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Dr. Cora Angier Sowa



Page 5

Engineers in the Family, Part I

Walter Eugene Angier, civil engineer

Walter Eugene Angier, 1863-1928, (grandfather of Dr. Cora Angier Sowa, who owns this site)

W.E. Angier 1902

Walter Angier in 1902, in Thebes, Illinois, site of one of his bridges

A book in preparation:

I am currently researching and writing a biography of my grandfather, Walter Angier, to be called His Bridges are His Monuments: a Biography of Walter Eugene Angier in the Heroic Age of Civil Engineering. It is in every sense a journey of discovery, as I literally follow in his footsteps to visit the monumental railroad bridges that he designed across North America and examine the plans, reports, logbooks, and diaries associated with each project, which reside in various archives across the country. His work lay at the turning point of the great Age of Exploration and the Industrial Revolution. Those who laid out routes for rails and bridges trekked through uncharted and often dangerous landscapes, while machines and materials, like steel and concrete, that we take for granted, were new technology.

W.E. Angier

Walter Angier in later years, with "Laddie."

Train on Poughkeepsie Bridge 1

The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge in 1972, when trains still ran over it (it is now a biking/hiking trail). Walter Angier (Cora Sowa's grandfather) was the partner of Ralph Modjeski when their firm directed the re-engineering of the bridge (by adding the third, strengthening member) in 1910. The firm was then known as Modjeski and Angier.

On previous pages of Cora Sowa's Right-of-Way, I illustrated some of my connections to railroading, including travels with my father, Robert Angier, Head Cost Analyst for the Los Angeles Division of the Southern Pacific, and my growing up in a house above the old Subway Tunnel in Los Angeles. This page and the next two continue the subject with entries concerning other family members' connections to civil and electrical engineering, with more material from my archives. On these pages, there are entries for my grandfather Walter Angier and my uncle Philip Angier, both civil engineers, and about Alexander Lodyguine, Russian inventor and engineer, who was my mother's uncle by marriage.

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Myself on Poughkeepsie Bridge

Myself, standing on the Poughkeepsie RR Bridge, wearing a PE "Red Car" T-shirt (2011). My grandfather worked on the redesign (in 1912) of this bridge, which is now a hiking trail.

Life and Career of Walter Eugene Angier

Engineering Life of Walter Angier

Walter Eugene Angier, my grandfather, was a civil engineer specializing in the construction of railroad bridges. He was born in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, where his family was prominent in the granite-quarrying business. The Angiers lived in the area since pre-Revolutionary times (there is an "Angier Street" in Fitzwilliam), and an ancestor, Silas Angier, fought in the American Revolution. A graduate of New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, Walter was one of the school's earliest graduates in Civil Engineering. His graduating class of 1887 lists exactly two graduates. After graduation, he held a number of engineering posts, including employment by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe (under Octave Chanute), work for the War Department on harbor improvement at Galveston, Texas, and studies of navigability of the Rio Grande. In his chosen specialty as a bridge designer, he worked on projects all over the United States, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Oregon, Alaska, and New York. Railroads and their infrastructure were the cutting edge technology of their day. Working out of Chicago, he was employed from 1892-1902 by the Illinois Central Railroad and from 1907-1926 he worked with the engineer Ralph Modjeski, becoming his partner in 1910 under the name "Modjeski and Angier." The firm had offices in Chicago's Monadnock Building. A full list of his projects is given in the official obituary reproduced below.

Walter Angier was asked to work on the Panama Canal, but, as his daughter Estelle wrote to me in a 1973 letter, quoted below, "Mama wouldn't let him."

Walter Angier had two sons, Philip Powell Angier, also a bridge-builder (see next "Engineers in the Family" page) and Robert Mitchell Angier, my father, whose career as Head Cost Analyst for the Los Angeles Division of the Southern Pacific is described on my first Railroad page, and one daughter, Estelle Angier, a physical education teacher. Robert was named for Dr. Robert Mitchell, physician and public figure in Memphis, Tennessee, with whom Walter and his wife Mary (my grandmother) lived when he was working on the first Memphis Bridge.

Although my grandfather died many years before I was born, I am pleased, as a Classicist, that among the books that remained from his library was a five volume set (in English) of Plutarch's Lives, which has since migrated to my own library.

Photographs from my collection of Walter Angier's engineering work on the Alaska Railroad and on the railroad bridges at Thebes, Illinois, Memphis, Tennessee (both the 1892 and the 1916 bridges), and Baton Rouge, Louisiana appear below. My grandfather worked on the redesign and reinforcement in 1910 of the railroad bridge at Poughkeepsie, New York. A few selected photographs of the Poughkeepsie Bridge, both before and after its redesign, and in its current reincarnation as a New York State Park and walking trail, are shown below, but an entire web page devoted to this magnificent steel cantilever bridge can be seen on my fifth Railroad page.

More material about Walter Angier's career can be found in other archives. A collection of photographs documenting some of his work in Illinois and Ohio resides in the Special Collections Research Center of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. They were donated by his daughter, my Aunt Estelle Angier. Photographs from the construction of railroad bridges in Memphis donated by Estelle reside in the archives of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. Diaries and photographs of consulting and design work in Alaska were sent by Estelle to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and are preserved in its Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives. Material concerning work on the Poughkeepsie bridges is in the collections of the Dutchess County Historical Society, kept in the Adriance Memorial Library, Poughkeepsie, New York.

For a genealogy of Walter Angier's family in New England and that of his wife Mary Powell in Texas and Georgia, click here.

