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This biography is from Landmarks of Albany County, New York, edited by Amasa J. Parker of Albany, N. Y., Syracuse, N. Y.; D. Mason & Co. Publishers, 1897.

Elnathan Sweet

Elnathan Sweet, ex-State engineer of the State of New York, represents the sixth generation in each of which the name Elnathan has figured prominently. The family dates back to the colonial period of Rhode Island where many of its members distinguished themselves in civil, military, and commercial life. His great-great-grandfather, Elnathan Sweet, removed to Dutchess county, N. Y., whence Elnathan, a son of the latter, found his way about 1760 to Stephentown, Rensselaer county, where he became an extensive farmer, and where Mr. Sweet's grandfather and father, both named Elnathan and both farmers, were born. The latter was born November 23, 1796, married Chloe Cole, and died in June, 1879. His wife's death occurred in 1872, at the age of sixty-eight. He was a noted Baptist minister, preaching mainly in Adams and Cheshire, Mass., and during the last twenty years of his life in Stephentown, N. Y. He had four children, of whom the subject of this sketch was the youngest.

Elnathan Sweet was born in Cheshire, Berkshire county, Mass., November 30, 1837, and received his preliminary education in the public and private schools of Stephentown, N. Y., and Hancock, Mass. In 1859 he was graduated from Union College, where he pursued a course of civil engineering. For about one year thereafter he was a deputy under Ward B. Burnett, surveyor-general of the State of Nebraska. Returning home he was married and at once engaged in civil engineering as assistant on various railroad projects, with headquarters in Stephentown. In 1864 he went to Franklin, Pa., where he engaged in general engineering, developing oil wells, coal mines, etc., and where he remained until 1868, when he moved to Chicago and prosecuted his profession. In 1869 he was appointed chief engineer of the Rock Island and St. Louis Railway (now the Rock Island & St. Louis division of the C. B & O.), with headquarters in both Chicago and St. Louis. He built this line two hundred and thirty miles in length in about twelve months, and in 1871, after its completion, was also made superintendent. He held both positions until 1872, and during the year 1871 was also consulting engineer of the Rockford Central and the Cairo and St. Louis Railroads.

In 1872 he formed a partnership with James R. Young, of Chicago, under the firm name of E. Sweet, Jr., & Co., and engaged in railroad construction, continuing until 1875. During that period they built most of the Northern Pacific Railway from the Red River of the North, across Dakota, to the Missouri River several bridges in Chicago, and a part of the tunnel at West Point, N. Y., for what is now the West Shore Railroad. In 1875 he was appointed by Governor Tilden expert engineer for the commission for investigating the abuses on the New York State canals and was engaged in those complicated affairs until the spring of 1876, when he was appointed division engineer, which position he held until the spring of 1880. The work of the Tilden commission was chiefly directed to the discovery of the abuses which had become flagrant in the letting and in the carrying out of contracts for the various engineering works involved in enlarging and improving the State canals. The professional experience and accomplishments of Mr. Sweet enabled him to exercise a salutary influence in directing this work in the most effective manner, and his labors in formulating many of its important reports have contributed to the extensive and permanent reforms which have since characterized this department of the State administration.

Mr. Sweet resigned as division engineer of the canals in the spring of 1880 and resumed the business of railroad construction with his former partner, James R. Young, with offices in New York city. This partnership continued until 1883, their business being principally the building of the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railroad for a distance of about fifty miles in Greene, Albany, and Orange counties, finishing the West Point tunnel, and constructing a part of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad from the Delaware River west. In 1883 he was nominated by the Democrats and elected State engineer, and in 1885 was re-elected to the same office, serving in all four years. During Mr. Sweet's connection with the engineering department of the State as division engineer and State engineer he made on a large scale exhaustive experiments to determine the laws governing the resistance of vessels propelled in narrow waterways, upon which the proper design and probable capacity and economy of canals depend. A discussion of these experiments and the laws of propulsion derived from them were published by him in the Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers for 1819, and constitute the most important contribution existing in this branch of engineering literature. He also during that period thoroughly investigated the problem of connecting the great lakes with the Hudson River by a ship canal. His paper on this subject, read before the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1884, with the discussions upon it, published in the Transactions of that Society for 1885, are of the highest authority on canal questions.

As State engineer Mr. Sweet's efforts were strenuously exerted to restoring to the engineering department of the State government the control of all engineering questions and matters in which the State was concerned, many of which had formerly been entrusted to irresponsible commissions or to other departments of the State administrations; and it is largely due to his labors that the office of State engineer now exercises most of the functions appropriate to the usefulness and dignity of that constitutional office.

Since the expiration of his second term as State engineer on December 31, 1887, Mr. Sweet has successfully followed his profession as a civil and consulting engineer and also as president and trustee of the Hilton Bridge Construction Company. In the prosecution of structural engineering he has introduced many improvements in the design of movable bridges and bridges of long spans, the most notable perhaps being the combination of the arch and the cantilever in the same structure originated by him and first used in his design for the great bridge connecting Capitol hill with Arbor hill in Albany, and which has since been extensively copied in Europe and this country.

Mr. Sweet has lived in Albany since 1875, and is not only well known as an eminent civil engineer, but has long been prominently identified with many of the city's enterprises and efficiently active in promoting its welfare and advancement. He was a trustee of the sinking fund and a member of the finance board of the city from 1889 to 1892, and in July, 1896, was reappointed to these positions. He was a member of the water board from 1892 to 1894, and is a director in the Albany City Railway. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the University Club of New York, and the Fort Orange Club of Albany.

September 20, 1860, he was married to Marion Rose, daughter of Jonathan Rose, of Stephentown, N. Y. They have had six children: Marion Rose, Marguerite, Helen M., Elizabeth, Chloe, and Elnathan, Jr., the latter bearing the name Elnathan without break into the seventh generation of the Sweet family in America.

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