Loammi Baldwin Jr.

Round bronze plaque of a portrait of Baldwin Jr. with a ship behind his head and text with his name.
Loammi Baldwin Jr. memorial plaque in City Square, Charlestown, Massachusetts.

NPS Photo/Parrow

Quick Facts
Expert Civil Engineer, constructed Charlestown Dry Dock 1
Place of Birth:
Woburn, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
May 16, 1780
Place of Death:
Charlestown, Massachusetts
Date of Death:
June 30, 1838
Place of Burial:
Woburn, Massachusetts

Loammi Baldwin Jr.'s extraordinary abilities as an expert civil engineer brought him governmental and corporate projects up and down the East Coast. Local governments funded two trips to Europe during which he explored large-scale engineering projects.1 Praise from his own era rings down through the years; Baldwin is still seen as "the Father of Civil Engineering in America."2

Loammi Baldwin Jr. grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts, where the Baldwin family had deep roots. The Baldwins were among the first to settle in Woburn, incorporated in 1640, and had social status and political and economic influence.3 Loammi Baldwin Jr. attended the then-private Westford Academy4 and graduated from Harvard College in 1800. His studies of mechanical subjects were unusual and were not offered at Harvard. His nuclear family begged to differ with Harvard on the importance of civil engineering. Baldwin Jr., starting at age 14, and his four older brothers worked with their father on the ten-year project of constructing the Middlesex Canal, a 27-mile (44-kilometer) barge canal connecting the Merrimack River with the port of Boston.5

After a three-year stint as a lawyer in Groton and in his own office in Cambridge, Baldwin Jr. returned to engineering. With explorations of England's public works financed by the City of Boston under his belt, in 1807 he opened an engineering office in Charlestown.6 There, as chief engineer working for the military and with the rank of Colonel, he focused on projects for the US Navy.7 The US Navy believed Baldwin Jr. could assist with tightening up coastal defense as they prepared for a pending war. The US Navy needed expert civil engineers who could design modern shipbuilding facilities that would make possible modern Naval defense and shipbuilding along the East Coast.8

One of Loammi Baldwin Jr.'s earliest engineering works for the military was Fort Strong (1814). He led the design and construction of this earthwork on Noddle's Island, one of the strong forts in Boston Harbor for defense against the British Navy during the War of 1812.9 Boston and other cities invited him to take part in many important engineering projects in the community and elsewhere.10

After the war ended, in July 1816, Baldwin Jr. married Anna Williams of Salem.11 She joined him at his Charlestown domicile, built on Main St. in 1807.12

If he had not been known to Boston's male leadership networks due to his father's role in the long Middlesex Canal project, by 1825 Loammi Baldwin Jr.'s own performance would have opened the door for him. In that year, he was asked to join the Bunker Hill Monument Association (BHMA), which recognized and praised his contributions to the planning of the Monument's construction.13 Baldwin Jr.'s skills as a civil engineer were needed to plan, design, and execute construction of the Bunker Hill Monument. Straightaway, he recommended an obelisk form, and then supported the concrete design submitted by architect Solomon Willard.14

Besides his involvement in this Bostonian civilian project, in 1827 Loammi Baldwin Jr. accepted an appointment from the United States to design and construct the naval dry docks at Charlestown, as well as at Norfolk, Virginia. Before he accepted the US Navy’s commission to design and construct the dry docks, however, Baldwin Jr. insisted on complete and unrestricted control of the projects, which the Navy granted.15 His Charlestown Dry Dock 1, built 1827-1833, can be visited at the Charlestown Navy Yard. It is still in use today, albeit enlarged several times since Loammi Baldwin Jr. supervised its construction.16 As a three-sided basin filled with, then drained of, water, a dry dock is an ingenious solution for the challenge of repairing a ship's underside. Baldwin engineered an intricate complex of masonry, engines, pumps, reservoir, tunnels, culverts, valves, and gates—in effect a huge well-coordinated machine. The Charlestown and the Norfolk Dry Docks were the first such naval structures in the United States.17 By 1833, Baldwin Jr.'s engineering skills were in demand; up and down the East Coast, he led all manner of large-scale projects that supported internal improvements the cities and companies were undertaking at that formative period in the United States.18

In 1828, Loammi Baldwin Jr. married Catherine Beckford of Charlestown, his first wife having died in 1821.19

Baldwin Jr. died at Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 30, 1838, at the age of fifty-eight, about a year after he suffered a paralytic stroke. He was buried in his hometown of Woburn.20 There, he is a well-remembered local hero. His descendants and the Middlesex Canal Association's museum keep the community interest alive. The USS Constitution Museum has brought his memory back into the national foreground, honoring the feat of his Dry Dock 1 construction in 2015 when the USS Constitution entered it for repair.21


