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ASCE Founders' Plaque
The ASCE Met Section placed the Founders' Plaque in City Hall Park to mark the location where ASCE was first established on November 5, 1852.
The American Society of Civil Engineers was originally founded in New York City on November 5, 1852. The Society's first headquarters were located in the Chamber of Commerce Building in Lower Manhattan. As ASCE grew in size, its headquarters moved to a variety of locations in Manhattan. ASCE's headquarters remained in New York City until the summer of 1996.

On June 16, 1981, the ASCE Metropolitan Section unveiled a plaque on the site of ASCE's founding near the southwest corner of Chambers and Centre Streets in City Hall Park. The plaque commemorates the November 5, 1852 meeting of a small group of civil engineers that took place in the office of Alfred Craven, then the eminent Chief Engineer of the Croton Aqueduct for the City of New York. The Croton Aqueduct Department was located in the Rotunda Building, which no longer exists.

Twelve engineers attended the meeting: Julius W. Adams, J.W. Ayres, Alfred W. Craven, Thomas A. Emmet, Edward Gardiner, Robert B. Gorsuch, G.S. Greene, James Laurie, W.H. Morell, S.S. Post, W.H. Talcott, and W.H. Sidell. In advance of the meeting, the following letter was sent from several members of the profession to their engineering brethren in the City of New York and the vicinity:

New York, October 23rd, 1852
Dear Sir:
    A meeting will be held at the office of the Croton Aqueduct Department, Rotunda Park, on Friday, November 5th, at 7 o'clock P. M., for the purpose of making arrangements for the organization, in the city of New York, a Society of Civil Engineers and Architects.
    Should the object of this meeting obtain your approval, you are respectfully invited to attend.
    Wm. H. Morrell, Wm. H. Sidell, J.W. Adams, A.W. Craven, James Laurie, James P. Kirkwood, and others.

At that meeting, the twelve engineers founded the "American Society of Civil Engineers and Architects." It was the first national engineering society ever created in the country. At that meeting, the engineers declared the objects of the new Society to be: "the professional improvement of the members, the encouragement of social intercourse among men of practical science, the advancement of engineering in its several branches, and of architecture, and the establishment of a central point of reference and union for its members." The Society began as a small group, largely consisting of New York City residents, but soon grew into a large body of members that resided throughout the nation and the world.

ASCE 150th Anniversary
Commemorating ASCE's 150th Anniversary
pdf Governor's Citation
pdf Mayor's Proclamation

As part of the celebration of ASCE's 150th Anniversary in 2002, the founders' plaque in City Hall Park was rededicated and ASCE National President Tom Jackson attended a special ceremony held on November 14, 2002. ASCE Metropolitan Section President Maria Grazia Bruschi read the following remarks, prepared by Bob Olmsted, Chair of the Met Section's History & Heritage Committee:

"Good Morning and welcome.

Today, the American Society of Civil Engineers is rededicating the plaque that marks the spot where ASCE was founded 150 years ago this month. The plaque may be seen in the grassy area between this fence and the Tweed Courthouse. It was originally installed and donated by the Society to the City in 1981. The plaque marks the site of the Rotunda, a small, domed, roman-style building that was New York City's first arts museum, which was specifically built to display the paintings of the artist John Vanderlyn. Vanderlyn painted panoramas, and a round building was ideal to show his work. Later the building housed various city offices, including the office of the Croton Aqueduct Department, which was formed in 1849 to plan improvements to the Croton water supply system. The Croton system, which was engineered by John B. Jervis and opened in 1842, was a remarkable engineering achievement for its day, and was the prototype for later water supply projects throughout the world. To celebrate its completion, a 50-foot high geyser of crystal pure Croton water, transported from Westchester in the 41 mile Croton Aqueduct, gushed forth from a fountain in City Hall Park just a few feet from where we are now standing.

Unveiling the ASCE Founders' Plaque
Present at the plaque unveiling in 1981 were ASCE Met Section representatives Edward Cohen, Dave Caplan, and Bert Hardesty and NYCDOT Commissioner Anthony Ameruso.

