Friday, November 20, 2015

Ithiel Town & New Orleans

The Southeastern Architectural Archive retains an important letter written by New York architect-engineer Ithiel Town (1784-1844) regarding his improved Lattice Bridge design of 1835. When the document came on the market, William Cullison III acquired it with support from the Marjorie Peirce and John Geiser, Jr. Fund.

Dated 23 July 1836, it gives illustrated instructions for a proposed bridge spanning 250 feet, with trussing extending 300 feet. Town advises the recipient, Boston carpenter John Livermore, to use either spruce or pine planks configured in a repeating diamond pattern, and sets a “lowest” price of $1/foot for “the whole length of the trusses of the bridge.” 

Town was a prominent New York architect and engineer known for his patented bridge. He promoted the innovation in various classified advertisements, professional publications and correspondence, thus securing its use from New York to Alabama.

New Orleans architects James Dakin, James Gallier, Sr., and Robert Seaton worked for Town before moving South; Minard Lafever also knew him. In January 1835, Town expressed an interest in visiting Louisiana to establish new bridge contracts.(1) 

(1)Ithiel Town (New York). Letter to Seth Shine (Tuscaloosa, Alabama). 17 January 1835. Cited by Jim Wilson, "Letter approving the contract to build a bridge across the river at Wetumpka." As viewed 20 November 2015. URL:

Image above:  Ithiel Town. Lattice Bridge Diagram. Pen and ink on paper. 1836. Marjorie and John Geiser II Collection, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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