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First Effort in the Organization of Civil Engineers in Texas

First Effort in the Organization of Civil Engineers in Texas

Texas Academy of Engineers

December 2020

By Melinda Luna PE, ASCE Texas History & Heritage Committee Chair

Clipping from The Galveston Daily News; Galveston, Texas; 30 Jun 1869; Page 1

With technology, we can research more efficiently using online newspaper databases and archives.  With this advancement, we can access more documents, offering a clearer picture of history. The history behind the formation of the Texas Section is no exception and with each research effort, we better understand the history of civil engineers in Texas. Did you know, before the Texas Section of ASCE and the Texas Association of Civil Engineers (formation 1903-1910), there was an attempt to organize civil engineers in Texas as advertised in the Galveston Daily News on June 30, 1869? The article calls out the leaders of this organization called the Texas Academy of Engineers:

  • A. M. Lea
  • Theo Kosse
  • E. L. Heriot
  • Wm. H. Griffin
  • C. G. Forshey
  • M. G. Howe
  • Geo B Nichols

Who were these men, and did they successfully organize civil engineers in Texas?

A search for the organization’s name did not yield any other articles or information beyond this call for organization. By this time, the national society, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), was organized and a few of these men participated at national level within ASCE, but still they craved a local state society to engage with. It would be that most of these men worked in the railroad during their careers, most had a formal education, most served in the military and fought for the Confederacy–living in the Houston/Galveston area, and some, as you would imagine, even worked together throughout their careers. As the article stated, they felt they had to organize as most of the professions had organizations to share and organize for the benefit of the profession. In 1869 within the state of Texas, there were no colleges or universities offering a civil engineering degree. It is not evident why these men were not successful at organizing a long-term organization, but perhaps there were too many obstacles following the aftermath of the Civil War.

Despite their contributions to civil engineering and their communities, most of these early founders were not well known in Texas. Below is a brief biography on each of the men:

Full NameLifespanASCE MemberEducation
Albert Miller Lea1808-1891YesUS Military Academy Graduate, University of Tennessee – Masters
Theodore Kosse1812-1881German Education
Edgar LaRoche Heriot1825-1904The Citadel graduate
William Henry Griffin1816- 1872US Military Academy graduate
Caleb Goldsmith Forshey1812-1881YesAttended US Military Academy
Milton Grosvenor Howe1834-1902YesDartmouth College
George B. Nichols1833-1884Yes[Not found]
Founders of the Texas Academy of Engineers, Texas’ first attempt to organize civil engineers

Keep scrolling to learn more on each them.

It would be 44 more years before the Texas Section of ASCE would be formed in 1913. As we celebrate the 108th year of the formation of the ASCE Texas Section, I wonder what these early civil engineers make of the accomplishments in civil engineering today. 

1913-1914 ASCE Texas Section Meeting Brochure
Photo: Melinda Luna; Source: TxDOT
1913-1914 ASCE Texas Section Meeting Brochure
Photo: Melinda Luna; Source: TxDOT

Albert Miller Lea

A. M. Lea

Albert Miller Lea was born July 23, 1808 in Richland, Tennessee.  He attended East Tennessee University now University of Tennessee at thirteen years old.  He attended U. S. Military Academy, graduating fifth of his class in 1831. In 1833 he was in the Topographical Engineers and lead the survey of the Tennessee River looking to design the navigational and flood control improvements.  He also mapped the area between the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. This included an area in Minnesota that would later carry his name. He would write a book titled Notes on Wisconsin Territory, particularly with Reference to the Iowa District which included a map of the area surveyed and explored. He also wrote Report on the Des Moines River in 1935 which was a comprehensive report on measurements and important features of the river. He served in the military until 1836. He was appointed Chief Engineer of the State of Tennessee and worked for the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad from 1839-1840. He then worked for the U.S. War Department which had an engineering division. He worked on the first published map of Knoxville, Tennessee with Mayer and Company. He documented the arrival of the railroad and the expansion of the city. 

In 1857, he followed members of his family to Texas. His cousin Margaret Moffette Lea Houston was the wife of General Sam Houston. His brother was Pryor Lea who moved to Goliad and stated work with the Aransas Railroad Company that became the Central Transit Railway.  Albert Lea started work on the railroad with his brother. He wrote throughout his career, including an article titled “The Gulf Stream, Its Effect on the Climate of Texas”, to share his knowledge. The article was included in the Texas Almanac in 1861.

When the Civil War started, he joined the Confederacy and fought in the Battle of Galveston. Unfortunately, his son Edward Lea was on the Union side, which ended in his son being wounded and died in that battle. Lea would remain in Galveston for nine years. He had invested in some real estate and served as Galveston City Engineer in 1866. He sought to get engineering standards for the City to adopt. He bought a farm near Corsicana and moved his family there. He was an active member of the St John’s Episcopal Church in Corsicana. He drew up the plans for the church and was memorialized in its beautiful stain glass windows. He also wrote about his family history and autobiography during this time. In 1874, he retired from engineering and public life.

He was invited back to the town Albert Lea, Minnesota in 1879 to celebrate its 40th Anniversary.  Albert Lea’s health deteriorated soon thereafter, and he died January 16, 1891 in Corsicana. He knew and worked with notable figures such as Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, General Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee.  Robert M. Merryman, wrote a book (152 pages) on him titled A Hero Nonetheless:  Albert Miller Lea, 1808-1891.

