Branch History

By John N. Furlong, P.E. and Vicki McCullough, P.E.


The author's would like to express their gratitude to the current officers of the Dallas Branch ASCE and to the Texas Section office who provided much of the background information used in this paper and poster.  Mr. William P. Johnson, Jr., PE provided the list of officers and honorees, Mr. Fritz Beck, PE provided his knowledge and background.  We have tried to the extent possible to list major projects completed in the North Texas Area (and employ Civil Engineers).  In the appendix we have tried to list many of the civil engineers that have played leadership roles in the Dallas Branch.


It is interesting to note the civil engineering profession in North Texas, as a whole, followed societal norms and needs throughout most of the 20th century.  Prior to 1920 in North Texas, railroads (like the Interurban), horse and buggy and automobiles were the primary means of travel.  As the automobile became more important, roads and road design standards became progressively more important.  The early Texas Highway Department, run by civil engineers, took the lead to conduct research projects on road design, road construction techniques, maintenance, and operations. Many other state highway departments copied the hierarchy of area offices, district offices, and a state office supported by research labs.  The importance of roads in such a big state as Texas required civil engineers to assume greater roles in the movement of people, commerce and goods to market.  An early system of Farm to Market and Ranch to Market roads constructed in part with state and federal money was built to accommodate this need.   Civil engineers took advantage of several statewide meetings to identify the need for an organization to represent their interests and profession.


The Dallas Branch ASCE and its predecessor the Dallas Civil Engineer's Club has been in existence since 1924. The Branch has enjoyed a rich and spirited relationship with the Texas Section and National ASCE organizations over this period.  The initial idea of a Texas Engineering Association can trace its roots to several founding members from the Dallas area in the early 1900's.  Early engineers playing a role in the founding of a statewide engineering organization include Terrell Bartlett, San Antonio; Julian Fields, MASCE, Denison; John B. Hawley, Ft. Worth; J. Milton Howe, Houston; Robert J. Potts, College Station; James C. Nagle, MASCE, College Station; and J. F. Witt, MASCE, Dallas.  A meeting occurred in 1913 at the North Beach Hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas after an initial meeting of the Texas Good Roads Association.  The idea was to form some sort of Texas Engineering Association.  The thought of an ASCE connection is attributed to Charles M. Davis, Ft. Worth, in discussions he had while in New York City, with Mr. Charles Warren Hunt, then Secretary of ASCE in 1913.  Upon Mr. Davis's return to Texas, he discussed the idea with Mr. Hawley, Ft. Worth, and a call was sent out for an organizational meeting in Dallas on October 31 to November 1, 1913.  The meeting place was the Civil Appeals Courtroom of the Dallas County Court House on Saturday, November 1, 1913.  Another prominent Dallas Architect/Engineer involved in the founding was Otto Lang. From this meeting the Texas Association of Members of the American Society of Civil Engineers was a reality that has grown into an ever-expanding influence for excellent engineering and professional development. There was considerable discussion on the name of the "Texas Section" and Dallas "Branch" as subunits of ASCE.  From this beginning as a "Texas Section" the Dallas "Branch" finally came into existence in 1924.  Several "Texas Section" meetings were held in the Dallas area prior to the founding of the Dallas "Branch".  


In the 1920's to early 30's Texans needed flood control and treatment of water.  Water supply, distribution, treatment and use, and flood control were of the utmost importance.  Civil engineers were called on to design dams and reservoirs, levees and pump stations, irrigation and drainage canals and water treatment plants to meet the water needs.  The Dallas Floodway part of the Trinity Floodway was completed in 1931 after some 20 plus years of planning and discussion.  These efforts employed many civil engineers in this area.  As an example of national leadership in the Dallas Branch, until the Nashville Section founded in 1921, became the Nashville Branch of the Tennessee Section in 1988, the Dallas Branch was the oldest branch in the Texas Section and in ASCE.  [ASCE Official Register]


In the early 1930's up to WWII, Texas was in the Great Depression.  Many civil engineers were assigned to WPA projects in rural areas as roads, parks, and dams were constructed with available labor.  The electrification of many parts of rural areas of Texas required civil engineers to design transmission towers, switching yards, and survey ROW for transmission lines.  The oil boom in north and east Texas attracted many civil engineers and surveyors as mineral rights, wells, pipelines, and storage facilities had to be surveyed and designed.   The Texas Centennial Celebration in 1936 led to the construction of permanent facilities in Fair Park for the Texas State Fair.  The Texas Engineer's Practice Act was passed in 1936 leading the to distinction of "Professional Engineer".  This monumental effort was led in part by a Dallas civil engineer Grayson Gill. Denison Dam was designed and completed during this period by the Corps of Engineers.   In 1993, Denison Dam was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  The Denison Dam embankment, completed in 1943 was the largest roller compacted embankment ever attempted.  Also, during this period the Houston Street Viaduct was completed and put into service. 