W.E., M.P., and R.M. Angier

P.P., M.P., and R.M. Angier

M.E. Angier

Career of Walter Eugene Angier as described in an obituary published by the American Society of Civil Engineers

W.E. Angier obituary page 1

W.E. Angier obituary page 2

Article on Walter Angier in the Illinois Central Magazine for May, 1964

W.E. Angier career

Successive offices of Modjeski & Angier, in the Monadnock Building and elsewhere in Chicago

After a considerable career working first for the AT&SF under Octave Chanute (bridge at Fort Madison, Iowa), then for the War Department (Galveston Harbor and exploration of the Rio Grande), then for the Illinois Central (ten years for that railroad), Walter Angier partnered with the bridge engineer Ralph Modjeski to form the company Modjeski & Angier, with headquarters in Chicago. The firm first had offices in the storied Monadnock Building, where Modjeski already had an office. Over the years, the company moved several times, always within the vicinity of the Loop. The address "98 Jackson Boulevard," appearing on one of the notices shown below, reflects an old numbering system, in use before 1911. The present address of the Monadnock Building is 53 West Jackson Blvd. (Addresses in parts of Chicago outside the Loop were regularized in 1909, those within the Loop in 1911.) Later addresses of Modjeski & Angier were 220 South Michigan Avenue (Orchestra Hall), and 28 E. Jackson Boulevard (Steger Building). The firm maintained a testing laboratory on the West Side of Chicago at 6402 S. Yale Ave. They also had offices in several other cities, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Portland, Oregon, and New York City.

The selection of images below traces these moves in clippings from the Engineering News and American Railway Journal, the periodical Engineering and Contracting, Alumni Notes in the Annual of the Thayer School of Engineering, and a detail of one of the blueprints for the Tanana River Bridge in Alaska.

Modjeski directory listing 1896

Offices 1910

Offices 1911

Offices 1915

Offices 1920

Offices 1920


Monadnock Building

The Monadnock Building, 53 W. Jackson Boulevard at Dearborn Street, seen from the Dearborn Street side. The building is emblematic of the changes that were taking place in the technology of its day, its parts being built at different times using old and new methods.

In the foreground of the picture is the older, north half of the building (Burnham & Root, 1891), of load-bearing masonry construction, with its monumental "Egyptian" base and cornice. The south half (Holabird & Roche, 1893), with one section of masonry and one section of steel-frame construction, is in harmony with the older part, but has airier windows, reflecting its lighter materials, and more ornate trim, including a neoclassical copper cornice. Each half consisted of two separate buildings, bringing the total to four. Each bore the name of a New England mountain (and U.S. Navy ship): Monadnock, Kearsarge, Katahdin, Wachusett. All parts are now interconnected, and extra entrances are blocked off, or used as show windows. Modjeski and Angier had their office in the new half.

Room 1364 no longer exists, having been combined with Room 1362. (Photo by C.A. Sowa, November, 2011.)

Mary Powell Angier

Walter Angier married Mary Powell of Luling, Texas in 1889. (For her family history, click here.) Mary Powell Angier (as "Mrs. W.E. Angier") was listed in Charles Hughes, Chicago Social and Club Register, 1921 as Second Vice President of the Woman's Patriotic Club. An excerpt appears below, and the complete publication is to be found in

In the introduction to the Register the following slightly wistful statement appears:

"The 'Chicago Social and Club Register' is the first book to be published, in recognition of Chicago Women and their achievements. It is of particular value as in many instances it will be the only printed record of the life work of many Women prominent in the Civic, Philanthropic, Professional, Commercial and Political circles of our city."

Mary Powell Angier

Mary Angier with a pet belonging to the Shedd family. The name of the Shedds, originally from New Hampshire, was well known in Chicago, especially as represented by John G. Shedd, chairman of Marshall Field and donor of the Shedd Aquarium.

Social Register

Sarah Arabella Angier

Sarah Arabella (Reed) Angier was the mother of Walter Eugene. As described above in Walter's obituary, Arabella was the sister of the mother of the poet Eugene Field, the "Aunt Belle" to whom he dedicated his "Love Songs of Childhood." Walter Eugene was named for his writer cousin. Sarah Arabella was the third wife of Philip Doddridge Angier, whose previous two wives had died, having borne him several children (for relationships, click here.) Walter Eugene was the middle child of three children of Philip Doddridge and Sarah Arabella. A picture of Sarah Arabella in later years appears below.

Sarah Arabella Angier

Sarah Arabella Angier, in a photo taken the year before her death.

Thebes bridge

The bridge over the Mississippi at Thebes, Illinois

One of Walter Angier's many projects was the railroad bridge from Thebes, Illinois to Illmo, Missouri, for trains of the Missouri Pacific. This bridge still carries trains of the Union Pacific over the Mississippi River. It is a few miles south of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Thebes, at the Illinois end of the bridge, is in the area known as "Little Egypt" — Cairo, Illinois and Karnak, Illinois are nearby and Memphis, Tennessee is not far away.

Little remains today of the village of Thebes, once a thriving steamboat port, now washed away by too many floods. The historic Old Courthouse still stands proudly on the bluff overlooking the river. Listed on the National Register, it is now a museum, in whose archives there are materials relating to the building of the bridge. Beginning the pictures below are photos of the bridge and town as they were, and of the view today, as seen from the courthouse. Below these, (in its original blue color) is a picture of Walter Angier (on the right) and others of the engineering team, with Walter holding little Robert (referred to by his older brother and sister as "Babo" — the baby of the family!) between his knees. A caption written by Estelle reads "Office force at Thebes, Ill., with 'Babo' Angier, 1900-1902." Robert, of course, grew up to be my father, with the "grownup" nickname of "Bob" or "Rob."

