MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
Chapter 21 People Who Made a Difference
Benjamin Wright - Who Was That Guy Anyway?
My quest to explore the entire 161 miles of the Mohawk River seemed impossible three years ago. When I reached the 100-mile mark this past year and realized I might actually become the first person to walk and/or canoe the entire length of the river, my head started to swell.
My inflated ego was quickly deflated when I studied the maps of the Mohawk River that Benjamin Wright created in 1803 when he surveyed the river from Schenectady to Rome for the Western Inland Lock and Navigation Company. Granted he didn't travel the entire river, but he wasn't just wading, walking or canoeing it either. He was surveying it---measuring every foot (chain) of the river, noting its depth, the height of its banks, the size of its islands, rapids and riffs, the location of fords and bridges, and the size and names of communities and other significant landmarks. Just exploring the river paled in comparison. Who was this guy anyway?
This painting of Benjamin Wright hangs in the Jervis Public Library in Rome, NY.
Benjamin Wright was born in Connecticut in 1770. He had little formal education, but learned the rudiments of surveying and law from an uncle. He came to Fort Stanwix (Rome) in 1789 to join his family where they had migrated right after the Revolutionary War. They cleared the forest, farmed the land and went on to contribute to the development of the Rome area. Benjamin went on to change the world.
Surveyors were in demand in the newly-opened wilderness in Central New York, so Benjamin didn't have to look far to find work. As his reputation for accuracy and honesty spread, his services were in demand. He surveyed thousands of acres of land in the Oneida Lake area. (One of his original journals noting the lands surveyed on the north side of Oneida Lake is protected by the Rome Historical Society.)
When he was 24 years old Wright assisted the famous English engineer William Weston in canal surveys for what would become the Erie Canal. Several years later he was commissioned to survey the Mohawk River for the Western Inland Lock and Navigation Company and created the 1803 map previously described. (That original map is protected by the Oneida County Historical Society.) Wright also served as a New York State Assemblyman and a judge.
A map of the German Flatts Canal was just one of the 25 pages of maps that Benjamin Wright created for the Western Inland Lock and Navigation Company in 1803.
When the State of New York funded the construction of the Erie Canal in 1817, Benjamin Wright was appointed engineer for the middle section of the canal. Soon after construction began he was named Chief Engineer for the entire canal. Under the "professor's" direction the construction of the 365-mile long canal became "the first practical school of engineering in the United States."
With the help of such "students of engineering" as John B. Jervis, Canvass White, Nathan Roberts and David Bates, Wright overcame both technical and political difficulties, and completed the greatest engineering feat in history to the time. When the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, Wright was 55 years old.
Wright went on to build canals and railroads in a number of states. He served as Chief Engineer of the St. Lawrence Ship Canal in 1832, the New York & Erie Railroad in 1833 and the Tioga & Chemung Railroad in 1836. He died in New York City in 1842.
On October 17, 1970, the bicentennial of his birth, Benjamin Wright was declared the Father of Civil Engineering by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
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