Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > New York City History > 50. William Barclay Parsons

50.  William Barclay Parsons (1859-1932).  Diary, Rapid Transit System of New York. Typescript, 4 vols., with author's initials in vol. 1, 1900 - 1904. RBML

William Barclay Parsons attended Columbia University and graduated in 1882. He was the co-founder of the Spectator and became one of the great developers of the civil engineering projects that ushered America into the modern age of industrial design. He was chief engineer for the Rapid Transit System of New York, and designed the original plans for the Interborough Rapid Transit system which opened one hundred years ago, in 1904. His thorough examinations of Manhattan's topography resulted in his use of the less expensive and more efficient cut-and-cover construction method for the first subway lines.

Parsons made an important survey of Chinese railroads (1898-99), was on the board of consulting engineers for the Panama Canal (1905), and was Chief engineer for the Cape Cod Canal (1905-14). He served as a colonel in the Spanish American War and a general in World War I. Even his overseas duty did not diminish his dedication to improving Columbia University, as he was chairman of the Board of Trustees, a founder of what would become the Starr East Asian Library, and a confidant of Nicholas Murray Butler during this time. In addition to this diary, Columbia received Parson's diaries kept during his work on the Panama Canal and during World War I, as well as his fine collection of railroad prints.

Gift of William Barclay Parsons, Jr., 1958

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