Bogue, Virgil Gay (1846-1916)

  • By Dotty DeCoster
  • Posted 4/21/2011
  • Essay 9779
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Virgil Gay Bogue was a civil engineer, trained at Renssalaer Polytechnic in the 1860s, whose railroad construction career first brought him to Washington Territory during the 1880s to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1891, when he went into business as a consulting engineer on his own, he was appointed to President Harrison's commission to improve navigation on the Columbia River, and went on to study and make recommendations on waterfront and port planning for  Seattle (1895), Tacoma (1912), and Grays Harbor (1912). In 1910, Seattle developed a Municipal Plans Commission to create a comprehensive plan for the growth of the city, and Bogue was hired to develop the plan. Bogue continued to be active as a consultant in the Northwest, both in Washington and in western Canada as well as in New York, his home, and in many other places. Bogue, Kansas is named for Virgil G. Bogue, and he named Pasco, Washington.

From New York to Peru 

Virgil Bogue was born in the village of Norfolk, New York, on July 20, 1846. During the mid-1800s, Norfolk was a lively mill town located on the Raquette River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence.  Both his father, George Chase Bogue (1821-1887), and his mother, Mary Wealthy Perry Bogue, (1823-1901), came from families descended from Scots who had settled in Connecticut in the 1680s.  The family moved to Brooklyn, New York, during the 1860s, where George Chase Bogue became a produce broker, making a comfortable living for his family.  Virgil (a Bogue family name) grew up with two younger brothers and five younger sisters. 

Bogue was educated at the local Norfolk primary school, and the Claverack School, a military academy on the Hudson River. At age 15 he began school at General Russell's School at New Haven, Connecticut, also a military academy. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in 1868 with honors and a degree in Civil Engineering.  According to the Renssalaer Libraries catalog, his thesis was titled "Review of the collective system of the Croton water works." Bogue worked briefly as an assistant engineer at Prospect Park in 1868-1869, a few blocks from his parents' home in Brooklyn. He then began his adventurous life as a civil engineer -- in Peru. 

Bogue spent 10 years in Peru (1869-1879), the first eight as an assistant engineer on the Oroya Railroad and the last two as manager of the Trujillo Railroad Company.  During these years he became an expert in building railroads through mountains.  He married Sybil Estelle Russell on March 2, 1872, in  Kansas City, Missouri.  Their son, Samuel Russell Bogue (1875-1934), was born in Lima.  Bogue wrote about some of his experiences in the Andes, publishing "On the Erection of the Verrugas Bridge," an article in the Transactions of the American Society of Engineers for 1876.  This bridge is breathtakingly high over a deep chasm and was important to the trans-Andean railroad project.  Sybil Russell Bogue became an accomplished writer of fiction and in 1909 published "Nightfall in the Upper Andes," a poem reflecting on her time in Peru. 

From Peru to Washington Territory 

In 1880 Bogue returned to the United States and went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Washington Territory.  (He installed his wife and young son in Portland, Oregon.) Construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad had been going on in fits and starts since 1870 and had resumed in 1878 on two sections of the main line, one running from the west bank of the Missouri to Yellowstone, the other from Spokane Falls to the Columbia at Wallula.  Bogue was originally assigned to the Eastern Washington sections of the construction, while Frederick Billings presided over the railroad. In December 1880, however, Bogue was told to report to Tacoma.  According to Murray Morgan:  

"he was to assemble a survey party with all possible speed, ascend the Green River to its headwaters, and locate a pass for rails through the Cascade barrier.  It was dead winter.  Rains were falling heavily at sea level.  On the rare moments of clearing in Tacoma, snow could be seen fresh and deep far down the mountainside.  That was the point:  a winter survey would include snow depths" (Morgan, 195). 

It was a grueling project.  But on March 19, 1881, Bogue with James Gregg, Andy Drury, and Mattew Champion, found a pass they measured at 3,495 feet through the Cascades -- the pass that came to be known as Stampede Pass -- and became the mainline route for the Northern Pacific Railroad Cascade Division through the mountains between Yakima and Tacoma.  Bogue published his own story of this adventure in 1895 in the Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York

Shortly after Bogue and crew found Stampede Pass and completed the survey up the Green River, Henry Villard (1835-1900) took over the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Villard was determined to keep the terminus of the Northern Pacific in Portland, Oregon, and shelved construction of the Cascade Division.  Bogue went back to work in Eastern Washington, surveying, managing construction, and siting new towns, as completion of the transcontinental between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon, was accomplished in 1883.  

Villard's empire fell apart in 1884, and Robert Harris (1830-1894) became president of the Northern Pacific.  In 1885 Harris decided not only to construct the Cascade Division, but to do it in a hurry.  Bogue is reported to have "built the Northern Pacific branch from Portland to Kalama ... and that part of the line that runs from Tacoma to Seattle which lies between Puyallup and Black River"  (The Seattle Daily Times, October 16, 1916). 