Following the blue picture with my Dad in it (as a kid), are several pictures from the Thebes Courthouse archives, showing Thebes in 1902 (with "Angier residence" marked) and the engineering staff in 1902 and 1904. In the 1902 photo, Walter is on the far left. In the detail that follows, he is again on the left. In the 1904 photo, Estelle's list of names following the picture identifies Walter as second from the left in the back row. My thanks to Martha Vines, of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, who is writing a book about Thebes, for sending me the pictures from the Thebes Courthouse archives.

Lastly are pictures of the Thebes bridge (taken by Estelle or by my Dad?) as it appeared in 1938, and an undated picture (also 1938?) of my Dad and the family dog in front of the old Courthouse, which was being used as a library.

A DVD of construction photos of the Thebes Bridge

The Thebes (Illinois) Historical Society has put together an excellent DVD containing construction photographs of the Thebes Railroad Bridge from the Walter E. Angier Collection that resides in their archives. Also included are photographs illustrating the history of the 1848 Thebes Courthouse and the town of Thebes itself.

Thebes bridge from bluff, 1902

Here is how the bridge looked from the bluff, as it was being completed in 1902, with the town of Thebes spread out below.

Thebes bridge today from courthouse

This is how you see the bridge today from the old courthouse on the bluff, looking over parkland where the town of Thebes once stood. (Photo by Martha Vines, 2011.)


Thebes engineers and young Robert

Cyanotype (in original blue color) of Thebes engineers, with Walter holding young Robert (whose baby name was "Babo" (pronounced "BABE-o"), but who grew up to be "Rob" or "Bob"). Robert became my father, Robert Mitchell Angier.


Thebes in 1902

Thebes in 1902. The substantial cottage on the right is marked "Angier residence."

Thebes engineers in 1902

Walter Angier stands on the left (the right hand side, from their point of view) in this picture of the engineers at Thebes in 1902. The full list, from left to right (taken from another copy of the photo) is as follows:
  • W.E.Angier, Res. Engr.
  • J.A. Carson, Skiffman
  • C.F.Brown, Gen. Foreman
  • H.L. Corthell, Asst. Engr.
  • F.E. Washburn, Rodman
  • J.D. Knapp, Rodman & Inspector
  • August Holmgren, Cement Inspector
  • Victor Persons, Time Keeper
  • H.H. Lotter, Asst. Engr.

Thebes engineers in 1902
Detail of the picture above.

Thebes engineers in 1904

Walter is second from left, standing, in this group shot from 1904.

Thebes group list


Cape Girardeau station


There is no identification of the person who took the following pictures. They may have been taken by Estelle Angier or by "Rob" Angier (my Dad).

Thebes bridge

Thebes bridge

Thebes bridge


Thebes courthouse as library
My Dad ("Rob") with the family dog in front of the old Thebes Courthouse (undated, but perhaps also 1938). The sign above the door says "THEBES PUBLIC LIBRARY, WPA CENTER." The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created in 1935 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to provide jobs, build infrastructure including roads and public buildings, and promote the arts and literacy. One project of the WPA was to provide library service to populations, especially in rural communities, that lacked such facilities. The sign indicates that this was the use to which the old Courthouse was put. The bridge can be seen through the trees on the left.

Memphis bridges

The bridges over the Mississippi at Memphis, Tennessee

Of the four bridges over the Mississippi at Memphis, the two oldest, the "Frisco" bridge (1892) and the Harahan (1916) carry railroad traffic, the two youngest carry automobiles (on Interstates 40 and 55). Walter Angier, working first for George Morison and Alfred Noble on behalf of the Kansas City and Memphis Railway and Bridge Company, then with Ralph Modjeski, was an engineer on both of the railroad bridges. The I-55, Frisco, and Harahan bridges, while having quite different truss shapes, are so close together, with the Frisco sandwiched between the other two, that they can almost look like a single bridge, as can be seen in the photos at the bottom of this section. The effect is enhanced by the fact that the piers of the later bridges are exactly aligned with the older structure, to facilitate navigation, Recently there was word that a new bridge, for both trains and automobiles, may be built.

The pictures of both bridges that appear below were taken by me in 2011. Photographs of the original construction, including group shots of Walter Angier and the other engineers, donated by Estelle Angier, reside in the archives of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center, They can be seen online at their Dig Memphis Web site.

The "Frisco" Bridge, 1892

The first bridge at Memphis, opened on May 12, 1892, was the occasion of great civic pride and enormous public celebration, being the first bridge across the Mississippi so far down river (of course, many years later, bridges were to be built much farther south, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans). The Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad, of which the Kansas City and Memphis Railway and Bridge Company was a subsidiary, later was bought by the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railroad or "Frisco" (which a few mergers later became part of BNSF, which still uses the bridge), hence the name by which it is now known. It was built to carry trains, but had a wide enough deck to accommodate buggies and, later, automobiles, if no train was on the span. It now carries only rail traffic (single track).

Walter Angier and Ralph Modjeski were both employed on the "Great Bridge at Memphis," as it was originally known, before they went into partnership with each other. The bridge was principally the work of George S. Morison, a celebrated bridge designer of his day, a pioneer in the building of bridges of open-hearth steel, which was replacing stone and wrought iron as a structural material at the time. Morison served on the Isthmus Canal Commission, where he was influential in changing the minds of decision makers (including Theodore Roosevelt) to locate the canal in Panama instead of Nicaragua. Walter Angier was invited, as his daughter, my Aunt Estelle, told me in a letter in 1973, to work on the Panama Canal, but "Mama wouldn't let him go"!

