May 31, 2014, marks the 150th anniversary of legendary engineering professor and department head Anson Marston’s birth. On campus, Marston still looms large – the original Engineering Hall was renamed Marston Hall in his honor in 1947 and Marston Water Tower bears his name. Ames has also recognized this distinguished professor with Marston Avenue.
Anson Marston in 1925
Marston is renowned locally for good reason; he was the first Dean of the Division of Engineering and also spent twenty-five years as Professor and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. He designed the water tower that bears his name, along with the sewage disposal system for the campus. He initiated the construction of the engineering building that now bears his name. He supervised the construction of the Campanile and the restoration of Lake LaVerne in the 1930s, both beloved icons of the Iowa State campus even today. Christian Petersen designed the Anson Marston Medal, which annually recognizes an ISU alumnus for achievements in the field of engineering. You can see digital images of the coin via our Digital Collections site.
We recently mentioned Marston in a post about the 100th anniversary of the Iowa Department of Transportation. If you will recall, Marston established the early version of this group, the Iowa State Highway Commission. But Marston’s contributions were not to Ames and Iowa alone. He consulted on engineering projects from California to Florida, from Chicago, IL, to the Panama Canal.
In addition to providing information about his professional work, the Anson Marston Papers (RS 11/1/11) gives us insight into the man who accomplished these feats – his values and his life outside of Iowa State. In a 1938 remembrance of President Beardshear, Marston recounted the values he prized in Beardshear:
[A] first impression of strength was deepened by acquaintance with the man. Dr. Beardshear possessed in eminent degree that most essential qualification of a great college president, the ability to inspire young men…What he insisted upon was the great essential that every student should be an honestest gentlemen or lady, and many a one owes all he has become in life to one of [Beardshear's] vigorous, searching, heart to heart talks… – “President Beardshear and the College,” 1938
This compliment to the man who hired him provides insight into Marston’s personal leadership ideals.
Even more information about Marston as a man away from the college is gleaned from family correspondence included in his collection. Dr. Marston was an engineering giant, but he was also a son and brother. “Dear Bro,” his brother Charles writes in 1906. “I can raise half of Mother’s [mortgage payment] if you send raise the other half.” Then, as now, the siblings were working together to care for their elderly parents. The letter goes on to discuss possible bull and stallion purchases that Charles is considering.
Letters from Mrs. Marston, his mother, are also familiar in their parent-child discussions. A January 1906 letter from Mrs. Marston details recent severe weather in her home in Winnebago, Illinois, and the observation that “according to the paper, you must have had a greater amount of snow…there was more rain and sleet here.” I think I had this conversation with my parents at least a few times this winter, 112 years later. A few more letters from wife Alice and to his sister Mary are included in the collection as well.
Marston Water Tower being constructed in 1897 using Marston’s design
For more insight into Marston’s many contributions to the field of engineering, his leadership at Iowa State, or his life during the first half of the 20th century, take a look at the finding aid for the Anson Marston Papers. Let us know if you have any questions or come by to explore the work of Dr. Marston in person.