Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 17: Rivers and Harbors

Chapter 17. Records of the Public Works Committees

Table of Contents

Records of the Committees Relating to Public Works (1815-1988) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committee records described in this chapter.
Records of the Committee on Rivers and Harbors (1883-1946)

History and Jurisdiction

17.23 Authorized early in the 48th Congress in December 1883, the committee was given jurisdiction over subjects relating to the improvements of rivers and harbors and had the responsibility of reporting the river and harbor bill, which previously had been handled by the Committee on Commerce. The committee's jurisdiction changed over time. When the Committee on Levees and Improvements of the Mississippi River was terminated in 1911 its responsibilities were transferred to the Committee on Rivers and Harbors. In 1916 the subject of flood control was removed from the committee's authority and assigned to the new Committee on Flood Control. After 1920 the committee could no longer report appropriation bills for rivers and harbors and its legislative authority was limited to reporting only bills that authorized improvements to rivers and harbors.

17.24 These shifts in authority still left many subjects within the jurisdiction of the committee. These included improvement of watersheds and dams thereon, construction of locks on navigable streams, construction and maintenance of equipment for river improvements, erosion of banks on navigable streams, pollution of navigable waters, intrastate inland waterways, and navigation of international boundary streams. The committee was terminated early in the 80th Congress on January 3, 1947. Its successor was the Committee on Public Works.

Records of the Committee on Rivers and Harbors, 48th-79th Congresses (1883-1946)

Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates) Minute Books8 vols.48th-56th (1883-1901) Docket Books9 vols.48th-53rd (1883-95), 55th-56th (1897-1901) Petitions and Memorials11 ft.48th-79th (1883-1946) Committee Papers25 ft.48th-64th (1883-1917), 66th-69th (1919-27), 71st (1929-31), 73rd-79th (1933-46) Bill Files12 ft.58th-64th (1903-17), 66th-79th (1919-46) TOTAL:48 ft. and 17 vols.
(2 ft.)
Committee Records Summary Table

17.25 The minute books contain cursory minutes of committee meetings. The first minute volume includes minutes from both the 48th and 49th Congresses (1883-87). The volumes for the 51st and 54th Congresses (1889-91, 1895-1897) list the names of all the committee members. The docket books contain listings of bills, petitions, and resolutions referred to the committee.

17.26 The petitions and memorials typically reflect the support of State legislatures, local governments, business associations, and civic groups for river and harbor projects throughout the United States. Some examples of the variety of projects include improvements on New York City's Harlem River (48A-H28.1), a deep water port at Galveston (51A-H21.2), improvements to navigation on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers (61A-H32.1), and a Florida ship canal which drew the opposition of the Ecological Society of America in 1937 (75A-H17.1). Maps concerning a seaway from the Great Lakes through Pittsburgh to the Chesapeake Bay are in files of the 77th Congress (77A-H18.2). Petitions and resolutions from 1917 to 1946 concerning a Saint Lawrence River waterway are in many files from the 65th through the 79th Congresses. Concern about water pollution is reflected in the State of New Jersey's 1924 opposition to the discharge of fuel oil in the Atlantic Ocean near its resort beaches (68A-H18.1) and in 1940 petitions for and against the Barkley bill on stream pollution, S. 685, in the files of the 76th Congress (76A-H23.1).

17.27 The committee papers contain a large quantity of printed committee and House documents including bills, hearings, and reports. Reports and letters of the Chief of Engineers concerning many projects are found in the papers of numerous Congresses. Also included are summary minutes of the committee for 1939-40 (76A-F37.2) and for February-June, 1942 (77A-F34.2). A committee docket index for 1945-46 is in the papers of the 79th Congress (79A-F34.1). The papers of the earlier Congresses include significant numbers of items from citizens outside the Government. For example, the papers of the 49th Congress, 1885-87 (49A-F34.1) include a speech by the president of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce concerning work on the Monongahela River while the papers of the 53d Congress, 1893-95 (53A-F42.1) include maps, charts, and petitions from business groups favoring projects on Mobile Bay, the Pine River in Michigan, and the Umpqua River in Oregon. A transcript of an 1884 hearing contains the views of noted engineer Captain James B. Eads on improving the harbor at Galveston (48A-F34.1).

17.28 The bill files frequently contain only printed copies of the bills and other printed documents, such as hearings. Some files also contain petitions from groups outside the Government. The bills concern projects throughout the Nation and the full range of subjects within the committee's jurisdiction. For example, there are several files on bills to control water pollution, including a 1921-22 file on H.R. 7369 (67A-D33), a 1926-27 file on H.R. 9570 and H.R. 13142 in the 69th Congress (69A-D30), a 1936 file on H.R. 12101 (74A-D34), and a 1939-40 file in the 76th Congress on the Barkley anti-pollution bill, S. 685 (76A-D34).

Table of Contents

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.