The New York Times reported the festivities attending the opening of the bridge, under the title "Memphis's Great Bridge" (available from the Times web site). In addition to descriptions of the decorations and parades, the article describes how, at a signal from engineer Morison, "a procession of eighteen locomotives moved upon the bridge." Senator Voorhees of Indiana delivered a lengthy and florid oration, of which the Times provides excerpts. The article also describes some of the structural details of the bridge, and tells how, during excavation for the bridge piers some Spanish halberds from the time of de Soto were unearthed. Voorhees predicted the building of the Isthmus Canal, in which, as we know, Morison played an important part. Later in the month, Railway World (May 21, 1892, vol.36, p. 485, available from Google Books) published an almost identical article, with only a few changes in expression, with the title "The Memphis Bridge". It omits the excerpts from Senator Voorhees' speech, and includes the interesting detail that the parade of "ponderous" locomotives was performed "as the supreme test." In both articles, the lengths of the individual spans don't add up to the total as given. Parts of the Times's breathless coverage are reproduced below.

The Harahan Bridge, 1916

The Harahan Bridge, built for a consortium including the Rock Island Railroad, was named for the former president of the Illinois Central, who had died when his private railroad car was rear-ended by another train (as reported in detail by the NewYork Times.) It was the design of Modjeski and Angier, now working together. It was fitted in 1917 with rickety roadways suspended from both sides. These were in use until the first real automobile bridge was built in 1949. One of these roadways may be rebuilt as a pedestrian walkway. It now carries trains of the Union Pacific (double track).

Walter Angier's work on both bridges at Memphis made its way into the popular writing of its time. Julian Leonard Street, journalist, playwright, and travel writer, published his American Adventures: A Second Trip "Abroad at Home' in 1917. In Chapter L, "Modern Memphis," he describes a visit to the second, or Harahan bridge, then under construction (and his queasiness at walking out on the half-finished structure). Paragraphs are excerpted below (quoted from the Project Gutenberg eBook of American Adventures by Julian Street). In these selections, "W.E. Angier, assistant chief engineer" on the new bridge, is described as having found, during excavations for the old, or "Frisco" bridge, "a Spanish halbert...thought [to] date from the time of De Soto." Street's queasiness upon the bridge was justified: a number of steelworkers (some say as many as twenty-three) were in fact killed during its construction.

Dr. Robert Wood Mitchell of Memphis, for whom my father was named

Memphis was the home of Dr. Robert Wood Mitchell, physician, army surgeon (in the Confederate Army), founder of the Memphis City Hospital, a leader in the fight against yellow fever, advocate for the education of female professional nurses, and pillar of the community. He was a family friend of Mary Angier, and Aunt Estelle reported that she believed that Walter and Mary lived with the Mitchells when they were in Memphis. This would have been during the building of the first bridge. They named their younger son, who grew up to be my father, after him, Robert Mitchell Angier.


Newspaper report of the opening of the first ("Frisco") bridge at Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn., May 12. — To-day, with impressive ceremonies, the great steel bridge across the Mississippi River at this point was formally declared opened for traffic. For twenty-four hours railroads and steamboats had been emptying people into Memphis, and the crowd of visitors which to-day thronged the city and congregated about the great bridge to witness the ceremonies was estimated at 30,000.

The city never before presented such a gala appearance. The decoration of busines [sic] houses was never so elaborate, and the Stars and Stripes floated from every cornice and window of the down-town buildings.

The gunboat Concord, gayly bedecked with flags from stem to stern, raised her anchors and steamed slowly down stream toward the bridge, amid a great din of whistles from the steamers at the levee. The river craft had been handsomely decorated.

The festivities of the day began with a parade, which started from down town at 10 o'clock. A detachment of mounted police cleared the way and the procession which followed was imposing. the visiting and city militia acting as escort to the distinguished guests of the day, in carriages, led the way. Following these were the Fire Department of Memphis, with engines and carts gayly decorated, and 100 floats, illustrative of the products and manufactures of the Mississippi Valley.

The procession was about two hours in passing, and after traversing the business portion of the city, proceeded to the bridge, arriving shortly before 2 o'clock.

George W. Morrison [sic, the name had one "r"] of Chicago, Chief Engineer of the great structure, began the ceremonies by giving a signal, and in a minute a procession of eighteen locomotives moved upon the bridge.

Senator Voorhees of Indiana delivered the oration of the day. It dealt with the wisdom, patriotism, and foresight of Jefferson in the acquiring of Lousiana, the glorious results which had been accomplished, the growth of the South within the last thirty years, its still brighter future, and finally predicted that the time was not far distant when the barrier to the navigation of the two oceans would be removed . . .

[There follow at this point excerpts from Senator Voorhees' florid speech, heavy with manifest destiny, of which the following paragraph is an example:]

"Once the star of empire took its western way; its orbit in that direction is now closed forever. Shall this star, which signifies American progress and destiny, stand still in the sky and expire like a transient exhalation? It seems not so to me. I see it in the events of these later days, and in the swift approaching achievements of the future hovering in all its splendor over the plains, the mountains, and the rivers of the South and of the Southwest. The march of empire is here — the empire of Christian civilization, of agricultural wealth, of diversified labor, of human well-being, repose, happiness. .

The bridge opened to-day was built by the Kansas City, Memphis, and Birmingham Railroad Company. It is situated on the spot where Ferdinand De Soto crossed the Mississippi in 1541, and in excavating for the shore pier on the Tennessee side some Spanish halberds, supposed to have been used by him, were found.

The bridge is the third largest of its kind in the world. Active work upon it began in the Fall of 1888, when the first caissons were sunk. There are five spans and six piers, including the achorage [sic] pier. The east shore, or cantilever, span is 225.83 feet; the main span, consisting of two cantilever arms and one intermediate span, is 794.42 feet; one continuous span 621.06, and one deck span 338.75 feet, making a total length of 2,597.12 feet in the bridge proper.

