Documentary History of American Water-works

Introduction Historical Background Chronology Geography Biography Technology Ownership and Financing General Bibliography

Biography Elllis S. Chesbrough

Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough

Ellis S. Chesbrough was born in Baltimore on April 6, 1813 and has only limited schooling before working as a chainman on an early railroad survey.  He rose quickly and became an assistant engineer and resident engineer for several railroad projects.  In 1846 he was hired as the Chief Engineer of the Western Division of the Boston Water Works, although he had no experience in that field.   In 1851 he was appointed City Engineer for Boston, a position he held until taking as position in Chicago as engineer of the Sewerage Commission.  He was made Chief Engineer of the Board of Public Works in 1861 and in 1863 became Chicago City Engineer. From November, 1877 until November, 1878, was president of the American society of civil engineers.  He resigned his position in Chicago in 1879 and became consulting engineer for the new Croton Aqueduct in New York City.  He became ill while on a trip to Europe to investigate dam and construction for that project, and died on August 18, 1886.

Ellis S. Chesbrough's Water Works Experience
City State Years Projects
Boston MA 1846-1855 Construction of Cochituate Aqueduct and Brookline Reservoir; City Engineer.
Chicago IL 1855-1879 Sewerage Commission Engineer, Chief Engineer of Board of Public Works, City Engineer.
Kalamazoo MI 1866 Water works survey
Memphis TN 1868 Water works survey
Milwaukee WI 1868 Water works report
Pittsburgh PA 1871 Report on water works
Jacksonville IL 1872 Prepared water works plan
Toronto ON 1872 Report on water works with Thomas C. Keefer
Akron OH 1874-1875 Water works report
Cambridge MA 1879 Water works report
New York City NY 1880-1883 Consulting engineer on New Croton Aqueduct

Various obituaries state that he worked on water works in Detroit (where he worked on the Detroit River Tunnel), Albany (where his brother I.C. Chesbrough was engineer of the water works from 1873 to 1877), and Jacksonville, Florida (which is probably meant to be Jacksonville, Illinois where he did work).

1858 Chicago Sewerage: Report of the Results of Examinations Made in Relation to Sewerage in Several European Cities, in the Winter of 1856-7, by Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough.  March 25, 1858.

1868 Report of the Chief Engineer to the Water-Works & Sewerage Commissioners upon a Public Water Supply and a System of Drainage for the City of Memphis, by Charles Hermany, July 15, 1868. Reprinted in 1885 Second Edition of Report.

1868 Report on Milwaukee Water Works, by Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough, October 28, 1868.

1868 Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago, Photographically illustrated by J. Carbutt.
Pages 191-195:  Elvis Sylvester Chesbrough

1871 Pittsburgh new Water Works : report of the Board of Examiners and hydraulic engineers, with estimates of cost of work : submitted March, 1871. by Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough and Moses Lane.

1873 "Detroit River Tunnel," by E. S. Chesbrough, Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 2:233-238 (November, 1873)

1879 City of Cambridge. Report of the Special Committee on the Water Supply of the City, December, 1879.  Appendix II - Report of E.S. Chesbrough

1886 Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough grave

1886 "E.S. Chesbrough, A Memoir," by Benezette Williams, Association of Engineering Societies 6(1):1-10 (November, 1886)

1889 "Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers 15:161-162 (November-December, 1889 )

1894 "Isaac Collins Chesbrough, A Memoir," by Isham Randolph, L.E. Coolby and Benzette Williams, Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies 8(3):145-: (March, 1894)

1972 "Raising and Watering a City: Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough and Chicago's First Sanitation System," by Louis P. Cain, Technology and Culture, 13(3):353-372 (July 1972)

2005 Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago, by Harold L. Platt

2017 The Tunnel under the Lake: The Engineering Marvel That Saved Chicago, by Benjamin Sells

Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough, American Society of Civil Engineers

2018 Morris A. Pierce