By this time it was known that Stampede Pass was actually 700 feet higher than Snoqualmie Pass (to the north and east of Seattle rather than Tacoma), and that a very expensive tunnel would be needed to take the railroad over the pass.  Stampede Pass, however, remained the Northern Pacific's choice, perhaps because coal had been discovered near Cle Elum as well as on the west side of the mountains. 

In 1886, Bogue was involved in moving the Northern Pacific railroad town of Ainsworth to Pasco, which he named after Cerro de Pasco in Peru.  He was active throughout the building of the Cascade Division until at least the end of 1886.  It is reported that he was "desirous of having the connection [between Eastern Washington via the switchback constructed over the incomplete tunnel and the Western Washington section up to Stampede Pass] made by the first of January 1887, and is exerting every energy to that end ..."  (Lyman, p. 663)  

July 4, 1887, was a momentous occasion in Tacoma, marked by a huge celebration as the Northern Pacific finally reached the "city of destiny" with special excursion trains over the switchbacks built hastily on top of the incomplete tunnel.  The Stampede Pass tunnel was completed in mid-1888 and regular service on the Northern Pacific Cascade Division began in earnest that year.  The Bogues, whose daughter Virgilia (also a Bogue family name) was born in September 1886 in Tacoma, had moved on to Omaha, Nebraska, by then. Omaha was the home of the Union Pacific Railroad. 

Virgil G. Bogue became Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad late in 1886.  Northern Pacific had not named the pass after him, but in August 1888, a town he founded for the Union Pacific Railroad was platted and named for him: Bogue, Kansas, located in Graham County in northwestern Kansas. The Bogues' son Malcom was born in Omaha in January 1889.  Bogue continued to work for the Union Pacific until 1891.  During the 1880s, Sybil Russell Bogue published stories in the Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine of San Francisco. 

A Bridge and a Harbor

In 1891 Virgil G. Bogue went into business for himself as a consulting engineer.  He was appointed by President Harrison to the commission investigating methods of improving navigation of the Columbia River in 1891 or early 1892. This experience seems to have widened his expertise to include waterfront planning as well as railroad building. 

The Bogues returned to Brooklyn during this time, and made their home there and, later, in New Rochelle, but continued to travel extensively.  In 1894 Bogue was hired by the Board of Tide Land Appraisers of King County, Washington, to create a master plan for development of Seattle's waterfront.  According to Matthew Klingle,

"Bogue's report, released in January 1895, both praised Seattle's harbor, comparing it to San Francisco and Antwerp, and criticized the lack of a common carrier terminal site to handle trade between oceangoing ships and transcontinental lines"  (Klingle, 63).

Bogue had been recommended for this consultancy by R. H. Thomson (1856-1949), then City of Seattle Engineer. 

In October 1896, Bogue was appointed assistant engineer for the new East River bridge in New York -- the Brooklyn Bridge.  The Brooklyn Eagle announced on May 20, 1897 that "The Bridge Bill Signed, Elevated Surface Trains May Now Cross  Structure at the Trustee's Pleasure" and noted this was "in substantial conformity with the plans recommended by Virgil G. Bogue, George H. Thompson and Leffert L. Buck, expert engineers, by their report of February 8, 1897" (Brooklyn Eagle, May 20, 1897).  

Mountain Railways in New Zealand 

Bogue was hired as a consultant on mountain railways by the government of New Zealand and visited there in late 1901 and early 1902.

"He had been engaged by the New Zealand Government as a consulting engineer to report on the various proposals on the building of a railway between Otira and Arthur's Pass, in the Southern Alps of South Island of New Zealand.  This portion of railway, when it was eventually built, was 8 miles 15 chains long from Otira (1239 feet above sea level) to Arthur's Pass, which was 1178 feet higher.  5 miles 25 chains of this railway was in a tunnel, and the gradient was a constant 1 in 33, which dictated that electric traction be used for motive power" (McClare).

Western Pacific Railroad 1903-1909 

By 1900, George Jay Gould (1864-1923) had succeeded to his father's railroad empire, and he wanted his own rails from coast to coast.  He hired Virgil Bogue, who recalled surveys of the Union Pacific in the 1880s and suggested further exploration of the Beckwourth Pass Feather River route across the Sierra and on to Oakland and San Francisco. The Western Pacific Railway Company was formed on March 6, 1903, in Sacramento.    

"Virgil Bogue was finally dispatched by Gould to choose the best of the routes surveyed. One night, as he sat in his field tent pondering the old Kennedy line with its grade of 1 1/3 per cent which the Western Pacific engineers had accepted from Keddie, he noted from the profiles that between Oroville and Beckwourth Pass there was only a difference in elevation of 50 feet per mile. This suggested to him the idea of a uniform one percent grade.

"Rapid investigation proved this feasible, and without climbing too high above the river.  Elated, Bogue wired E. T. Jeffery and with equal enthusiasm the D&RG [Denver & Rio Grande Railroad] president answered that if a one per cent grade railroad between San Francisco and Utah could be located, money to build it was available regardless of the cost" (Kneiss, p. 4-5). 