The structure is extended west of the main bridge by an iron viaduct 2,500 feet in length, followed by a 3,100-foot timber trestle, and nearly a mile of embankment to a junction with the existing track of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad, a few hundred feet west of Sibley, Ark.

The river piers are sunk to depths varying from 75 to 131 feet below high-water mark. All were sunk by the pneumatic caisson process, and are of masonry from the caissons to the bridge seats.

The material of the main bridge is steel. The main posts are 80 feet high and weigh 28 tons. Many of the pieces weight 10, 12, and 16 tons. The main pin of the cantilever truss is 14 inches in diameter and weighs 2,200 pounds A steel plate resting on the first pier from the Memphis side and coming out at the top is the largest steel plate ever made in the United States. This plate reaches from the supports under the bridge to the extreme top and from side to side, being open at the centre, and through this aperture traffic passes.


Julian Street's description of the second ("Harahan") bridge, from "Modern Memphis" pp.545-551

Many of the men working on this bridge had worked on the older structure paralleling it. This was true not only of the laboring men, but of the engineers. Ralph Modjeski, the consulting engineer at the head of the work (he is, by the way, a son of Madame Modjeska), was chief draughtsman when the earlier structure was designed; W. E. Angier, assistant chief engineer in the present work, was a field engineer on the first bridge, and it is interesting to know that, in constructing the approach to the old bridge he unearthed a Spanish halbert which, it is thought, may date from the time of De Soto. These bridge engineers and bridgebuilders move in a large orbit. Their last job may have been in Mexico, in the far West, or in India; their next may be in France. Many of the men here, worked on the Blackwell’s Island bridge, on the Quebec bridge (which fell), on the Thebes bridge over the Mississippi, twenty miles above Cairo, on the Vancouver and Portland bridges over the Columbia and Willamette rivers, and on the great Oregon Trunk Railway bridges. After standing for a time on the old bridge watching work on the new, and shuddering, often enough, at the squirrel-like way in which the men scampered about up there, so far above the water, we walked in and moved out again upon the partially completed floor of the new bridge. Here it was necessary to walk on railroad ties, with gaps, six or eight inches wide, between them. Even had one tried, one could hardly have managed to squeeze one’s body through these chinks; to fall through was impossible; nevertheless it gave me an uncomfortable feeling in the region of the stomach to walk out there, seeing the river all the time between the interstices. When we had progressed for some distance we came to a gap where, for perhaps a yard, there were no ties,just open space, with the muddy water shining cold and cruel below. The opening was only about as wide as the hall of a small New York flat, and heaven knows that to step across such a hall is easy enough. But this was not so easy. When we came to the gap I stopped. Mr. Case, the young engineer, who loved all bridges with a sort of holy passion, and loved this bridge in particular, was talking as we went along. I liked to hear him talk. He had been telling us how a thing that is to be strong ought to look strong, too, and from that had got somehow to the topic of expansion and contraction in bridges, with variations of temperature. "It isn’t only the steel bridges that do it," he said. "Stone arch bridges do it, too. The crown of the arch rises and falls. The Greeks and Romans and Egyptians knew that expansion and contraction occurred. They—" While talking he had gone across the gap, stepping lightly upon a stringpiece probably a foot wide, and proceeding over the ties. Now, however, he ceased speaking and looked back, for I was no longer beside him. At the gap I had stopped. I intended to step across, but I did not propose to do so without giving the matter the attention it seemed to me to deserve. Mr. Case did not laugh at me. He came back and stood on the string-piece where it crossed the opening, telling me to put my hand on his shoulder. But I did not want to do that. I wanted to cross alone—when I got ready. It took me perhaps two minutes to get ready. Then I stepped over. It was, of course, absurdly easy. I had known it would be. But as we walked along I kept thinking to myself: "I shall have to cross that beastly place again when we come back," and I marveled the more at the amazing steadiness of eye and mind and nerve that enables some men to go continually prancing about over emptiness infinitely more engulfing than that which had troubled and was troubling me.

Returning I stepped across without physical hesitation. But after I had crossed I continued to hate that gap. I hated it as I drove back to the hotel, that afternoon, as I ate dinner that night, as I went to bed, and in my dreams I continued to cross it, and to see the river waiting for me, seeming to look up and leer and beckon. I woke up hating the gap in the bridge as much as ever; I hated it down into the State of Mississippi, and over into Georgia; and wherever I have gone since, I have continued to hate it. Of course there isn’t any gap there now. It was covered long ago. Yet for me it still exists, like some obnoxious person who, though actually dead, lives on in the minds of those who knew him.


Memphis bridges

Memphis bridges

Train on Harahan Bridge

Memphis bridges with barges

Ends of 3 Memphis bridges

View from under highway bridge

View from under highway bridge

Tracks on Memphis RR bridges

Train on Frisco Bridge

Train on Frisco Bridge

Train on Frisco Bridge

Baton Rouge bridge

Leaving completion to his son

Walter Angier made a preliminary design for Modjeski and Angier for a bridge over the Mississippi at Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1914, but the location was deemed unfeasible at the time. Many years later, his son Philip Powell Angier was supervisory engineer on a Modjeski bridge that was indeed built at Baton Rouge. It is described on the next page, Engineers in the Family II, which is about Philip Angier's work. In that section, there are pictures of the bridge that was actually built.

Below, you can see an image of Walter Angier's original blueprint for the projected bridge, which was printed in a newspaper at the time the actual bridge was built. It is followed by the announcement of the original study for the bridge by Modjeski and Angier, published in Engineering and Contracting weekly for May 5, 1915, under "Prospective Work" in the right-hand column.