In the early 1940's and the years leading up to WWII civil engineers were called on the support the war effort.  Many local engineers were drafted or enlisted in the armed services.  New and expanded airfields like the Dallas Naval Air Station, Love Field, and Meachem Field sprang up quickly to serve as training centers for personnel.  Manufacturing facilities for aircraft and their supporting needs grew up around these airfields.  Central Expressway (Phase I) was initiated, designed and construction started.   Denison Dam powerhouse was completed during this period. 


In early 1950's and the years following WWII civil engineers were returning from overseas, and many were intent on starting families.  This population growth required new infrastructure with roads, home construction, utility lines, and a new word for "suburbia".  Television came into its own and coverage of major events was shared by all.  Texas experienced the worst drought on record in the mid-1950's and many leaders in North Texas drafted and developed the "Texas Water Plan" to meet the future water needs of the region.  Also, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Turnpike was constructed, becoming the first major tollway linking major cities in Texas.  This Hampton Road bridge was given a national award winning "most beautiful bridge" by the American Institute of Steel Construction in the 1950's.  At one time a plaque was mounted on the north abutment - under the bridge.  This three pin arch bridge was a signature gateway bridge traveling to Dallas from the west designed by W. Llewellyn Powell


In the early 1960's civil engineers were called on to design many more dams and reservoirs in the North Texas area.  Plans were made for an International airport supported jointly by Dallas and Ft. Worth.  Ground was broken for this project and led to the early application of airport design techniques, people movers, and baggage handling facilities.  The Las Colinas development required the construction of levees and pump stations in the Elm Fork of the Trinity River spurring economic development in Irving.  


In the early 1970's, the success of professional sports teams in the DFW area, required special venues for viewing, leading to the construction of Texas Stadium to house the Dallas Cowboys.  Later a baseball stadium in Arlington was built to house the Texas Rangers.  Water supply and cooling ponds for power plants (both nuclear and fossil fueled) played a big role in employing civil engineers.  The Trinity River Authority constructed the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant which required the extension of major interceptors and collection lines to the plant.  The Dallas Water Utilities expanded the Southside and Central Wastewater Treatment Plants.  The Dallas North Tollway was begun during this period.   Note:  The ASCE Official Register of 1983 (and unknown prior years) incorrectly listed the founding of the Dalas Branch as 1938, the same as the Fort Worth Branch.  Some research might also reveal the earlier date for the founding of the Fort Worth Branch which should call for a correction in the Official Register. 


In the early 1980's the Texas economy experienced rapid growth to the point of super-inflation.  A downturn in the north Texas economy about 1985 led to the bankruptcy of many companies with interests along I-30.  Many local banks and savings and loans went out of business or bankrupt.  One major project which aided north Texas during this time was the Super Conducting Super Collider Project.  The supporting campus and tunnel for the project employed many civil engineers in the area.  Severe floods in 1989 and 1990 led to increased flooding concerns along the Trinity River resulting from upstream development and encroachments on the flood plain.  A six year project (Central Expressway - Phase 2) was completed along with the Cole Park Detention Vault. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit system was getting started during this period. 


In the early 1990's North Texas continued its rapid growth with new suburban areas mushrooming around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  Alliance airport, Texas Motor Speedway, a new baseball field called the "Ballpark in Arlington", the President George Bush Turnpike were completed or started during this period.  Plans were made for major levee and road improvements along the Trinity River corridor.

Personal Notes

As noted by Mr. William P. Johnson, Jr., "When I moved to Dallas in August, 1965 from Tulsa, Oklahoma I immediately became a member of the Dallas Branch.  The Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division, offices were in the Santa Fe Federal Building at 1114 Commerce Street.  It was easy to attend the meetings as they were held in the French Room of the Adolphus Hotel just a block away.  As I recall the luncheon cost started at $3.00/ person and there were generally 75 to 100 people that attended.  I was the assistant structural engineer to low Lawrence E. Brown.  (passed away 2000)  Mr. Brown encourage my attendances and active participation.  My GS-12 salary was about $11,000 per year which was considerably more than my GS-4 salary of $3,400/year.  In Oklahoma I was on track to become the Oklahoma Section President.  The Dallas Branch had many more members, than the Oklahoma section and I realized it would take a long time, if ever, to become the President as there were so many fine and active engineers in the Dallas Branch.  In 1982 it was a great honor to be installed as President Dr. James W. Sims of Houston and one of my professors at Rice University.  I may be the only Dallas Branch President to have been installed by a National President."

The Texas Section is now the largest section in ASCE.  With over 7500 assigned members.  The Dallas Branch has about 1200 assigned members, which is larger than about 60 sections in ASCE.  [ASCE Official Register 2001]

As the 20th century drew to a close, Texas Civil Engineers can be proud of their accomplishments, knowing that whatever challenges society gives us we can respond to meet it.  As a new millennium begins, plans are being made for major levee and road improvements along the Trinity River for flood control, transportation, and water quality enhancements.  A civil engineer's work never ends! 


Officers of the Dallas Branch
Locations of Meetings
Past Awards
Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks