A Guide to the Sydney B. Williamson Papers 1909-1939 Williamson, Sydney B., Papers, 1909-1939 MS 0206

A Guide to the Sydney B. Williamson Papers 1909-1939

A Collection in
Virginia Military Institute Archives
Collection Number MS 0206


Virginia Military Institute Archives

Virginia Military Institute Archives
Preston Library
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, Virginia 24450-0304
Phone: (540) 464-7566
Fax: (540) 464-7279
Email: archives@vmi.edu
URL: http://www.vmi.edu/archives

© 2001 Virginia Military Institute

Funding: Web version of the finding aid funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Processed by: Diane B. Jacob

Archives, Preston Library, Virginia Military Institute
Accession number
MS 0206
Sydney B. Williamson Papers 1909-1939
Physical Characteristics
The collection consists of approximately 1000 items filed in 7 manuscript boxes.
Sydney B. Williamson was a civil engineer whose most notable achievement was his service as Division Engineer of the Pacific Division of the Panama Canal construction project (1907- 1914). The collection contains project files, photographs, and drawings documenting Williamson's work in Panama, with particular emphasis on the construction of the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks.

Administrative Information


There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Sydney B. Williamson Papers, MS 0206, Virginia Military Institute Archives, Lexington, Virginia.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to VMI in 1979 by Sydney W. Smith.

Biographical/Historical Information


1865 April 15 Sydney Bacon Williamson born at Lexington, Virginia
1884 Graduated from the Virginia Military Institute with a degree in Civil Engineering
1884-1886 Mathematics instructor at Kings Mountain (North Carolina) military school
1886-1887 Served in the engineering departments of St. Paul and Duluth Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway; designed and constructed railroad terminals and bridges
1887-1890 In general engineering practice with Williamson and Earl in Montgomery, Alabama; street paving, sanitary sewers for Montgomery and Columbus, Ga.
1890 May 20 Married Helen Cecilia Davis
1892 Assistant Engineer to Gen. George W. Goethals; in charge of improvements on the Tennessee River; included a canal lock at Riverton, Ala., and Muscle Shoals Canal
1898 Served as Captain, Third Vol. Engineers under Gen. John R. Brooke in Puerto Rico
1901-1903 Engineer of fortifications at Newport, R. I. under Goethals
1903-1907 Consulting engineer in Baltimore and for Jamestown (N.Y.) Exposition
1906-1914 Division Engineer of Pacific Division of Panama Canal under Goethals; responsible for wet and dry excavation of Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; also designed and constructed Pacific Terminal docks, water supply, sewers, road and streets for the towns of the division including the city of Panama
1914-1916 Became Chief of Construction for J.G. White and Co., Ltd. of London; worked on power station and street railway for Brazil, water supply for Genoa, Italy, additions to street railway in Buenos Aires; Chief of Construction of U.S. Reclamation Service; supervised work of Central Office in Denver involving dams, reservoirs, power plants, canals
1916-1924 Consulting Engineer for Guggenheim Brothers in New York; worked on Chile Copper Co."s plant and Braden Copper Co.'s plant; increased mining, milling, leaching, smelting, and power plants; also constructed houses for employees; water and sewer systems
1918 World War I service. Leave of absence to serve as Lt. Col. of Engineers in France; Section Engineer of Intermediate Section West; built barracks, hospitals, warehouses, remount stations, ammunition dumps, water supplies; Nov. 4, promoted to Colonel
1919 Discharged from army and returned to Guggenheim Brothers
1924-1929 Civil engineering practice at Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlottesville, Virginia
1926-1928 Consulting Engineer with Goethals at Port of Palm Beach, Florida; also consulted on water supplies for several towns in Virginia and Hollywood, FL
1928 Employed by U.S. District Engineer at Philadelphia; worked on dikes to control Delaware River
1929 Principal Engineer, U.S. Engineering Dept.; investigated feasibility of Nicaragua Canal
1931 Appointed member of Interoceanic Canal Board by President Herbert Hoover; served until retirement in 1935
1933-1935 Engaged by U.S. Army corps of engineers to determine damages done by Mississippi flood control program and to testify before courts
1939 January 13 Died at Lexington, Virginia

Scope and Content Information

The bulk of the collection documents Williamson's engineering assignments in Panama, South America, and the United States, and his service on the Interoceanic Canal Board. The collection consists of the following series: Biographical and historical materials; Correspondence; Project and Planning Files; Engineering Drawings and Specifications; Reports, Papers and Speeches; Photographs; Printed Materials and Miscellaneous. The sizable group of drawings and specifications for the Panama Canal construction is of particular importance. Also of interest in the Photographs series is a Panama Album which includes photos of President William H. Taft's tour of the Panama Canal construction site, as well as photos recording in detail the massive task of constructing the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; many of these photographs are unpublished.

Contents List

Biographical and historical items. 1:1, Box-folder
Correspondence 1912-1935. 1:2, Box-folder
Engineering Project and Planning Files.
  • Masonry dams, including Pernambuco Power House. 1:3, Box-folder
  • Noes on Nicaragua Canal. 1:4, Box-folder
  • Notes on the Nicaragua Canal: Book No. 1. 1:5, Box-folder
  • Notes on the Nicaragua Canal: Book No. 2. 1:6, Box-folder
  • Lake Worth Inlet Terminal. 1:7, Box-folder
  • Notes, various projects. 2:1, Box-folder

    Notes on work with State of Alabama; Front Royal, Va. Storage Dam Lexington, Va. Storage Dam; Lake Worth Inlet Terminal

  • Mississippi Floodways. 2:2, Box-folder

    "Comparison of Floodway Crossings as Proposed by the Yazoo and Miss. Valley Ry. and the U. S."