Unbuilt BatonRouge Bridge
Newspaper rendering of Walter Angier's original 1914 blueprint for a bridge across the Mississippi at Baton Rouge. (The caption erroneously says "W.A. Angier" — the correct name is "W.E. Angier.")

Baton Rouge bridge
Announcement in 1915 of Modjeski and Angier's study for a bridge at Baton Rouge.

St Louis

Walter Angier in St Louis

At St. Louis, there are a number of bridges across the Mississippi River. The oldest is the Eads Bridge, built in 1874. It was the Eads Bridge that brought the railroad to St. Louis, and led to the city's decline as a steamboat port. Later the Merchants Bridge (1889) provided competition to the original crossing. The McKinley Bridge (1910) brought the trolley-powered Illinois Traction System to St. Louis, followed by the MacArthur Bridge (originally called the Municipal or "Free" Bridge). The latter once had both an upper, or automobile deck (1917) and a lower, or rail deck (1928). Only the lower, or rail deck remains, and is used by Amtrak. Several highway bridges were eventually built.

Walter Angier was involved in the design of both the McKinley and Municipal Bridges.

St Louis Union Station
St. Louis Union Station. Its trainshed originally held 32 tracks, later expanded. Now it holds a shoppping center, an aquarium, and more hotel rooms. Photo by C.A. Sowa, 2017.


McKinley Bridge
The McKinley Bridge, as seen from the top of the levee on the western, or Missouri side of the Mississippi River. This bridge was not named for William McKinley, President of the United States, but for William B. McKinley, President of the Illinois Traction System, which ran electric interurban trolley trains over the bridge. Today it is open to vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. Photograph by C.A. Sowa, 2017.

Illinois Traction
A postcard illustrating a sleeping car of the Illinois Traction System, from 1912. In such a car, one could travel overnight from Peoria, Illinois to St. Louis in comfort. (Collection of C.A. Sowa.)

Illinois Traction
The Illinois Traction System also ran trolley freight trains, as illustrated in this pre-1923 postcard. (Collection of C.A. Sowa.)

Illinois Traction
An advertisement for the Illinois Traction System, with a map of the system, from the Electric Railway Journal for October 7, 1916.

Illinois Traction
A postcard issued by the Illinois Traction System showing the new bridge, with a trolley car crossing it, from 1910. It is advertised as "The strongest bridge across the Mississippi and the greatest electric bridge in the world." (Collection of C.A. Sowa.)


MacArthur Bridge
The MacArthur Bridge from the Illinois side, in a photo taken from an Amtrak train. If the trusses look particurly high, like basket handles, it is because there was originally an upper deck for automobiles which went through the upper part of the trusses. In fact, the upper deck was opened first (1917), followed much later by the lower deck for railroad tracks (1928). Only the lower deck remains, the upper deck having been demolished. Its role is now filled by the adjacent Poplar Avenue highway bridge.

Modjeski and Angier were called upon to consult on the location of the piers for the bridge.

Photo by C.A. Sowa, 2015.

MacArthur Bridge
A postcard from 1920 illustrating the completed upper deck of the bridge in use. There is a jog in the bridge approach, to allow for the uncompleted lower, or rail deck. It was the site of many accidents. A streetcar is shown crossing the bridge, but in fact, no streetcars ever used the bridge, and the picture was purely aspirational, showing only what was hoped for. (Collection of C.A. Sowa)

MacArthur Bridge
This postcard from 1913 shows both decks completed. (Collection of C.A. Sowa)

MacArthur Bridge
A political cartoon on a postcard of 1907, indicating the slow pace of construction of the bridge. The bridge was first authorized by Congress in 1906, but construction was not begun until 1909. Money ran out before the approaches could be finished, and a second bond issuance was approved in 1914. The cartoon shows Theodore Roosevelt questioning "Looie" (St. Louis, depicted as a scrawny mediaeval knight) about the repeated delays.

(Collection of C.A. Sowa)

Alaskan Railroad


It is with pleasure that I note the publication in 2013 of the book Alaska's Tanana Valley Railroads by Daniel L. Osborne, from Arcadia Publishing. It uses several of Walter Angier's photos, taken during construction of the bridge, which are now in the collection at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. These photos include a copy of the picture of the charming balloon-stacked narrow gauge locomotive seen above and below (which I also have in my own collection).


Walter Angier's name is MISSPELLED in Dan Osborne's book as "Anger," the result of Spellchecker gone wild.

Walter Angier in Alaska

Walter Angier was sent in April 1920 by his partner Ralph Modjeski to create a design for a railroad bridge across the Tanana River at Nenana, Alaska, some fifty miles southwest of Fairbanks. Although by then much of the Alaska Railroad had been built across the Alaska Range, freight had to be carried across the Tanana by ferry (in summer) or on tracks laid across the ice (in winter). The bridge was the last link in the route connecting the ports at Seward and Anchorage with the interior of Alaska whose center is at Fairbanks. It was necessary for Walter to go early in the year so that he could estimate the stress of ice breakup on the bridge. The journey, as recorded in his diary, was made by rail, where it had been laid, otherwise by horse team or dog sled. (Estelle Angier's remarks about this project are in her letter reproduced below.) Walter made a second trip to the bridge in June, 1922 to check on construction work. Immediately on his return to Chicago, he was ordered to St. Louis for work on another bridge!

The bridge at Nenana, named the Mears Memorial Bridge after the chairman of the Alaska Engineering Commission which built the railroad, still carries trains today across the Tanana River. Dedicated by President Harding in 1923, it finally made possible the completion of the railroad from Seward, on the Gulf of Alaska, to Fairbanks. Its span of 700 feet made it the longest simple truss bridge in the United States when completed, and it is still one of the longest.