  1. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin," - source: W.R. Cutter Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts Vol, I (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1906) pp. 17ff (accessed 5/14/2021). Cutter available online: (accessed 7/1/2021)
  2. This phrase has been picked up by the Charlestown Historical Society for use on a brochure, for example. "Loammi Baldwin, Jr. Father of Civil Engineering in America, 1780-1838," Charlestown Historical Society, (accessed 5/14/2021).
  3. Henry Baldwin’s "palatial residence" was finished in 1661. W.R. Cutter’s genealogical history of the Baldwins is available here: Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs. Relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1908), For more on Massachusetts’ Middlesex county families, have a look at Cutter’s work.
  4. Westford Academy was founded in 1792. It became a public school in 1928. It is still open and still prestigious. George Adams, Education in Massachusetts: Incorporated Academies. Massachusetts Register (Boston: Damrell and Moore, 1853); Robert W. Oliphant, "A Brief History of Westford," The Westford Historical Society & Museum (accessed 5/23/2021).
  5. Loammi Baldwin Jr.'s father trained him and his brothers to be masters of civil engineering; his sisters married civil engineers. In 1806, Loammi Jr. became vice-president of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Harvard. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa still exists, making it America’s oldest academic honor society. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin;" "Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society," (accessed 5/23/21).
  6. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin;" "Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society."Baldwin’s offices were at 18 Charlestown Square; his majestic home was at 194 Main Street. "Full Historic Timeline," Charlestown Historical Society, (accessed 5/21/2021).
  7. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin;" "Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society," (accessed 5/23/21).
  8. Harry Hawthorne, "History of the Sea-Coast Fortifications of the United States: II. Boston Harbor," Journal of the US Artillery, Vol. VI, 1896, pp. 359-374.
  9. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin." This older Fort Strong is not to be confused with the one built on Boston's Long Island in the late 19th century. For primary sources, see Loammi Baldwin and Loammi Baldwin, Jr. papers, Biography section, Clements Library, University of Michigan, (conversation with Stephen Carlson, Preservation Specialist, and David Vecchioli, Museum Curator, both at Boston National Historical Park, on 5/25/2021). For details of Boston's experience, see: W. K. Watkins, Chapt. VI. "The Defence of Boston in the War of 1812," In: Proceedings Bostonian Society Annual Meeting, January 10, 1899, pp. 38ff.
  10. In 1819 he was asked to complete the construction of the Milldam, which would become a stretch of Beacon Street beyond the Boston Common. In 1824 Baldwin returned to Europe and remained there a year, mostly in France, examining public works.; "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin."
  11. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin;" Woburn church ledger page image, kindly shared by NPS Ranger Dan Gagnon. Nancy "Anna" Williams Baldwin, born probably in Salem, died in Boston in 1821, at the age of 41–42. Her brother was an eminent American banker in London. "Nancy "Anna" Williams Baldwin," Find A Grave, (accessed 5/23/2021); Charles P. Bowditch and Harrison Ellery, The Pickering genealogy: being an account of the first three generations of the Pickering family of Salem, Mass., and of the descendants of John and Sarah (Burrill) Pickering, of the third generation (Cambridge, University Press, J. Wilson and Son], 1897.
  12. "Full Historic Timeline," Charlestown Historical Society.
  13. William Ticknor, Colonel Thomas Handasyd Perkins, William Tudor, Daniel Webster, Professor George Ticknor, Doctor John C. Warren, William Sullivan, and George Blake were the core of this group. See: Bunker Hill Monument Association, Proceedings of the Bunker Hill Monument Association (Boston: Bunker Hill Monument Association, 1879); Samuel Swett, Original Planning and Construction of Bunker Hill Monument (Albany: J. Munsell, 1863), (accessed 5/26/2021). The Bunker Hill Monument Association is still active. See this local press article: Seth Daniel, "Bunker Hill Monument Association Steeped in History, Remembrance," Charlestown Patriot-Bridge, June 16, 2018 (accessed 6/9/2021).
  14. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin." His assessment report concerning the concrete obelisk design can be found in Loammi Baldwin and Loammi Baldwin, Jr. papers, Biography section, Clements Library, University of Michigan. For more on Solomon Willard, who was initially a carpenter, see: William W. Wheildon, Memoir of Solomon Willard, Architect and Superintendent of the Bunker Hill Monument (Boston, MA: Printed by Direction of the Monument Association, 1865).
  15. Brett Hansen, "Sustaining the Fleet: The Charlestown And Gosport Dry Docks," Civil Engineering 2007, 77 (3), pp. 32-33, (accessed 6/5/2021).
  16. Dry Dock 1 was recently used during the restoration of the USS Constitution. See this video about the restoration: "Underside of historic USS Constitution 'Old Ironsides' seen for 1st time in 20 years".
  17. The Charlestown dock was inaugurated in 1833 with the docking of the USS Constitution. "Loammi Baldwin Jr.," Wikipedia; "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin;" Sean Hennessy, "History of Dry Dock 1, Charlestown Navy Yard;" Stephen P. Carlson, Charlestown Navy Yard Historic Resource Study, Volume 1 of 3 (Produced by the Division of Cultural Resources, Boston National Historical Park, National Park Service, U.S. Department if the Interior Boston, MA, 2010), pp. 29-37.
  18. Other local projects were construction of buildings at Harvard College and the stone Warren Bridge at Charlestown. Baldwin led also non-local projects such as a marine railway at Pensacola, a canal around the Ohio River falls, and the Union Canal in Pennsylvania.; "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin."
  19. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin;" "Catherine 'Caty' Wilder Baldwin," Find A Grave, (accessed 5/23/2021).
  20. "Woburnites: The Family of Baldwin."
  21. J. Jeremiah Breen, "President’s Message," Towpath Topics, Middlesex Canal Association, Vol. 54 No. 1, September 2015 (accessed 5/14/2021).

Boston National Historical Park

Last updated: January 17, 2023