What Are Committees?

ASCE's National Capital Section operates several volunteer-run Committees responsible for administrative, technical, outreach, and special-project functions. Administrative committees include: Logistics (Manages logistics and the registration desk for Section-level meetings); Technology (Manages administrative email accounts, Website, Online storage of documents) and Newsletter (Publishes 8-issues of the acclaimed ASCE-NCS eNewsletter in PDF format). Technical committees include: Construction, Geotechnical, History & Heritage, Structural, Sustainability, Transportation, , Water Resources, and Younger Member Forum. Outreach committees include: Communication (Sends newsletter, event registration, and volunteer opportunity communications); Volunteer (Manages Engineer's Week, Life Member). Special Project committees include: Centennial Celebration, DC Infrastructure Report Card, Boundary Stones, and other special projects the Section takes on. As a member of this Section, the path to a leadership position on the Board of Directors is through active participation in our committees. Should you be looking for ways to expand your management and leadership skills, consider joining or leading a Committee. You will find the contact information for our current Committee Chairs under the Contact Us menu.

History & Heritage

The Cabin John Aqueduct, Cabin John, MD

Article written by C. Scheffey & B. Dennis

The Cabin John Aqueduct (Latitude 38.972779, Longitude -77.148665). [Photography by Bernie Dennis.]

Following the completion of the boundary survey for the District of Columbia in 1792, development of the new city moved at a steady pace.  As the city grew, relying on individual wells and springs became a source of concern.  By 1850, water shortages for both consumption and fire protection were feared.  Therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers was directed to conduct studies for an adequate water supply for the Nation's Capital.  An officer with the Corps, Montgomery C. Meigs, was placed in charge of the studies.

Meigs' plan included a dam above Great Falls on the Potomac:  a nine-foot diameter conduit and tunnel aqueduct 12 miles long, a receiving reservoir at Dalecarlia, a sedimentation reservoir in Georgetown, and a cast iron pipe distribution system.  Work began in 1853, with Meigs overseeing both design and construction.  The path of the aqueduct would require it to cross Cabin John Creek where Meigs conceived a multi-arch masonry aqueduct bridge.

In May 1855, Meigs hired a 25-year-old assistant engineer, Alfred L. Rives.  Rives studied engineering at Virginia Military Academy (VMI) and in Paris.  In 1854, he was the first American to graduate from the prestigious École des Ponts et Chaussées (EPC), noted for training the elite French corps of engineers in the mid-nineteenth century.  During his studies, Rives became acquainted with the Grosvenor Bridge over the River Dee at Chester, England.  Meigs also was familiar with this 200-foot long span bridge through ICE Transactions.  An entry in his journal states, “This is the greatest span now standing, in stone. It is 200 feet.  I should very much like to build such a one.”

Constructed in 1863, it remains in active use today.

Together, Meigs and Rives evolved the aqueduct design for a single 220-foot span arch with a rise of 57.25 feet.  Work began in 1857, but suffered interruptions due to lack of funds in 1859 and was eventually suspended in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War when Meigs and other military engineers were put to work on the fortifications of Washington.  Rives, along with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and many southern military officers, joined the ranks of the Confederacy.  A revealing article on the roles of Meigs and Rives, entitled, “Alfred L. Rives and the Cabin John Bridge: Creating an Unprecedented 67m Masonry Arch at Mid-Nineteenth Century,” by Dario A. Gasparini and David A. Simmons, can be found in the Proceedings of the Third International Congress on Construction History, May 2009.

The aqueduct consists of an arch rib of dressed granite. The stones are four feet thick at the crown and six feet thick at the spring points. The spandrel walls are sandstone, backed by brick. The stone was quarried in Maryland at a site upstream on the Potomac. The quarried blocks were transported via the C & O Canal and transferred through a lock into the flooded valley under the aqueduct. Traveling cranes on timber falsework were used to place finished stone blocks. The MacArthur Blvd. roadway and coping were added 40 years later to accommodate traffic.


Following the delay due to the war, work on the structure eventually resumed and was completed in 1863.  It began to carry water immediately and has been in use continuously since that time.  When completed, it was the longest masonry arch span and held the record for 40 years. The American Society of Civil Engineers named it a "National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" in 1972.  The ASCE plaque shares a pedestal mount with a plaque by the American Water Work Association on the south west end of the MacArthur Blvd. single lane bridge.

The Washington Monument

Article written by S. Pennington & B. Dennis

(Geographic Coordinates: Latitude: 38° 53' 22 " N, Longitude: 77° 02' 06.8" W)

The Washington Monument undoubtedly is the most prominent of Washington's engineering landmarks.  It had recently been in the news following the August 23, 2011 M5.8 earthquake in Mineral, VA that caused minor damage to the structure.

