Collecting Delaware Books

Corps of Engineers

The District A History of the Philadelphia District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1866-1971 by Frank E. Snyder and Brian H. Guss was published by the district in 1974. An 8- by 11-inch book of 263 pages, it covers corps activity in the Delaware River watershed from New York state south as well as all of New Jersey south of Trenton. It is profusely illustrated with both historical photos and excellent drawings.

Not everyone agrees with the activities of the Corps of Engineers. Its major alterations of the landscape, especially river flow, have been both praised and condemned. That is one reason this book is interesting: it precisely documents these activities during the past century. And much of the Philadelphia districts activities have centered in Delaware.

Indeed, since 1918 the corps has been custodian of that grand ditch that divides northern New Castle County from the rest of the state, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. It took 48 years of planning, surveys, and negotiations for the corps to get into the canal business. It all started with a search for a better way for ships to get to Baltimore and an escape route for the navy if it were ever trapped in the Chesapeake by a blockade at Hampton Roads.

Six routes were considered in addition to the existing canal. One would have passed through Milton and Seaford. Three others would have gone by Milford. Routes also were considered near Dover and Smyrna. In the end, weather conditions and finances left no alternative to expanding the existing canal. By that time, an escape route for the navy was no longer a consideration.

The book devotes much space to the canal. Even the bad is reported, such as the running aground of the S.S. Waukegan which wrecked the St. Georges lift bridge over the canal.

The corps is also in charge of dredging the Delaware River, a subject of environmental concern recently. Along the river, the corps was involved for many years as builder and rebuilder of Fort Delaware and New Jerseys Fort Mott. It also built the breakwaters north of Cape Henlopen to provide "a haven within the capes" and numerous lighthouses and bridges.

The book was apparently never sold commercially but given to interested people. Best place to look for it is estate sales.

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