Theodore Kosse

Theodore Kosse was born June 13, 1812 in Berlin, Germany. He came to Texas about 1846 and settled in the Houston area, where he worked on the Houston and Texas Central Railway. He married Auguste Kosse and together they had two children Max and Louis Kosse. While working as the City of Houston Surveyor, he joined many others in the Confederate Engineers Corps during the Civil War. One of his projects was to map the City of Houston, the Kosse and Scott Map dated 1867, which first laid out the city’s five wards. While working on railroads, he made many other maps of areas around Texas, including a map of Ellis County and laid out the City of Elgin, Calvert, and many other Railroad towns. In one of his maps, Kosse departed from earlier models of the Bryans town plat, by changing the plan from grids to making the railroad track the center of these communities. 

He died December 1, 1881 at the age of 69 years old and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery. The town of Kosse in Limestone County is named in his honor. 

Edgar LaRoche Heriot

E. L. Heriot was born in Georgetown, South Carolina on November 25, 1825. His parents were Robert and Maria Heriot. His father was a merchant who was born in Scotland. He graduated from the Citadel in 1847 in Charleston, South Carolina. After graduation, he went to work with Greenville & Columbia Railroad after only one month of service as an engineer. With that, his career would extend 40 years, including Division Engineer on the Southwestern Railroad in 1849 and Chief Engineer for Mobile and Girard Railroad in 1852. In 1857, he would marry Clara G. Hayward who was from Louisiana. He would then move to Louisiana and temporary worked on a plantation. With the Civil War breaking out, he joined the Confederacy and returned to his engineering career to have a salary to support his family. In 1866, he held the position of Chief Engineer for the Texas Division of the New Orleans and Texas Railroad, followed by the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in 1868. In 1872, Heriot led the Waco and Northwestern Railroad in Texas, where he was selected to look at the survey and constructability of a railroad between Aransas Pass to Nuevo Laredo. He started that work in 1873, completing it in early 1874. This was the most difficult project he was challenged with since this area was arid and filled with bandits and Indian raids. But the work was rewarding, as it was the first railroad across the Rio Grande River. He began suffering from rheumatism which forced him to stop working and by 1887, he was in poor health and retired to his Vaca Valley home in Solano, California. He reflected on his career and was most grateful for his education, his work with the topographic engineering, and work on a road in Texas with General U. S. Grant. His work in Texas is further detailed in this biography.

He died in early 1904 in his California home.

William Henry Griffin

William Henry Griffin was born March 19, 1816 in Greenwood, South Carolina. He graduated with honors in 1835 from the U.S. Military Academy with a degree in civil engineering. He severed two years in the military, then started his career in railroads in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. He bought a farm in Tarrant County in 1858 and joined the Confederate Army. He fought in the Battle of Sabine Pass and the Battle of Galveston. After the Civil War, he returned to Houston and practiced surveying and engineering. Serving as city engineer and surveyor, he pushed for an adoption of street referencing system.   

In 1870 his health declined and he died in Houston on March 28, 1872.

Caleb Goldsmith Forshey

C. G. Forshey

Caleb G. Forshey was born July 18, 1812 in Somerset County Pennsylvania. He entered the U.S. Military Academy but because of health issues had to drop out. He managed however to become a professor of math and civil engineering at Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi. He worked on several engineering projects on the Mississippi River while living in Louisiana; then served as City Engineer for Natchez, Mississippi from 1840 to 1848. From 1848 to 1855, he worked on the Federal Government’s Mississippi Delta survey, including work on the hydrologic station to measure flow from the river. He moved to Texas in 1853 to become the Chief Engineer of the Galveston, Houston, and Henderson Railroads. He planned, designed, and constructed the bridge that carried the first train from the mainland to Galveston Island. 

He published several papers on astronomical observations, biology of Fayette county, meteorology and climate of Texas. He went on to found the Texas Military Institute in Galveston in 1854. The school later moved to Fayette County, but with the outbreak of civil war, the school was closed. Forshey joined the Engineering Corps and focused on the defense of the Texas coast and fought in the Battle of Galveston. After the war, he was an engineering consultant to the City of Galveston, where he proposed a system of railroads from the port of Galveston to the interior of Texas. He worked on several projects that included the Louisiana levees and worked with the Army Corps of Engineers. He suffered some paralysis in 1880, when he moved back to Louisiana where he died on July 25, 1881.

Milton Grosvenor Howe

Milton G. Howe was born on August 16, 1834 in Methuen Massachusetts. He attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, graduating in 1854. He first worked on a survey for a road from Saratoga New York through the Adirondacks to Sackett Harbor. He then worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. Wanting to live in a warmer climate, he moved to Houston in 1859 and would spend his career in the City of Houston mostly working on railroads. He was employed by The Houston and Texas Central Railroad. During the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He led an engineering corps with the rank of Captain and fought in the Battle of Sabine Pass making modification to cannons and fortifications along the way. He also built pontoon bridge such as the one over the San Bernard River. After the war, he married Jessie W. Briscoe and had one son, J. Milton Howe, who would later become a leader in the effort to create the Texas Section of ASCE. M. G. Howe’s dedication to the profession showed in his willingness to travel to meetings of ASCE during the time was widely advertised in newspapers that some traveled long distances to participate in society meetings. He attended the meeting in San Francisco in 1896 and was an active member. Professionally, he would take over the Houston East and West Texas Railway company, eventually handing it over to the Houston Direct Navigation company. He went back to work with the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, retiring in 1899 due to failing health. He died on June 19, 1902.

George “Geo” B. Nichols

George B. Nichols was born 1826 in Connecticut. He would marry Millicent Benedict Fancher in 1853 and have two children (son and daughter). He joined the Confederate Army likely fighting in Texas, since according to the 1860 census, Texas was his home. Nichols worked on the Santa Fe Railway, Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railroad. He also served the City of Galveston.  He died on July 31, 1884. It was difficult to find information on George B. Nichols, since there were several men with a similar name around that same timeframe and a definite connection could not be made on other information.