Eagle Feathers #110 – An Engineering Family
By Bob (Monty) Doherty
Colonel Loammi Baldwin was certainly a father of engineering. He is known as the father of American Civil Engineering for no small reason. He raised five sons who followed him down that chosen path as they tried to emulate their father’s accomplishments.
On the nineteenth of April, 1775, then Major Loammi Baldwin and over 200 of Woburn’s militia responded with many other towns to The Lexington Alarm. They fought the British all the way back to Charlestown Neck or today’s streets of East Somerville. Baldwin soon joined the 26th Continental Regiment at Chelsea where the Battle of Chelsea Creek was fought the following month.
At this naval action on the Mystic River, the British ship H.M.S. Diana was attacked from the shore by the Americans, scuttled, and burnt. Its cannons were brought ashore and its 76-foot mast was taken to Prospect Hill where it was later used to fly the first American ensign, “The Grand Union Flag” on January 1, 1776. Diana’s mast, or Somerville’s Liberty Pole, is thought to be buried near the tower.
After the British evacuated Boston, now “Colonel” Baldwin and his troops left Chelsea and went with the army to New York. They were with General Washington when they secretly crossed the frozen Delaware River into New Jersey, and under the Grand Union Flag fought and captured over 1,000 Hessian troops.
Colonel Baldwin didn’t slow down after the war ended. He wore many hats. He had business, political and industrial talents. During the war of 1812, he built protective fortresses in Boston harbor. He held positions on boards and was elected to political offices. He was the first High Sheriff of Middlesex County, received a Master of Arts degree from Harvard College and was an American Academy of Arts and Sciences member.
In 1893, Baldwin and his five sons took a prominent part in the construction of the Middlesex Canal, its aqueducts and bridges. It was the super highway of its time. This 26-mile long canal flowed through Somerville’s length; and for over fifty years, it carried the historic waters of the Concord River.
A rare apple discovered while he and his sons were constructing the canal was brought to his notice. It was named the ‘Baldwin” in his honor, and he cultivated it into one of the most popular apples in the country. He was a cousin of another apple enthusiast, John Chapman or “Johnny Appleseed,” of Leominster.
Loammi and his sons were the first family of engineering in New England. His son James designed the system that brought clear and pure water to Boston from Lake Cochituate. In 1832, he lay out and supervised the construction of the Boston and Lowell railroad through Somerville.
The next time you drive over the Zakim Bunker-Hill Bridge, notice the 221-foot tall obelisk structure in Charlestown. The famous Bunker Hill Monument was designed by Baldwin’s son, Loammi Baldwin, Jr., and honors the 304 Americans who were wounded and the 145 American Patriots who gave their lives for our freedom at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Today, the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest ship in the United States Navy, is in dry dock and halfway through a three-year restoration. This massive dry-dock structure that Old Ironsides lies in was a Loammi Baldwin Jr. creation.
The footprints of the Baldwins ran across America. In Somerville they ran deep … from the laying of rails, to the digging of canals, to the revolutionary defense of her streets … the Baldwins left their mark!