Mason, Roswell B.

Born: 1805-09-19 New Hartford, New York

Died: 1892-01-01 Chicago, Illinois

Roswell B. Mason was a Republican, a Presbyterian, and one of the nineteenth century's foremost canal and railway builders. As a child, he worked on the family farm and attended school in the winters until he reached age sixteen. His first foray into construction was in 1821, driving teams hauling stone for the construction of the Erie Canal. The next year, he joined the canal's engineering team, which he labored with until the spring of 1824. Employment with the Schuykill Canal, headquartered in Reading, Pennsylvania, some survey work in New York, and a position with the Morris Canal's engineering team in New Jersey expanded his engineering experience and skills during the latter half of the 1820s. His engineering career progressed quickly as a result of these early opportunities; he was promoted to chief engineer and superintendent of the Morris Canal within the span of six years. While working on the Pennsylvania Canal in 1831, he married Harriet L. Hopkins, with whom he eventually had six children. In 1836 and 1837, he conducted surveys for the Housatonic Railroad, then became its chief engineer in 1837. In 1838, he relocated to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he lived and worked as an engineer and superintendent for the next fourteen years. During this time, he was employed as an engineer for the Naugatuck Railroad, New York and New Haven Railroad, Vermont Valley Railroad, and Illinois Central Railroad. He moved to Chicago in 1851 for his work as chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad, but after the railroad's completion in 1856, he moved to Dubuque, Iowa to work on another railroad. Although his family relocated with him to Dubuque in 1857, they all returned to Chicago in 1859 after the Minneapolis and Cedar Valley Railroad he contracted with failed. Just prior to the Civil War, he worked on the Racine and Mississippi Railroad, and during the war he worked on the Chicago and Alton Railroad, the Illinois Central Railroad (as comptroller of its Land Department), and with William Gooding on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Mason's wealth ballooned over the course of his successful career, largely due to real estate investments. In 1850, he owned $5,000 in real estate, but, by 1860, he owned $50,000 in real estate and another $2,500 in personal property.

David Ward Wood, ed., History of the Republican Party and Biographies of Its Supporters: Illinois Volume (Chicago: Lincoln Engraving, 1895), 250-51; Encyclopaedia of Biography of Illinois (Chicago: Century, 1892), 1:197-98; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Ward 1, Bridgeport, Fairfield County, CT, 209; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Ward 1, Chicago, Cook County, IL, 161.