Reports from the
Chief Engineer and Surveyor of Philadelphia
(Bureau of Surveys)

In the second half of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th century, the responsibilities of the City's Chief Engineer & Surveyor and his subordinates, the district surveyors, included nothing less than the creation of Philadelphia as we know it. The original city contained only the two square miles bound by Vine and South Streets, between the two rivers. With the passage of the Act of Consolidation in 1854, the City of Philadelphia absorbed the entire County of Philadelphia, expanding to 129 square miles. The City surveyors, in the Department of Surveys and later the Bureau of Surveys, were responsible for designing bridges, developing plans for drainage of stormwater and sewage, laying the street grid over that mostly-rural territory--and then supervising the construction of this infrastructure.

This collection of reports is not complete, and does not represent every year for which a report was published. The 19th century reports are also not complete in themselves, with only sections relating to water, sewer and watersheds reproduced in the PDF files. Some PDFs of 19th century reports and all between 1927-1950 were made from original copies in the PWD Archives. Other 19th century reports were created from Xerox copies of reports housed at the Free Library of

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
HomeCreek to sewerDown underarchivesmapsAdam LevineLinks

Philadelphia, Government Documents Collection. Some of these Xeroxes were my working copies and are marked up with underlining and other notations. Also included in the PDFs parts of Highways Department reports and sections of the Annual Mayoral Messages, where they contained information pertaining to matters of interest. The Mayor's Messages were published almost every year from 1855 until the mid-1930s. At first they were printed and bound along with reports from all City departments, but after the publication of a monstrously unwieldy volume in 1884, the departmental or bureau reports began to be published separately.

The reports from 1927 to 1950 are typsecripts, bound in looseleaf binders for each year, that were never published. During the Depression, a report was not compiled every year, probably due to staffing cutbacks in the Department. The many pages of these reports were scanned over a period of many months by the late Dan and Pauline Greene, who volunteered in the Archives for many years and passed away within a month of each other in December 2008, both aged 91.

INDEX: An index of all reports between 1883 to 1923 was compiled by various PWD interns between 2002 and 2004. Please note that these indexes vary in completeness, and include only water, sewer, and watershed-related information. While they have not been meticulously proofread, they should provide a good indication of the selected contents of each volume. Also note that the PDFS of reports from 1855-64 include bookmarks that, when expanded, provide rudimentary indexes to those pages.

These reports, along with the indexes, constitute an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the endless details and minutiae of City government. I hope to fill in some of the gaps in this series in the future, as time permits. Some details from Survey reports between 1856 and 1870, during the tenure of Chief Engineer & Surveyor Strickland Kneass, are included on a separate page and can be accessed here.

19th Century Reports

1855 (317 kb)
1856 (444 kb)
1857 (535 kb)
1858 (607 kb)
1859 (544 kb)
1855 to1859 (2442 kb)
1860 (845 kb)
1861 (269 kb)
1862 (343 kb)
1863 (566 kb)
1864 (485 kb)
1866 (348 kb)
1869 (349 kb)
1873 (502 kb)
1883 (489 kb)
1884 (612 kb)
1885 (852 kb)
1886 (743 kb)
1888_Part1 (316 kb)
1888_Part2 (602 kb)
1888_Part3 (758 kb)
1889_Part1 (673 kb)
1889_Part2 (523 kb)

Manuscript Reports

1927 (8.8 mb)
1928 (19.3 mb)
1929 (19.6 mb)
1930 (13 mb)
1931 (11.2 mb)
1932 (13.3 mb)
1933 (10.1 mb)
1934 (3.1 mb)
1936 (6.3 mb)
1938 (9.5 mb)
1940 (8 mb)
1941 (11.1 mb)
1942 (10.8 mb)
1943 (10.8 mb)
1944 (11.6 mb)
1945 (12.1 mb)
1946 (7.5 mb)
1947 (10.5 mb)
1948 (22.7 mb)
1949 (37.3 mb)
1950 (25.2 mb)


1883 to 1923

(2.1 mb)
(Please read note above regarding accuracy and completeness of
these indexes)

Combined PDF
with 19th century reports and the 1883-1923 index (13.5 mb)

Excerpts from reports
of Chief Engineer & Surveyor Strickland Kneass, 1856-1870


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Page last modified March 1, 2010