The monument is an outstanding example of the art of masonry construction and foundation engineering.  It stands 555 feet, 5-1/8 inches tall on a raised terrace.  The base of the shaft 55 feet square and the walls 15 feet thick. At its top the shaft is 34 feet square with walls 18 inches thick. The outer face is marble with a granite backing up to the 452-foot level where from that point the walls are marble throughout.  It is topped with a 100-ounce aluminum tip lightning-rod

The original foundation was 24 feet deep excavated from bluestone rock.  When work resumed the Corps undertook to underpin the existing foundation and thus reduce the weight per square foot on the subgrade material.  The final foundation depth became 36 feet.  The monument was completed in 1884 and opened to the public in 1888. A steam hoist propelled the first elevator in 1901.  It has since been replaced by an electric one. The stability of the work has been remarkable.  The sway of the monument is one-eighth of an inch in a 30 mile per hour wind, and the total settlement has only been 4 inches since construction began.  On the interior, in addition to the elevator, is an iron stairway with 898 steps.  On the exterior the color difference marks the level where work was halted in 1854.

The monument lies on an east-west axis between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial and is currently maintained by the National Park Service.  It is still the tallest masonry structure in the world.  The American Society of Civil Engineers designated the Washington Monument a "National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" in 1981.  The plaque is located at the top observation deck of the monument on a screen at the top of the stairs descending to the lower level for the elevator.

Note: interesting photos of the monument during and after the earthquake can be found at the National Park Service web site.

The Bollman Truss Bridge, Savage, MD (ASCE NHCEL)

(Geographic Coordinates: Latitude: 39° 8' 4.9 " N, Longitude: 76° 49' 29.1" W)

The very first National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in ASCE’s History and Heritage program was designated in 1966 and is the iron railroad bridge between Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland in the town of Savage, Maryland.

Wendel Bollman (1814-1884) was a self-taught engineer from Baltimore, Maryland. All his knowledge and success were derived through intensive self-study and practical experience. Bollman's career began as a carpenter and eventually worked as a rodman on early surveys for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1828. After a brief period working as an independent carpenter, he returned to the B & O in 1838 and began work under Benjamin Latrobe. Bollman's skill quickly brought him the title of Foreman of Bridges. By 1848 he was appointed Master of Roads with responsibility for right of ways and structures. In 1850 he built the first iron truss bridge and in 1852 obtained a patent for his truss design.

Bollman resigned from the B & O in 1858 and formed his own company. The company, located in Baltimore, was the first in the United States to design, fabricate, and erect iron bridges and structures. The Bollman Truss was an innovative structural system and was the first all metal system of bridging to be used extensively on any American railroad. The design concept was an elaborate array of wrought iron tension members and cast-iron compression members. The tension bars radiated from the top of the end posts to the bottom of each intermediate panel. The advantage was that each floor beam of the truss was independently suspended from a pair of diagonal tension members which carried the load to the cast iron end posts.

Bollman's design was a significant improvement over other trusses where one diagonal failure would cause the entire span to collapse. The Bollman Truss allowed for continued and rapid expansion of the American railroad; however, the truss did have its limitations. Due to unequal stresses throughout the truss span, lengths were limited to one hundred feet. Eventually as metal truss design advanced, the Bollman Truss was replaced by the Whipple and Pratt trusses which used less metal and were therefore more economical.

The largest Bollman Truss Bridge was located over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry linking the B&O Railroad line between Maryland and West Virginia. It was constructed in 1865 and survived until 1936 when a record flood swept the bridge away. A 1,360-pound section of the bridge has been salvaged from the river and is on display in an exhibit at the National Park Service visitor center in Harpers Ferry.

Today only one Bollman Truss Bridge remains. It is a two span, 160-foot total length structure located on an abandoned spur line in Savage, Maryland. It was originally built in 1869 and used on the B&O mainline. After being replaced, it was moved to its present location in 1888 to serve the local Savage textile mill. The restored mill, a shopping attraction in its own right, is just a few hundred yards from the landmark bridge.

An article on “Structural Behavior of the Bollman Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland” by The Civil Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins University is available in “Baltimore Civil Engineering History” the Proceedings of the Fifth National History and Heritage Congress at the 2004 ASCE Annual Conference and Exposition, held in Baltimore, Maryland, October 20-23, 2004.

If you visit the bridge, you’ll notice that there are two ASCE NHCEL plaques at the site. The story behind this plus other history related facts and tales are available to those interested participating in the NCS H&H Committee. Join us and you’ll be amazed at the Civil Engineering Heritage surrounding you in the Washington DC metropolitan area.

