The History of the VA/DC/MD Chapter

The Virginia – DC Chapter of APWA was officially created when the National APWA Board of Directors approved the formation at their May 4, 1956 meeting. It would be two years later that Maryland joined the Chapter to form the Virginia-DC-Maryland Chapter. Prior to the Chapter forming, individuals belonged to APWA at large.

A forerunner of APWA was the American Society of Municipal Improvements (ASMI) that started September 18, 1894. In 1930, it changed its name to American Society of Municipal Engineers (ASME). Engineers and consultants tended to belong to ASME.

Another forerunner of APWA was the International Association of Street and Sanitation Officials (IASS) that started in 1919. In 1925 it changed its name to the International Association of Public Works Officials (IAPWO). Those involved in public works administration and non-engineers involved in the delivery of public services tended to belong to IAPWO.

The American Public Works Association (APWA) was the result of the merger of ASME & IAPWO in 1937. APWA continued as a rather small organization throughout the depression thirties and the World War II years. It was not until 1953 that a major effort was undertaken to create Chapters as a way of increasing membership. Between 1953 and 1958, fifteen Chapters were formed, the Virginia–DC-Maryland Chapter among them.

In February of 1956 individuals in Virginia and the District of Columbia met in the offices of the Virginia Municipal League in Richmond to explore the possibility of forming a Chapter. At that time the District Public Works activities were managed by an appointed General officer of the Corps of Engineers. Primary motivating individuals included Bob Hopson, Director of Public Works of Richmond and future (1966) APWA president; Louis Washer of Richmond; Bill Xanten, Washington, DC Sanitation Superintendent and 1949 APWA President; John Croker, DC staff engineer; Sol Ellison, Newport News Director of Public Works and then president–elect of National APWA; and Jim Wright, Public Works Director of Lynchburg, our first Chapter president.

At this meeting it was decided to form a Chapter and draft proposed Bylaws for submission to National APWA. With the approval by National a subsequent meeting was held on May 25th at the League offices. The group set an organizational meeting for September 8, 1956. Coincidentally, National APWA approved the Chapter’s Bylaws on May 25th, the same day that the second meeting was held.

The September 8, 1956 organizational meeting was held at the Richmond Hotel with 41 in attendance from Virginia and the District of Columbia. The Chapter Executive Committee consisted of four Virginia Board members and three from DC including a Corps of Engineers officer.

In the fall of 1957, Maryland showed interest in joining the Chapter. On November 23rd, Joseph McCarthy, City of Baltimore Sanitation Director, addressed the Executive Committee and stated that the Maryland APWA membership desired to join the Chapter. The Executive Committee unanimously welcomed the addition of the Maryland APWA members into the Chapter. On April 2, 1958 the National APWA Board of Directors approved of Maryland joining the Chapter. McCarthy became the Chapter’s fourth president in 1960 following Bill Xanten of the District of Columbia.

A one-day Chapter meeting was held in Alexandria on April 13, 1957. “Sewage Collection and Disposal” and the Alexandria plant tour was the subject of the meeting. And on May 13, 1957 a Municipal Refuse Incinerator Operators training course was conducted in Washington.

The first annual full membership meeting was held September 16 and 17, 1957 in Richmond with 50 members in attendance. The meeting was held in conjunction with the Virginia Municipal League annual meeting. By the second annual meeting in September 1958 there were 159 members and $220 in the treasury. The next year was the first of the Annual Conference and Equipment Show with the theme “Operations of Public Works Departments in a Natural Emergency.” The meeting was well attended by members, spouses and thirty-eight commercial exhibitors.

In the early 80’s the Chapter Executive Committee was very interested in meeting in towns and cities that had historical buildings, bridges, monuments, etc. After their business meetings they would go to these Historical places and present a Historical Award from the Chapter to the proper official(s). Awards were presented for at least six historic sites. Baltimore’s Eastern Avenue Pumping Station was honored in 1982. A working pumping station since 1910, it houses the Baltimore Public Works Museum.

Foremost among the sites honored is the Cape Henry Lighthouse. Built in 1791, it is the first Federal Public Works project authorized by Congress. It was constructed by a private contractor at a cost of $15,200. The Contract required the personal approval of President George Washington. Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton was responsible for the project administration. The project had a cost overrun of $2,500. The Lighthouse became the logo for the Public Works Historical Society as well as the Chapter. Our Chapter has had two presidents of the Historical Society: Gene Neff of the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Maryland, and Bob Goodin of Rockville, Maryland.

Since 1974, National APWA has presented its Heritage Award to the Chapter that has conducted the most comprehensive program of historical activity during the preceding year. The winners receive a bronze statuette of the Aedile (named for an early Roman public works official), an emblem for the Chapter banner and a check for $1,000 to be used for a scholarship for someone wishing to pursue studies in the public works field. Our Chapter has won this award three times -–in 1980, 1982 and 1984. The original Aedile sculpture is now in the Chapter’s possession.

The VA-DC-MD Chapter has a strong history of leadership at the National level. Four have been National Presidents: Bill Xanten, Washington, DC, in 1948; Sol Ellenson, Newport News, in 1957; Bob Hopson, Richmond, in 1965; and Judy Mueller, Charlottesville, in 2001. Six have served as National Directors; two have been Presidents of the Education Foundation and Institute of Solid Wastes. Chapter members have also been President of the Historical Society, Emergency Management Council, and Administrative Management Institute and Chairman of the House of Delegates. Two have been honored with the Harry W. Swearingen Award, and two have been awarded the Charles Nichols Award. The Chapter has had numerous Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year.

Our early history would not be complete without recognition of Don Frady, Director of Public Works for Falls Church. Don was the Chapter President in 1961. Prior to 1971, Chapters had representatives to the National APWA. In 1969, Don was named to a 3-year term as Chapter representative to Board. In 1970 he became the Region III Director and as Region III Director until 1976. Don was the Chapter’s first Historian and served in that capacity from 1976 until 1994.


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