Walter also consulted on bridges for the Alaska Railroad over the Susitna River and at Hurricane Gulch.

Pictures from the Alaska project appear below, including a view of the Tanana River bridge site during construction. The pictures also include a narrow gauge locomotive at Fairbanks, a company dog team at Hurricane Gulch, and a motor car (literally, a Model T body on flanged wheels) of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. Below these, there are pictures illustrating the trip through the Inside Passage to (and from) Juneau, Seward, and places along the way to the project site. Captions on the photos are Walter's own, which were sometimes written at the bottom of the picture, sometimes on the back. These are pictures from my own collection. Many more are in the archives of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Other plans and blueprints reside at the offices of the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage, and official reports can be read in the historical collections of the Anchorage Museum.

At the time, the U.S. government owned the railroad, which was put together from several shorter lines, in addition to the main line across the mountains. In the photos below, you can see the locomotives and cars designated "U.S." or "United States." The Alaska Railroad is now owned by the State of Alaska, which bought it from the U.S. government in 1985.

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Alaskan Railroad in 1920

Poughkeepsie bridges

The Poughkeepsie bridges, railroad and highway

There are two bridges over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie, the Poughkeepsie-Highland railroad bridge and the Mid-Hudson highway bridge. Walter Angier and his son Philip (my uncle), played roles in the history of both bridges. Walter Angier, partner in the firm Modjeski and Angier, directed work on the strengthening of the bridge in 1910 (a third line of girders was added between the original two). Philip Angier was resident engineer for the Mid-Hudson Bridge, which opened in 1930. (The firm was by then Modjeski and Moran). Walter Angier, though semi-retired, probably also had a hand in its design, especially the difficult construction of its foundation.

The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge over the Hudson River was completed in 1888, of alternating steel cantilever and simple truss spans, carrying a double railroad track. It passed through the hands of several railroads, ending with Conrail, and several configurations. Originally built with a double line of trusses (down each side), it was given a third line down the middle to accommodate heavier locomotives, and the double track was changed to gantlet tracks (interleaved inside each other). Eventually this was changed to a single track. After catching fire in 1974, the bridge was abandoned for many years, but in 2010 it received new life as a hiking/biking trail and a New York State Park. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1973, I was living in Poughkeepsie, and was already photographing the magnificent old railroad bridge, which still had trains running on it, even before I knew I had a family connection to it and to the Mid-Hudson Bridge. (Some of my pictures appear below; many more, both from its life as a railroad bridge and in its current incarnation as a pedestrian walkway, are on the The Poughkeepsie Bridge page of this site).


Learning of my interest in the Poughkeepsie Bridge, my Aunt Estelle (Walter Angier's daughter) sent me some newspaper clippings and other memorabilia concerning the work of her father and brother (my grandfather and uncle). She also sent letters, in which (in her characteristic glass-half-empty style!) she gave her view of their careers in Modjeski's company.

Ralph Modjeski, Walter Angier's partner, as the head of the firm, achieved much fame for work done by his company on many bridges in North America (including the bridges at Poughkeepsie, and those at Thebes, Memphis, and Nenana described above). As in many such team efforts, however, the extrovert head of the company, who secures the commissions, does not necessarily do the hands-on work (how many buildings ascribed to architect Daniel Burnham were actually designed by John Wellborn Root?). Modjeski partnered with a number of talented engineers, and the company name changed from time to time — Noble and Modjeski, Modjeski and Angier, Modjeski and Moran, and finally Modjeski and Masters, the name by which the firm still exists today. Estelle had some choice words about Modjeski (see her letter reproduced below). However, the work cannot have been all bad, as Walter stayed for 20 years, and Philip followed his father into the company at the start of his career. Modjeski himself was at least gracious enough to acknowledge Walter's contribution in his words quoted in the obituary reproduced above. Nevertheless, as Walter Angier's granddaughter, I, too, would like to see his work recognized!

Selections from Estelle's letters, relating to Walter and Philip's work in Poughkeepsie, Alaska, and Louisiana, appear below.

Estelle's descriptions of Walter and Philip's bridge work


December 28, 1973

...Enclosed herewith are Xerox copies of "info" I thought you might find interesting. As you can see, your Uncle Powell was resident engineer on the Poughkeepsie bridge — and you can see which bridge it was. [ED. NOTE: This was the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Click here to see the Xeroxed clippings.]

No doubt my father planned the sub-structure: but by that time he was retired, — and "laid on the shelf" by Modjeski — though Powell tried to get him to come and supervise while he took the Legion trip to Paris.

As to Modjeski, I never had much use for him. He associated with himself men of extremely capable engineering abilities to do the actual work; while he, playing on his important name (his mother was Mme. Modjeska, noted Polish actress), took the credit and hauled in the "dough." His wife was quite friendly with my mother. I recall visiting in her home once, for Russian coffee. (Ugh!!) Her mother, Mme. Benda, was a congenial person. Mrs. Modjeski finally left Mr. M. (too many "affairs") and returned to Paris to live, taking daughter, Marilka, and son with her. Papa was delegated to see that she got her regular alimony payments!

Modjeski "took on" Papa when he had been asked to go to work on the Panama Canal — where Mama wouldn't let him go. Modjeski and Angier had offices in Chicago, Portland, Ore., St. Louis, Mo., Philadelphia, Pa., and New York City. Perhaps you do not know that the U.S. War Dept. has charge of public bridges. During that period, if they wanted expert advice they usually came to my father. He was sent to Alaska in 1919 to estimate stress of the ice breakup against a prospected bridge connecting north and south Alaska. (That is another long and interesting story, details of which I sent to the Library of the Univ. of Alaska.) [ED. NOTE: As seen in the description above, the work, done in 1920, consisted of the complete design and planned construction of the bridge.] For this trip the Govt. paid $1,000 per day, plus expenses. Modjeski pocketed this money, continuing to just pay Papa his regular "salary," at that time around $200.00 per month. And when the Govt. wanted an estimate on a bridge across the lower Mississippi R., they came to Papa.

