The district is turning 150 years old in 2016. I have to admit I have never thought much about what it would be like to lead such a dynamic group of individuals. Granted, in the beginning, there were not all that many of us. In 1917, there were a whopping eight office employees which jumped to 10 in 1923. Currently, there are approximately 650 individuals, working at 41 sites between the district headquarters office and field.
The district’s first commander included Maj. Gouverneur K. Warren (1866-1870). He came to St. Paul in 1866 to begin work surveying the Upper Mississippi River. Warren is credited with being able to put together the most detailed and comprehensive map of the northern plains. In his honor, the G. K. Warren Prize is awarded every four years by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for distinguished accomplishment in fluviatile geology and closely related aspects of the geological sciences.
Since Warren, we have had 63 more district engineers, including our current commander, Col. Dan Koprowski (2013-Present). We are familiar with the three year tour of the district engineers, but it has not always been that way. Many have stayed more than the three years, while some stayed for just a short time.
For example, Maj. Charles Allen stayed 11 years and 4 months (1878-1889). Capt. Frank Albrecht was here for 19 days in 1937 as acting district engineer. Our second district engineer, Col. John Macomb (1870-1873) didn’t even live here when he was in charge. Then there are five who liked us so much, they came back for more.
We have had only one district engineer of color, Col. Joseph Briggs (1985-1988). We have also had one civilian—Mr. George W. Freeman (1917-1919). Then, there was the district engineer who wanted to do his part to save the government money. Maj. Fredrick Abbot (1897-1900) rode his bicycle to inspect Lock and Dam 2, located in Hastings, Minnesota, so the government wouldn’t have to reimburse him for livery fees for his horse.
We also have had some creative thinkers. Lt. Col Francis Shunk (1907-1912) thought it would be awesome to create our own canal from Duluth, Minnesota, to Stillwater, Minnesota, getting the idea from the Panama Canal. Several other district engineers investigated the idea for many years, until 1967 when the idea finally died. Another creative thinker was our civilian district engineer, Freeman, who holds the patent for Lock and Dam 1 in Minneapolis.
We also had some very hard workers. Maj. Dwight Johns (1933-1937), who is called the “father of the lock and dam system” in the district, saw 75 percent of the lock and dams, three through nine, completed during his tenure. A few years later, Col. John Moreland (1939-1943) took charge of ALL U. S. Army construction in the district. According to his plaque on the wall of the district’s headquarters’ building, he built a new ordnance plant in the Twin Cities and airports in Fargo, North Dakota, and Devils Lake, North Dakota. Then, Col. Lynn Barns built an arms plant in four-and-one-half months. This impressed President Franklin Roosevelt so much he came by for a visit.
Barnes was not the only district engineer to receive a visit from a president. Col. Leslie Harding (1963-1966) commanded the district during record flooding on the Mississippi River in 1965. The flood fight cost around $1.5 million but saved around $108 million in damages and resulted with a visit to the district by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The flood prompted flood control projects in South St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Paul, Minnesota; Winona, Minnesota; and Guttenberg, Iowa.
Further, Col. William Badger (1979-1982) got to meet President Jimmy and First Lady Rosslyn Carter in at Lock and Dam 6 in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, in 1979, when the president took a ride on the Delta Queen. Col. Jon Christensen (2007-2010) met President George W. Bush at Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam after the I-35W bridge collapsed on it in 2007.
There are two district engineers, in their brief bios on the wall, with the phases “organizational challenges” and “difficult and challenging times.” I am guessing, if you could ask any one of the district engineers, they would all say that. For example, one district engineer, Col. Forrest Gay III (1976-1979), had to decide between being either in contempt of court or contempt of congress. More than one district engineer has faced flooding in four of the district’s five river basins at the same time. Other challenges for some have included a war with Native Americans, boundary changes and budget issues.
I am sure I could find something interesting about all of the district engineers we have had in the 150 years we have been around. They have been varied in talents, attitudes and ideas. Some have stayed long, others just stepping in to help out — some with grand ideas and some just trying to keep a lid on a pot about to boil. But they have all led the Corps to the best of their ability, which, I am certain, was not always an easy task.