I don’t know about you guys, but the more I thought about those flood pictures, the more sobering it became. The site the first board chose for the Rice Institute was perfect in some ways, but boy, was it ever challenging physically. Nearly table-top flat, in the middle of a flood plain and with a bayou cutting across it, this place was destined to have problems with water. It’s previous use seems to have been mostly grazing and hay production, so it doesn’t seem as though any efforts had been made to control the flow of water. There’s no evidence from aerial photos that anyone had even tried to terrace it at any point.
There were several men who were responsible for the construction of the campus at the hands-on level. (Well, not really hands-on. Unsurprisingly, the pictures clearly show that most of the hands that actually built anything belonged to black and Hispanic men. But you know what I mean.)William Ward Watkin of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, served as the supervising architect. Wilmer Waldo, a Princeton trained engineer, had charge of the basic infrastructure such as roads, the preparation of building sites, and drainage. Finally, the William Miller and Sons Company of Pittsburgh had the contract for the construction of the buildings themselves.
Work started in the summer of 1910, and by the following summer it had become clear that there was a pretty severe problem. All these folks began to spend some significant amount of time worrying about water. Waldo was probably the most directly affected, since he was charged with dealing with drainage issues as well as the construction of the tunnel system, which of course was heavily affected by water. He blamed the county for allowing Harris Gully to be used for runoff for the properties north of campus and made efforts to get them to do something about it. I can’t yet tell whether they did or not, but I’m still working on it. (Waldo, by the way, was an interesting guy from an interesting family and his work has had a big impact on the development of the Rice campus. I’ll definitely be talking about him again. Pretty cute too.)
In the meantime Waldo, who seems to have been quite a good engineer, was busily working out a plan of attack of his own.