make proper examination of the land and also of any building which might be on the properties, to make careful note of their findings in books kept by them for the purpose, to make inquiries concerning the values of properties to be taken, and immediately to begin negotiations for their purchase.

It happened sometimes that agreements could be reached while the appraisers were still on the ground, but in other cases this could be done only after prolonged negotiations and frequent visits to the properties. As soon as an agreement was reached the appraisers executed a contract with the owner and this was submitted to the Canal Board for approval at its next meeting. If the Board did not approve, the contract was returned to the appraisers; if it did approve, the secretary of the Canal Board notified the owner and requested him to forward a deed to the Attorney-General. After search had been made and a satisfactory title proved, the Attorney-General made a certified statement of this fact to the Comptroller, who issued a warrant upon which a Treasurer's check was sent to the owner and the transaction was closed.

It was a fortunate happening that brought about this arrangement for making property settlements. In the course of canal construction it became necessary often to dispossess people of their homes and properties against their wills and the cold and unfeeling processes of the law were repugnant to them. It was the general sentiment that the appraisers were dealing fairly by both the State and the property owners and as a result the people were usually satisfied with the settlements. Some of the owners took their cases to the Court of Claims and of the judgments awarded very few exceeded the figures previously determined by the appraisers. Moreover the settlements effected by the appraisers were much speedier. The Court of Claims was so burdened with cases that long delays were inevitable.

Those who served as Special Examiners and Appraisers were Harvey J. Donaldson, J. Edgar Leaycraft and George Bingham. They held their positions for four years. Then the law which created the offices was repealed and in their stead the Governor was empowered to appoint a single Special Examiner and Appraiser of canal lands. There were three men to hold this office. Harvey J. Donaldson was appointed on May 1, 1908, William B. Milliman on June 28, 1911, and Edwin S. Harris on December 23, 1914. The Legislature of 1915 abolished the office and in its place created in the department of the Superintendent of Public Works a bureau of appraisal to consist of a Special Examiner and Appraiser and such subordinates as the Superintendent deemed necessary, all to be appointed by the Superintendent.

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