(Color photos by B. Dennis)

Patowmack Canal & Locks, Great Falls, VA (ASCE NHCEL)

 (Geographic Coordinates: Latitude N 38° 59.424, Longitude W 077° 14.970)

By the middle of the eighteenth century, settlement along the Potomac River west of the Allegheny Mountains was well under way. In 1749, the Ohio Company was established to develop the growing valley and capitalize on the untapped fur trade with the Indians by utilizing the Potomac as a route to the west.

One of the first to become interested in a navigable Potomac waterway was George Washington. In his teens, he aided in surveying the holdings of Lord William Fairfax along the upper Potomac. As early as 1754, on his return from his defeat at Fort Necessity, Washington made a report proposing a project by which the Potomac River might be made navigable from tidewater to a point west of Cumberland, Maryland, and then connect by trans-mountain roads with streams leading to the Ohio River.

The Patowmack Company was formally organized at a meeting of the stockholders on May 17, 1785. Washington was elected its first president, and James Rumsey, the early experimenter with the steamboat, engaged as the chief engineer. The proposed project was to have a series of short by-pass canals to skirt the falls which occurred at several locations along the course of the river. There were to be five altogether at House's Falls, Harper's Ferry, Seneca Falls, Great Falls, and Little Falls.

The four locks at Little Falls, constructed in 1795, were the first to be completed. Work began on the locks at Great Falls and was not finished until 1802. The system at Great Falls consisted of five locks, each one hundred feet in length and walled with large blocks of hand-hewn sandstone.  It was necessary to blast and cut a deep cleft through the solid rock cliff of the Potomac River’s Mather Gorge rising seventy-seven feet from the river level below to the river level above the Falls. The rock blasting was one of the first uses of black powder.  The passage through the rock wall had to be large enough to accommodate loaded bateaus: a channel at least twelve feet across. The typical bateau (flat bottom boat) was anywhere between fifty to seventy-five feet long and five feet in width and carried up to 20 tons of cargo. The total lift was seventy-seven feet distributed through the locks with the greatest lift in any one lock of nineteen feet.

The Patowmack Canal and Locks was a first step for American canal building and it played a significant role in the development of canal engineering in this country. It was designated a "National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" by ASCE in 1969.

The Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Program

American Civil Engineering has quietly shaped the history of our nation and every community within it. Unfortunately, the contributions of civil engineers have often gone unnoticed by the public, and even by engineers themselves.

In 1964, ASCE set out to remedy this situation by establishing the Committee on History and Heritage of American Civil Engineering (CHHACE). Now known as the ASCE History & Heritage Committee, it is charged with enhancing the knowledge and appreciation of our civil engineering history and heritage, and the program recognizes national and international accomplishments.

To date, more than 200 projects worldwide have earned this prominent ASCE Historic Civil Engineering Landmark designation; recognizing the creativity and innovative spirit of civil engineers. Almost always performed under challenging conditions, each of these engineering feats represents the achievement of what was considered an impossible dream.

The Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Program provides guidelines for nominating sites for consideration. ASCE Sections must present research documenting the significant contribution the project made to the development of the region; the United States; or other countries, and, to advancing the profession of civil engineering in particular. Additionally, to be considered, projects must have achieved 50 years of age. A database of designated landmarks is available at the ASEC web site; however, while ASCE website reconstruction efforts are underway, a list of these landmarks can be found on Wikipedia - Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

The DC, MD, VA region is rich with examples of outstanding historic civil engineering landmarks, as can be seen in the tabulation below.

The five National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks (NHCELs) in the DC region, that our NCS H&H Committee worked on to be so designated, are highlighted in green.

Landmark Location Year Designated
Bollman Truss Bridge Savage, Maryland 1966
Patowmack Canal & Locks Great Falls, Virginia 1969
Druid Lake Dam Baltimore, MD 1971
Cabin John Aqueduct Cabin John, Maryland 1972
Crozet's Blue Ridge Tunnel Waynesboro, VA 1976
Mason-Dixon Line DE-MD-PA-VA Boundary 1977
Gosport Naval Dry Docks Norfolk, VA 1977
Fink Deck Truss Bridge Lynchburg, VA 1979
Washington Monument Washington, DC 1981
Carrollton Viaduct Baltimore, MD 1982
US Capitol Dome Washington, DC 1986
Dismal Swamp Canal Chesapeake, VA 1987
Blue Ridge Parkway VA-NC 1999
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse Virginia Beach, VA 2002
Thomas Viaduct Elkridge, MD 2010