Held at: National Archives at Philadelphia [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the National Archives at Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Corps of Engineers of the United States Army, commanded by the Office of the Chief of Engineers (OCE), was established on March 16, 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson. Its military responsibilities have included producing and distributing Army maps, building roads, planning camps, and constructing and repairing fortifications and other installations. At the same time, the Corps of Engineers contributed to the improvement of the country via civil duties which have included maintaining and improving inland waterways and harbors, formulating and executing plans for flood control, operating dams and locks, and approving plans for construction of bridges, wharves, piers, and other works over navigable waters. Expansion of the OCE’s river and harbor improvement work after the Civil War necessitated the establishment of district offices throughout the United States. The engineer officer in charge of each district reported directly to the Chief of Engineers until 1888 when engineer divisions were created with administrative jurisdiction over the district offices.
The Philadelphia District was established in 1866 to manage the water resources of the Delaware River Basin, and of the Atlantic Coast from the Manasquan Inlet of New Jersey to the southern boundary of Delaware. Despite the date of establishment, the “Corps’ local legacy dates back to Revolutionary times, when Army Engineers planned the encampment and defense of General Washington’s colonial army at Valley Forge” (US Army Corps of Engineers). Throughout the 1800s, the Corps of Engineers was active in the Philadelphia region, constructing breakwaters and Fort Delaware. After official establishment, the Philadelphia District built ice piers in 1908, acted as a procurement supply depot for engineer and military supply needs during World War I, operated and maintained the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and deepened the Delaware River for increased navigation. During World War II, the Corps of Engineers constructed coastal defenses, expanded Fort Dix, and built the Frankford Arsenal and the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia. Significant projects during the first half of the 20th century include Absecon Inlet, Cold Spring Inlet, Indian River, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Mispillion River, the Wilmington Harbor, the Schuylkill River and the Delaware River. Over the last half of the 20th century, the Corps of Engineers worked on flood control; wetlands; remediation of hazardous, radioactive and toxic wastes; projects to restore ecosystems; and erosion problems.
The "General correspondence relating to Civil Works projects originating under the Wilmington and Philadelphia Engineers" collection houses correspondence, blueprints, maps, bids, photographs and reports dating from 1871 to 1948 [bulk 1907-1943]. This collection relates to civil engineering projects in the Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey area, such as: dredging of rivers, creeks and harbors; flood control; removing wrecks; bridge building and maintenance; dam building and maintenance; and relocations of roads, cemeteries and railroad lines.
The collection is arranged into two series, "Projects originating under Wilmington office, 1897-1943" and "Projects originating under Philadelphia office, 1871-1948." The originating offices' filing systems have been maintained. Each document is labeled with a file and item number. The item numbers are presented in numerical order.
"Projects originating under Wilmington office" includes work reports, memoranda, drawings, sketches, maps, specifications, bids, contracts, deeds, photographs, reports, and blueprints. This series is organized into alphabetically arranged subseries by waterway. The subseries are: "Absecon Creek, 1912-1940," "Absecon Inlet, 1912-1943," "Alloway Creek, 1907-1933," "Appoquinimink River, 1907-1930," "Big Timber Creek, 1930-1941," "Broadkill River, 1931-1939," "Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, 1907-1943," "Chester Creek, 1917-1930," "Cohansey River, 1907-1942," "Cold Spring Inlet, 1907-1943," "Cooper River, 1928-1941," "Dennis Creek, 1925," "Double Creek, 1911-1912," "Egg Harbor Inlet, 1925," "Goshen Creek, 1925," "Indian River Inlet, 1925-1943," "Leipsic River, 1911-1940," "Little River, 1912-1942," "Mantua Creek, 1906-1942," "Maurice River, 1911-1943," "Mispillion River, 1907-1943," "Murderkill River, 1908-1940," "Oldmans Creek, 1910-1940," "Raccoon Creek, 1907-1941," "Rancocas Creek, 1913-1943," "Smyrna River, 1907-1945," "Toms River, 1911-1939," "Tuckerton Creek, 1909-1940," "Waterway at Chincoteague, Virginia, 1918-1940," "Waterway between Rehoboth Bay and Delaware Bay, 1912-1943," "Wilmington Harbor, 1897-1943," "Woodbury Creek, 1917-1943."
"Projects originating under the Philadelphia office" includes work reports, memoranda, drawings, sketches, maps, specifications, bids, contracts, deeds, black and white job site photographs, reports, and blueprints. This series is organized into subseries arranged alphabetically by waterway. Within each subseries, file numbers assigned by the originating office have been maintained. The subseries are: "Barnegat Inlet, 1935-1943," "Delaware River, 1906-1948," "Delaware River Breakwater, 1907-1940," "Frankford Creek, 1910-1941," "Harbor of Refuge Breakwater, 1907-1938," "Iron Pier, 1907-1943," "Marcus Hook, 1871-1940," "Schuylkill River, 1902-1943."
This collection offers detailed documentation of work carried out by the Office of the Chief of Engineers of the United States Army under the Philadelphia and Wilmington Districts. Anyone interested in the history of waterways in these areas, especially tributaries of the Delaware River, will find this collection of great value. The documentation of projects is inconsistent across the collection: some files contain only minimal correspondence, while others are more robust and include proposals, bids, project reports, photographs, blueprints, and weekly progress reports. The arrangement and titling of folders is that imposed by the War Department and has not been altered by the processors. The waterways with the broadest amount of documentation are Absecon Creek, Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Cold Spring Inlet, Indian River, Wilmington Harbor, Woodbury Creek, Delaware River and Schuylkill River. People interested in the inner workings of the Office of the Chief of Engineers will also find copious amounts of administrative correspondence.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- National Archives at Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the National Archives at Philadelphia with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.