When this latter bridge was finally built, it was during the depression period. Because he did not have the "political savvy," and interest in black-tie-&-"tails" dinners, Powell was only assistant resident engineer: but did most of the inspecting, I judge. His wife said he would climb to the top of the structure where younger men were scared to go!

The pictures of the Lake Charles bridge, in Louisiana, may be familiar to you, for it was here, I believe, that you visited your Uncle Powell & Aunt Annie, — in 1948, was it?... [ED. NOTE: click here to see pictures from Lake Charles.]


Papa had made original inspections and drew up plans for the sub-structure of a bridge at Baton Rouge for the War Department. It had been claimed the Mississippi River was too swift that far down to put in a bridge, so ferries were used.

Then the Huey Long bridge was built below New Orleans: and the State decided a bridge was feasible at Baton Rouge. "Politics" decided my brother Powell would be only "assistant engineer" on that bridge and was "retired" with a change of Governors. However, in private practice, he was rehired by the State Highway Dept., as a bridge consultant: and when administations changed, was rehired, and made supervisory engineer of the Baton Rouge bridge, — though 78 years of age. This was his last job.*

(Modjeski had nothing to do with this bridge, — except to haul in the "dough"!)


* [ED. NOTE: Two bridges were ultimately built at Baton Rouge, one constructed in 1940, which carries U.S. 190, the other built in 1968, carrying Interstate 10. Estelle confuses the two, although she means to say that Philip worked on both. The 1940 bridge (called the "Huey Long," like the one in New Orleans) is the one that could be said to have fulfilled the plans of Walter Angier. Walter's plans and Philip's bridge are depicted on the next page. The reference to "78 years of age" would refer to the 1968 bridge.]

Estelle and Smoky
Estelle Angier, Walter's daughter (my Aunt Estelle) with her constant companion, Smoky, in retirement in Youngtown, Arizona.

PICTURES OF THE POUGHKEEPSIE BRIDGE, THEN AND NOW. For many more pictures of the bridge, click here.

Poughkeepsie Bridge

A train crosses the bridge in 1972.

Poughkeepsie Bridge

A bridge pier on the Poughkeepsie side, 1972.

Poughkeepsie Bridge

The bridge astride a Poughkeepsie neighborhood, 1972.

Poughkeepsie Bridge tracks

A view of tracks on the bridge, 1972 (single track, with guard rails).

Poughkeepsie Bridge


For more pictures, click here

Poughkeepsie Bridge

The bridge as trail/bikeway, 2010. I am walking away from the camera in the center.

Poughkeepsie Bridge

Poughkeepsie Bridge

Poughkeepsie Bridge

A view from the railroad bridge toward the Mid-Hudson highway bridge, 2010. Philip Angier, Walter's son, was resident engineer on the Mid-Hudson Bridge (1930).

W.E. Angier

W.E. Angier in later life.


New Hampshire origins

Walter Angier was born in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, where the Angier family had lived since the late eighteenth century. (Prior to that, the Angiers lived in Massachusetts, first in Medford (where they arrived from England in the mid- to late- seventeenth century — Joseph Angier is recorded as living there in 1684), then in Framingham.) An ancestor, Silas Angier, fought in the American Revolution. In the nineteenth century, the Angiers were engaged in the granite quarrying business, the most important industry in Fitzwilliam until the adoption of cement as a building material put an end to its importance. The first quarries were opened in 1845, and when the Cheshire Railroad opened a line through Fitzwilliam in 1848, spurs were built to all the quarries. The old railroad line is now a hiking trail. Ironically, Walter would later become a specialist in the use of cement as a building material for bridges.

The landscape of the area is dominated by rocky Mount Monadnock (the second-most climbed mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji, and the last time we were there, there seemed to be a lot of Japanese climbers!) It is interesting that Walter eventually had offices in Chicago's Monadnock Building!

The graves of Walter and Mary Angier are in the cemetery in Fitzwilliam, where many past members of the Angier family are also buried, going back to Revolutionary times. The grave of Silas Angier is among these. There is an Angier Road in Fitzwilliam.

Pictures of Fitzwilliam, cemetery, and Mount Monadnock

Below is a photo of the eighteenth-century Fitzwilliam Inn, perhaps the most notable structure in Fitzwilliam. Many other pictures of Fitzwilliam, its cemetery, and Mount Monadnock are to be found on another page of this Web site. They were taken during a visit by myself and other family members and friends in 2006. Click here to see them.

Genealogy of the Angier family

For a comprehensive genealogy of the Angier family, going back to Joseph Angier in the seventeenth century, and of the Huff and Powell families (the ancestors of Mary Powell Angier), click here.

Fitzwilliam NH
The Fitzwilliam Inn, Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. (Photo by John Sowa.) For more pictures of Fitzwilliam, the cemetery, and Mount Monadnock, click here.


To go to other pages of "Engineers in the Family," choose from the following:

  1. Engineers in the Family II: Philip Powell Angier, civil engineer, son of Walter and uncle of Dr. Cora Angier Sowa

  2. Engineers in the Family III: Alexander Lodyguine, Russian inventor and engineer, great-uncle by marriage of Dr. Cora Angier Sowa

All photos and other material on this site, unless otherwise identified, are copyrighted by Cora Angier Sowa.

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