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Sydney B. Williamson Papers

Identifier: MS-0206

The bulk of the collection documents Williamson's engineering assignments in Panama, South America, and the United States, and his service on the Interoceanic Canal Board. The collection consists of the following series: Biographical and historical materials; Correspondence; Project and Planning Files; Engineering Drawings and Specifications; Reports, Papers and Speeches; Photographs; Printed Materials and Miscellaneous. The sizable group of drawings and specifications for the Panama Canal construction is of particular importance. Also of interest in the Photographs series is a Panama Album which includes photos of President William H. Taft's tour of the Panama Canal construction site, as well as photos recording in detail the massive task of constructing the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; many of these photographs are unpublished.


  • 1909-1939


Language of Materials


Physical Description

7 boxes


There are no restrictions

Use Restrictions

Manuscript collections in the VMI Archives are made available for educational and research use. The VMI Archives should be cited as the source. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright holders. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission from the VMI Archives. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information.


7 boxes


Sydney B. Williamson was a civil engineer whose most notable achievement was his service as Division Engineer of the Pacific Division of the Panama Canal construction project (1907- 1914). The collection contains project files, photographs, and drawings documenting Williamson's work in Panama, with particular emphasis on the construction of the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks.


1865 April 15
Sydney Bacon Williamson born at Lexington, Virginia
Graduated from the Virginia Military Institute with a degree in Civil Engineering
Mathematics instructor at Kings Mountain (North Carolina) military school
Served in the engineering departments of St. Paul and Duluth Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway; designed and constructed railroad terminals and bridges
In general engineering practice with Williamson and Earl in Montgomery, Alabama; street paving, sanitary sewers for Montgomery and Columbus, Ga.
1890 May 20
Married Helen Cecilia Davis
Assistant Engineer to Gen. George W. Goethals; in charge of improvements on the Tennessee River; included a canal lock at Riverton, Ala., and Muscle Shoals Canal
Served as Captain, Third Vol. Engineers under Gen. John R. Brooke in Puerto Rico
Engineer of fortifications at Newport, R. I. under Goethals
Consulting engineer in Baltimore and for Jamestown (N.Y.) Exposition
Division Engineer of Pacific Division of Panama Canal under Goethals; responsible for wet and dry excavation of Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; also designed and constructed Pacific Terminal docks, water supply, sewers, road and streets for the towns of the division including the city of Panama
Became Chief of Construction for J.G. White and Co., Ltd. of London; worked on power station and street railway for Brazil, water supply for Genoa, Italy, additions to street railway in Buenos Aires; Chief of Construction of U.S. Reclamation Service; supervised work of Central Office in Denver involving dams, reservoirs, power plants, canals
Consulting Engineer for Guggenheim Brothers in New York; worked on Chile Copper Co."s plant and Braden Copper Co.'s plant; increased mining, milling, leaching, smelting, and power plants; also constructed houses for employees; water and sewer systems
World War I service. Leave of absence to serve as Lt. Col. of Engineers in France; Section Engineer of Intermediate Section West; built barracks, hospitals, warehouses, remount stations, ammunition dumps, water supplies; Nov. 4, promoted to Colonel
Discharged from army and returned to Guggenheim Brothers
Civil engineering practice at Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlottesville, Virginia
Consulting Engineer with Goethals at Port of Palm Beach, Florida; also consulted on water supplies for several towns in Virginia and Hollywood, FL
Employed by U.S. District Engineer at Philadelphia; worked on dikes to control Delaware River
Principal Engineer, U.S. Engineering Dept.; investigated feasibility of Nicaragua Canal
Appointed member of Interoceanic Canal Board by President Herbert Hoover; served until retirement in 1935
Engaged by U.S. Army corps of engineers to determine damages done by Mississippi flood control program and to testify before courts
1939 January 13
Died at Lexington, Virginia
Biographical / Historical Sydney Bacon Williamson was born on April 15, 1865 in Lexington, Virginia, the son of VMI Professor Thomas H. Williamson. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1884 and shortly thereafter began a distinguished career in Civil Engineering. Most notably, he served as Division Engineer of the Pacific Division of Panama Canal from 1907-1914. Williamson was responsible for wet and dry excavation of the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks; he also helped design and oversaw construction of the Pacific Terminal docks; and the water supply, sewers, roads and streets for the towns of the division including the city of Panama. During World War I he served as Col. of Engineers in France. He died at Lexington, Virginia in 1939

Physical Location

Manuscripts Stacks

Online Access

Physical Description

7 boxes
A Guide to the Sydney B. Williamson Papers 1909-1939
Diane B. Jacob
© 2001 VirginiaMilitary Institute
Language of description
Description is inEnglish

Revision Statements

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Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450