Captain Hiram M. Chittenden’s photograph appears on the wall outside the executive office of St. Paul District. Chittenden served as temporary district engineer for four months in 1901, during which time he gets credit for the conversion of Leech Lake Dam from a timber to a concrete structure and the design of Twin Cities Lock and Dam #2. Chittenden was assigned to St. Paul District for much of his career, more than those four brief months of command.
Hiram M. Chittenden (1858 – 1917) was a native of the Finger Lakes Region of New York, an 1884 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and an officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As an engineer, he served on the Missouri River Commission for much of his career, surveyed the irrigation potential of western states and studied flood control needs in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He was responsible for surveying the boundaries of Yosemite and Mount Rainier national parks and ended his army career as Seattle District Engineer. In Seattle, he planned the Lake Washington Canal linking Lakes Washington and Union with Puget Sound. Seattle’s Chittenden Locks are named for him. He retired in December 1909 with the rank of brigadier general. Hiram Martin Chittenden was nationally renowned in his day as an author, advocate, engineer and historian.
Young Lieutenant Chittenden was first assigned to the young Yellowstone National Park in 1891, then within the boundaries of the St. Paul District. Arriving without a budget or staff, he decided to survey visitors as to what they thought was needed in the park. As a result, he improved the system of tourist roads still in use in Yellowstone today, obtained funding from Congress and oversaw their construction. During a subsequent assignment in Yellowstone, then Capt. Chittenden campaigned to protect Yellowstone and other national parks for future generations from vandalism and corporate encroachment while completing his engineering operations. Among his most remarkable works are the Roosevelt entrance arch near Gardiner, Montana, a graceful arch bridge over the Yellowstone River above Yellowstone Falls, and the Golden Gate Viaduct through the Yellowstone Canyon.
Studies of the irrigation potential in the Rocky Mountain West by Chittenden led to the establishment of the Bureau of Reclamation. Chittenden may be said to be the father of flood control in the Ohio River basin because of his study of flooding there. Originally opposed to government efforts to reduce the risk of flooding, Chittenden changed his position based upon his research. During the Spanish-American War, Chittenden was given a command of a unit of volunteers and the temporary rank of colonel. He and his unit were sent to Huntsville, Alabama, for training. Chittenden found that the local water supply was severely lacking, and in his spare time designed and began a municipal system for the community. Thank Chittenden for safe, clean water the next time you have training in Huntsville.
Hiram Chittenden was an important historian of the American West. He wrote The Yellowstone National Park, History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River, Life and Letters of Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S.J., 1801- 1873, and The American Fur Trade of the West. His books on Yellowstone National Park and Fur Trapping are still in print. The American Fur Trade is considered the definitive work on the subject. He also contributed articles to many national magazines and newspapers.
Hiram Chittenden’s interpretation of the importance and grandeur of Yellowstone was important in the development of the National Park ideal in the decades just prior to the formation of the National Park Service. He also contributed greatly to the understanding of the exploration of the American West. Hiram Martin Chittenden was indeed a man of unusual and remarkable talents.