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Those Army Engineers: A History of the Chicago District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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Beginning in 1816, when Major Stephen H. Long visited the Illinois Territory to carry out the first scientific survey of the Chicago Portage, United States Army engineers have played an important role in the development of the water resources of the region. The Armys role grew during the years that followed. The Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was established in 1870 after the authorization of Chicago Harbor improvements and initiation of Great Lakes navigation system development. The district soon became a focus for the development of navigation works to meet the needs of a growing nation. The civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers is carried out nationwide under the direction of Congress, and much of what is related here of the Chicago District is true as well for other areas of the country. But as the history reveals, the national program was surprisingly decentralized, democratic, and frequently involved a lively interaction with local interests. Just as. the Corps civil works program differed from region to region, it changed here from decade to decade in ways generally paralleling developments in other areas of the nations activity. The size of the Chicago District reached a peak in 1955 when it included the western portions of Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, northwestern and central Illinois, and part of northwestern Indiana. In 1977 the district was relieved of responsibilities in Michigan. And in November 1979 the Chief of Engineers announced his decision to reduce the Chicago District area of responsibility to that encompassed by the eight-county area surrounding metropolitan Chicago. This decision provides an appropriate breakpoint to record the many accomplishments of the past. including the early Army work in the region before the Chicago District was formed. The purpose of this undertaking is to recognize the many contributions to our nation made by district employees over the last century and a half.

Subject Categories:

  • Humanities and History
  • Hydrology, Limnology and Potamology
  • Civil Engineering
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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