Even before a single pier or stone was laid, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers left footprints across the lower Great Lakes region. Surveyors crossed the lower lakes after the Revolutionary War to observe and note the terrain and potential for improvement. Army Corps officers fought valiantly in defense of their young country along the lakes in the War of 1812. To begin fulfilling the immense promise already evident, Captain Theodore Maurice was assigned to head Engineer operations on Lake Erie in 1824, the first officer permanently assigned to the area. The Topographic Engineers surveyed and mapped the region in the Survey of the Northern and Northwestern Lakes. As the size of the task accumulated, a permanent district engineer office opened in Buffalo in 1857.
As directed by Congress, the Buffalo District designed and maintains the infrastructure necessary for the nation’s waterborne commerce in the lower lakes region. The first Rivers and Harbors Act, signed by President Monroe in 1824, directed funds toward initial improvements of the harbor at Erie, Pennsylvania. Authorization for the first federal work at Buffalo and Cleveland followed in 1826. From this small start, a system of federal harbors were constructed by the early 1900’s all along the Great Lakes, from which the great commerce of the growing nation flowed. Other major projects of note in our history include the Black Rock Lock in 1914; Mount Morris Dam in 1952, which has saved millions of dollars in potential flood damage in the Genesee Valley and Rochester; the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, which opened the lakes to ocean-going commerce; and the dewatering of the American Falls in 1969. Today the Buffalo District not only maintains these structures but also engages in flood control, shoreline protection, habitat restoration, and environmental cleanups of contaminated sites. The District’s expeditionary quality employs its efforts around the nation and around the globe in disaster relief, support missions with the armed forces, and specialized interagency cooperation.
Read more about the Buffalo District's history in Engineers for the Public Good, available for free.
-Eric Kolber, Librarian
Buffalo District Technical Library