  • Mississippi Floodway. 2:3, Box-folder


  • Muscle Shoals; Chile Copper Plant. 2:4, Box-folder
  • Louisiana State Highway Project. 2:5, Box-folder
  • . 2:6, Box-folder
Panama Canal: Drawings and Specifications.
  • Panama Canal. 3:1, Box-folder

    Lock Gates and machinery on them; Gate recess covers; Gate operating machinery.

  • Panama Canal. 3:2, Box-folder

    Lighting material, panel boards, reflectors, lamps, etc.

  • Panama Canal. 3:3, Box-folder

    Upper guard gate valve machines

  • Panama Canal. 3:4, Box-folder

    Chain fenders

  • Panama Canal. 3:5, Box-folder

    Transformer Room equipment

  • Panama Canal. 3:6, Box-folder

    Structural steel for Gatun hydro electric

  • Panama Canal. 3:7, Box-folder

    Towing locomotives and tracks for same

  • Panama Canal. 3:8, Box-folder

    Spillway footbridges
    Spillway Caissons
    Spillway Gates
    Spillway Gate machinery

  • Panama Canal. 3:9, Box-folder

    Stoney Sluice machinery, Stoney Gates; bulkheads, screens and intakes.

  • Panama Canal. 3:10, Box-folder

    Misc. electrical wiring for power and control wiring

  • Panama Canal. 3:11, Box-folder

    Snubbing posts; buffer castings

  • Panama Canal. 3:12, Box-folder

    Cylindrical valve machinery; culvert drainage pumps; machinery chambers and layouts; numbering system; S. B. Williamson

  • Panama Canal. 3:13, Box-folder

    Auxiliary electrical equipment for Gatun hydro electric station

  • Panama Canal. 3:14, Box-folder

    Extra contract prices

Reports, Papers and Speeches.
  • Report: Final Report of the Toconce Pipeline. 4:1, Box-folder
  • Report: Chile Exploration Company. 4:2, Box-folder
  • Report: Comparison of Estimates and Final Cost of Panama Canal. 4:3, Box-folder
  • Report: Interoceanic Canal. 4:4, Box-folder
  • Report: Delaware River. 4:5, Box-folder
  • Paper by Williamson. The Chief Engineers of the Panama Canal. 4:6, Box-folder
  • Speech by Williamson. Practicing Engineering. 4:7, Box-folder
  • Panama Album, #s 1-13. 5:1, Box-folder

    Canal Engineers; social life in Panama; living quarters

  • Panama Album, #s 14-24. 5:2, Box-folder

    Visit of United States President William H. Taft to Panama to view canal construction

  • Panama Album, #s 25-35. 5:3, Box-folder

    Visit of United States President William H. Taft to Panama to view canal construction

  • Panama Album, #s 36-45. 5:4, Box-folder

    Construction of the Pedro Miguel Lock

  • Panama Album, #s 46-55. 5:5, Box-folder

    Construction of the Pedro Miguel Lock

  • Panama Album, #s 56-67. 5:6, Box-folder

    Construction of the Pedro Miguel Lock

  • Panama Album, #s 68-79. 5:7, Box-folder

    Construction of the Miraflores Lock

  • Panama Album, #s 80-90. 5:8, Box-folder

    Construction of the Miraflores Lock

  • Panama Album, #s 90-99. 5:9, Box-folder

    Construction of the Miraflores Lock

  • Panama Album, #s 100-115. 5:10, Box-folder

    Construction of the Miraflores Lock and Balboa Terminals

  • Portrait of Sydney B. Williamson. 6:1, Box-folder
  • Panama and hydraulic excavation. 6:2, Box-folder
  • Hydraulic mining, California, 1909.. 6:3, Box-folder
  • Miraflores Lock construction. 6:4, Box-folder
  • Miraflores Lock construction. 6:5, Box-folder
  • Pedro Miguel Lock construction. 6:6, Box-folder
  • Pedro Miguel Lock construction. 6:7, Box-folder
  • Pedro Miguel Lock construction. 6:8, Box-folder
  • Chile. 6:9, Box-folder
  • Chile. 6:10, Box-folder
  • Chile. 6:11, Box-folder
  • Chile. 7:1, Box-folder
  • Chile. 7:2, Box-folder
  • Chile. 7:3, Box-folder
  • Chile. 7:4, Box-folder
  • Bolivia. 7:5, Box-folder
  • Peru, Bolivia, Chile. 7:6, Box-folder
  • Bolivia, Chile. 7:7, Box-folder
  • Chile. 7:8, Box-folder
  • Chile, Ecuador, Panama. 7:9, Box-folder
  • Negatives. 7:10, Box-folder
Printed Material and Miscellaneous.
  • Bill for Injunction: Jackson vs. Lake Worth Inlet District. 4:8, Box-folder
  • Passport. 4:9, Box-folder
  • Postcards. 4:9, Box-folder

    Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Italy, France