You are not logged in. Login

Almanac: Tunnel Vision Clears Air - A Border is Set

MARCH marks the anniversary of the birth of Clifford Holland, the engineer who designed the 1.5-mile long tunnel that bears his name, connecting New York City and Jersey City, NJ under the Hudson River. Clifford Milburn Holland was born on March 13, 1883, in Somerset, Massachusetts. After graduating from Harvard University with a B.A. in 1905 and a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1906, Holland began his career in New York City working as an assistant engineer on the construction of the Joralemon Street Tunnel. His reputation as an underwater tunnel expert grew while he served as the engineer-in-charge of construction of four subway tunnels across the East River. 

 Clifford Holland
 Clifford Milburn Holland

In 1919, Holland, took office as Chief Engineer of the tunnel that would eventually bear his name. He was the first chief engineer of what was then known as the “Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel” project. He enlisted the help of Ole Singstad to serve as the project's design engineer and Milton M. Freeman to supervise construction and serve as the resident engineer. Design of the tunnel began in June 1919. Eleven different plans for the tunnel were proposed, including a design by General George Goethals that included a single tube having two levels, each containing three traffic lanes. Holland's plan, which was ultimately selected, called for twin tubes lined with cast iron, each containing two lanes of traffic on a single deck. Tunnel construction began October 12, 1920.

The most significant design aspect of the Holland Tunnel is its pioneering ventilation system. At the time of its construction, underwater tunnels were a well-established part of civil engineering, but no long vehicular tunnel had been built. The technical hurdle was the ventilation required to evacuate the carbon monoxide emissions, which would otherwise asphyxiate the drivers. In Holland's design, the problem of noxious gases from internal combustion engines was solved with large-capacity fans in ventilating buildings at each end, forcing air through a supply duct below the roadway, with an exhaust duct above the ceiling.

Holland did not see his dream come to fruition, having died of a heart attack on October 27, 1924, two days before tunnel construction crews from the two sides met. The two ends of the tubes from New York and New Jersey were joined together without fanfare, even though Holland's mathematical calculations led them to meeting within a fraction of an inch of each other. On November 12, 1924, two weeks after Holland’s death, the project was renamed in his memory by the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission.

Holland’s successor was Milton Freedman, who died five months later. The tunnel was finished under the leadership of the project's third chief engineer, Ole Singstad. The Holland Tunnel formally opened on the afternoon of November 12, 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge. Twenty thousand people walked through the tunnel during a two-hour period and viewed the engineering marvel before it was opened to vehicles at midnight. The first cars to enter the Holland Tunnel from Manhattan carried chairmen of the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the widows of Clifford Holland and Milton Freeman.

Clifford Holland is buried in the Palmer Street Cemetery in Somerset, Massachusetts. The Holland Tunnel was formally designated a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1984.

APRIL marks the anniversary of the setting of Ellicott’s Stone in Mobile County, Alabama. The Ellicott Stone was set in position on April 10, 1799, commissioned by George Washington to denote the border between the United States and the Spanish territory. 

 Ellicott's Stone
 Image of Ellicott's Stone

In 1795, the Treaty of San Lorenzo el Real (also known as the Pinckney Treaty) set the boundary between America and Spain as the 31° line of north latitude. The French, Spanish, and Americans agreed that astronomer and surveyor Andrew Ellicott was the person to run the line of demarcation on the ground. Ellicott had worked on the Mason-Dixon Line and the original survey of Washington, D.C. It became his duty to go into the wilderness, determine the point at which the US southern border, the Mississippi Territory’s eastern border, and the Spanish possessions northern border met and place a stone marker denoting the exact spot.

Beginning in May 1798, Ellicott led a joint United States-Spanish Survey Commission on a two-year project to place monuments along the southern boundary of the nation, as called for by Article 2 of the Treaty. He started at the 31° North line of latitude at the western end of the Mississippi Territory, which was about 13 miles south of Clarksville on the Mississippi River, near Bayou Tunica. When the line of demarcation was run past St. Stephens, Alabama in 1799, Ellicott set up an astronomical observatory on a bluff south of "Grog Hall," and working from the bluff fifty feet over the river; Ellicott proceeded to take elevations and sightings to calculate his geographical position. Over the course of twenty-one days, Ellicott made six observations on each of four stars to establish a control point for his compass line that ran east to west, parallel to the 31st degree of north latitude. His observations ended on April 9, 1799, and the stone was set in position the next day.

Made of brown ferruginous sandstone, Ellicott’s Stone is approximately two feet high and eight inches thick. On the South (Spanish) side of the stone, the inscription reads "Dominio De S. M. Carlos IV, Lat.31., 1799." On the North side, the inscription reads "U.S., Lat.31., 1799." The parallel remained the boundary for only 14 years, until America obtained Mobile from the Spaniards in 1813.

Ellicott's Stone is the initial point for all United States Public Land surveys in the southern region of Alabama and Mississippi and it is the point of intersection of what is known today as the St. Stephens meridian and the St. Stephens baseline. From 1803 until after 1813, the U.S. Deputy Land Surveyors used Ellicott’s Stone to lay out the townships and ranges north of the 31st parallel.

The historic stone marker is the only known stone monument set by Ellicott during the survey of the 31st Parallel. With the exception of this stone, the other monuments along the boundary were mounds of dirt constructed by the joint survey crews. The mound line, known as Ellicott's Line, is marked by mounds about 4 feet tall about every mile. The line was resurveyed in 1854 and a map of the mounds was created. Over the years, farming, logging operations, and erosion has taken a toll on the Line. Wooded areas grew up, landscapes changed, and mounds have disappeared. Ellicott’s stone has received damage over the years. One corner of the stone was accidently broken off, reportedly by a logger working in the area, and there are various chips caused by gunshots. In 1917, a parcel of land around it was deeded to the City of Mobile to preserve this important historical marker.

Ellicott’s Stone was dedicated as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1968.