© 2006 University of Chicago Library
Baldwin, Loammi. Papers
Crerar Ms 203
1 linear ft. (2 boxes)
Special Collections Research Center
Loammi Baldwin was a pioneering civil engineer who lived in Massachusetts from 1780 to 1838. He planned and executed public works projects in several Eastern states including canals, public monuments, dams, and tunnels. His lifework was a series of dry docks he built on commission by the United States government in 1833. The collection contains 247 handwritten letters both from and to Baldwin and his business associates, colleagues, and family members. The letters reveal aspects of Baldwin's personal life as well as his professional projects and meditations.
The collection is open for research.
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Loammi Baldwin received his education at Westford Academy and Harvard College, where he took his degree in 1800. His earliest technical interest was mechanics. While Baldwin wanted to enter a career in instrument-making, his frustration at the duration of a costly seven-year apprenticeship convinced him to study law instead. He moved to Groton, where he entered the preceptorship of Timothy Bigelow. In Groton, Baldwin designed and built the town's first fire-engine at the age of 22. The machine remained in the town's use for over eighty years.
Baldwin passed the bar exam in 1804, but abandoned law for civil engineering in 1807. To prepare to become a civil engineer, Baldwin traveled to Europe to study public works there and in England. On his return, he opened an office in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he sold his expertise as an engineer of buildings and other civic work projects. In 1819, he took up employment by the City of Boston as an engineer of improvements. He concurrently assisted with public works projects in Virginia.
In 1821, Baldwin became engineer of the Union Canal, one of the largest engineering projects of the era. The project entailed extending the canal seventy-nine miles from Reading to Middletown, PA, and included building a 739-foot tunnel, three large dams, and an 800-acre artificial lake. One of the dams was to be the largest and strongest dams yet built in the United States. Despite the high caliber of his work, Baldwin resigned over a controversy surrounding the proposed width of the canal. After the work was completed, Baldwin's original proportions were found to be correct, and costly repairs had to be effected.
Baldwin continued to travel between the United States and Europe to study advances in civil engineering. In 1825, after a year in France studying public works, Baldwin joined the effort to erect the Bunker Hill Monument. He accepted the responsibility of determining the proportions of the shaft. Baldwin performed a demonstration before his fellow committee-members by taking them to the Roxbury Mill Dam, from where Bunker Hill was visible, and exhibiting the effects of various heights by affixing small models to the railing of the sidewalk so that, from the right distance, each would appear to rest on the hill. The committee estimated proportions based on that model.
Later in 1825, Baldwin was appointed by the Massachusetts State Legislature to survey the route for a proposed canal from Boston Harbor to the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. During the next seven years he designed and built, simultaneously, large masonry dry docks at the Charlestown, MA and Norfolk, VA navy-yards, both completed in 1833. These were works of great magnitude at the time because of the lack of power-driven machinery and the primitive character of many of the tools used. Pile-drivers were operated by treadmills, which many 'reputable workmen' felt was a violation of the American spirit. While on these works Baldwin made surveys for a third naval dry dock in New York Harbor, which was not built until after his death. He also designed and built buildings for Harvard College, a canal around the Ohio River falls, a stone bridge called the Warren Bridge at Charlestown, and the Harrisburg Canal in Pennsylvania.
In 1834 he published his Report on the Subject of Introducing Pure Water into the City of Boston, which listed all neighboring ponds and located all wells into the city as possible sources of supply. Two years later he published the elaborate Report on the Brunswick Canal and Railroad, Glynn County, GA, giving details of a proposed inland navigation system, including 900 miles on the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers. Another project for which he furnished complete plans was a 'marine railroad' from Pensacola, FL. He was a member of the Massachusetts state Executive Committee under Governor John Davis in 1835 and a presidential elector in 1836. About a year before he died he had a stroke of paralysis; a second one proved fatal. He died in 1838 at the age of 58 and was buried in Woburn, MA.
CrMs 203. The correspondence is both professional and personal. Much from his brother, a few legal documents about stock share movement. The collection contains 247 handwritten letters both from and to Baldwin and his business associates, colleagues, and family members. The letters reveal aspects of Baldwin's personal life as well as his professional projects and meditations.
The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:
|Box 1 Folder 1|
Brief biographical statement re; Baldwin
|Box 1 Folder 2|
|Box 1 Folder 3|
Correspondence, January-February 1822
|Box 1 Folder 4|
Correspondence, March-May 1822
|Box 1 Folder 5|
Correspondence, June-July 1822
|Box 1 Folder 6|
Correspondence, August-September 1822
|Box 1 Folder 7|
Correspondence, October-December 1822
|Box 1 Folder 8|
|Box 1 Folder 9|
Correspondence, January-April 1826
|Box 1 Folder 10|
Correspondence, May-December 1826
|Box 1 Folder 11|
|Box 1 Folder 12|
|Box 1 Folder 13|
|Box 1 Folder 14|
Correspondence, January-July 1830
|Box 1 Folder 15|
Correspondence, September-December 1830
|Box 1 Folder 16|
|Box 1 Folder 17|
|Box 1 Folder 18|
|Box 1 Folder 19|
Correspondence, March-July 1834
|Box 1 Folder 20|
Correspondence, August-December 1834
|Box 1 Folder 21|
Correspondence, March-July 1835
|Box 1 Folder 22|
Correspondence, August-September 1835
|Box 1 Folder 23|
Correspondence, October-December 1835
|Box 2 Folder 1|
Correspondence, January-May 1836
|Box 2 Folder 2|
Correspondence, June-October 1836
|Box 2 Folder 3|
Correspondence, November-December 1836
|Box 2 Folder 4|
|Box 2 Folder 5|
|Box 2 Folder 6|