The inaugural meeting of ASCE met at 7 pm in the office of Chief Engineer Alfred W. Craven (ASCE president 1870-71). The meeting was attended by twelve prominent engineers of the day. James Laurie was elected as the Society's president. ASCE's first technical meeting was about traffic congestion in the city (what's new?) President Laurie presented a paper, "the Relief of Broadway," a proposal for an elevated railroad on Broadway. Interestingly, although four elevated railways were built in Manhattan, an el on Broadway was prohibited by law.

The Society remained in New York until 1996 when headquarters moved to Reston, Virginia. The Metropolitan Section was formed in 1920.

Civil engineers built the metropolis we have today. The histories of American civil engineering and the American Society of Civil Engineers are closely linked. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 sparked the rapid growth of the city and its need for infrastructure. Lacking trained engineers, the Erie Canal was the first "engineering school" in America. Its chief engineer was Benjamin Wright who ASCE calls the "Father of American civil engineering." Wright is buried in the New York Marble Cemetery at Second Avenue and Second Street.

As the profession grew, civil engineers built the city's bridges and tunnels, water supply and waste water systems, skyscrapers and subways: engineers like John Roebling who built the Brooklyn Bridge with his son Washington aided by Washington's wife Emily Roebling; John B. Jervis who built the Croton water system; William Barclay Parsons who engineered New York's first subway; Alfred Craven, Alfred W. Craven's nephew, who built the IRT/BMT "dual" subway system; Robert Ridgway (ASCE president 1925) who engineered the IND subway; Clifford Holland, engineer on four early East River subway tunnels, who later built the Holland Tunnel, which was named for him after his untimely death; his disciple Ole Singstad who was in charge of the Queens Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels; Gustav Lindenthal, the bridge builder and his disciple, Othmar H. Ammann who built six of our most important bridges. And let us not forget the famous French engineer, Gustav Eiffel, who designed the structural frame that supports the Statue of Liberty. The list goes on and on…

Brooklyn Bridge - City Hall Subway Station
The Founders' Plaque is located near the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall Subway Station on the east side of the Tweed Courthouse.

ASCE has recognized several of New York City's engineering achievements as National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks: the Croton Water Supply System; first New York (IRT) Subway; Brooklyn Bridge; George Washington Bridge; Bayonne Bridge; Holland Tunnel; Hudson and Manhattan (PATH) Uptown Tunnel; Triborough Bridge Project; and the Statue of Liberty (International Civil Engineering Landmark). In addition, ASCE named New York's quintessential skyscraper, the Empire State Building, as one of the seven modern Civil Engineering Wonders of the United States in 1995, and one of the Civil Engineering Monuments of the Millennium in 2001.

Where we stand today is probably the only place where ASCE has three plaques virtually within sight of one another; the Brooklyn Bridge; the First Subway (plaque temporarily removed from the Brooklyn Bridge station beneath our feet); and the Founders' Plaque, which we are rededicating today.

We thank you for attending."

To visit the plaque and see the site of the Rotunda where ASCE was founded, go to City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan and look inside the fenced-in area on the east side of the Tweed Courthouse near the southwest corner of the intersection of Chambers Street and Centre Street. The existing plaque reads:

A SMALL, DOMED ROMAN STYLE BUILDING NAMED THE ROTUNDA STOOD ON THIS SITE, 1816-1870. IT WAS THE CITY'S FIRST ART MUSEUM AND WAS ERECTED TO DISPLAY PANORAMAS PAINTED BY THE ARTIST JOHN VANDERLYN. AT TIMES THE STRUCTURE HOST A POST OFFICE, COURTS AND VARIOUS CITY AGENCIES.

ON NOVEMBER 5, 1852, IN THE OFFICES OF THE CROTON AQUEDUCT DEPARTMENT, THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS WAS FOUNDED. THE SOCIETY IS THE OLDEST NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ENGINEERS IN THE UNITED STATES.