The Western Pacific Railroad was completed in 1909. Bogue was involved in construction of the Western Pacific into San Francisco throughout this period, but continued to work for George Gould on other projects, including the Western Maryland Railroad, until Gould lost control of it in 1908.  

In addition to consulting work with railroads, Bogue found time to oversee publication of a book in 1906: General  Specifications for Steel Railroad Bridges and Structures, with a Section Making Them Applicable to Highway Bridges and Buildings, published by The Engineering News Publishing Co, New York. The author was Albert W. Buel, "prepared under the direction of Virgil G. Bogue." 

"City Beautiful": Seattle 1911 

Seattleites were besieged by construction projects of many sorts in 1910, from regrades and fill downtown to digging the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The town had become a city as population soared after 1900 (in 1907 the annexation of six adjacent towns doubled its land area).  A long-range comprehensive plan for the city's growth seemed needed, and a Municipal Plans Commission was set up to sort through the existing plans and create a new comprehensive plan. Many looked toward a more beautiful city, or at least one without the prevailing mud. Pacific Builder and Engineer expressed the need this way in an article entitled "City Sensible":  

"Wresting order out of chaos is the order of the municipal day ... . A logical sequence to a business-like government of cities is a plan for the arrangement of the city with a view to expansion as may meet probable future demands" (Pacific Builder and Engineer, February 5, 1910). 

But the city charter amendment that created the Municipal Plans Commission had to be tested in the courts. In the meantime, an Architectural Exhibition was held in Seattle in April and reported upon in Pacific Builder and Engineer showing a number of proposed civic plans including "Seattle From the Waterfront" by architect Carl F. Gould (1873-1939), "Proposed Improvement of Union Street Seattle -- A Viaduct" by Graham & Myers, Architects, and a "Birdseye View of a Proposed Civic Center, Seattle" by Gould & Champney, Architects.  By the time the Supreme Court rendered the decision that the Municipal Plans Commission was constitutional on May 27, 1910, Seattle was abuzz with notions of a "city beautiful" as well as a "city sensible."    

In September it was announced that the Municipal Plans Commission had selected Virgil G. Bogue "to take charge of the plans for the beautification of Seattle, which the commission has undertaken, paying particular attention to thoroughfares and a uniform set of improvements of a municipal character" (The Seattle Daily Times, September 2, 1910).  On the Editorial Page, on Sunday, September 4, The Seattle Times noted:    

"Virgil G. Bogue, who is not unknown locally, will draw the substantial salary of $1,500 a month, and be rent-free when he undertakes the agreeable task of beautifying Seattle, under the auspices of the Civic Plans Commission. Seattle, with its $2,000,000  to be expended in parks and boulevards, with its wonderful settings of wooded slopes, mountains, sea and lakes, with its engineer of National fame, is on the way to become celebrated as one of the most picturesque and beautiful  cities in all the world"  (The Seattle Daily Times, September 4, 1910). 

One of the conditions of the Supreme Court decision was that the commission hire a nationally known consultant to develop the plan.  Another was that the commission's plan then be adopted by a vote of the people. 

The "Plan for Seattle" by Virgil G. Bogue combined the work of many people and folded in existing plans such as the Olmsted Brothers Plan for Seattle Parks of 1903.  The Municipal Plans Commission made a significant effort at what we would call "community outreach."  The Plan, which was detailed, long-range, and comprehensive, was published on August 24, 1911, approved by the commission (the vote was 18-3), but rejected by the public on March 5, 1912. 

Bogue continued to consult with the City of Seattle on projects, including the Cedar River pipeline and dam, until his death in 1916.  

Ports and Waterfront Improvements 

The Seattle Daily Times reported on some of Bogue's activities in its October 16, 1916, article announcing his death, but failed to give dates for these activities.  Among them was an announcement that Bogue had made plans for the development of the terminal and waterfront improvements at Prince Rupert, B.C., for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, under arrangement with Charles M. Hays. Hayes had perished in the Titanic tragedy, dating the work to about 1910. 

In 1911 the State of Washington passed legislation permitting the development of Port Districts.  Two Western Washington jurisdictions hired Virgil G. Bogue to create port plans.  On January 29, 1912, the Tacoma Commercial Club and Chamber of Commerce made public a plan for the Tacoma harbor prepared by Vigil G. Bogue.  The plan was a development plan for the entire waterfront. It proposed three waterways, an industrial district, and a motorboat and yacht harbor. It also proposed a port district and landowner taxes to pay for part of the cost. Voters turned down the plan and the Port of Tacoma was not formed until 1918. 

In Grays Harbor, on December 6, 1913, voters endorsed the Port's plan prepared by Bogue, called officially Port of Grays Harbor, Comprehensive Scheme and Amendments and published in Aberdeen in April 1912. The Port, which had organized under the new state legislation, was required to have a comprehensive plan to spend money. It  hired Bogue to create the plan, which was indeed comprehensive and in-depth. Voters accepted the plan but port commissioners did not proceed with improvements until after 1920.  

Further Accomplishments 

Bogue also worked on the Tehuantepec National Railway of Mexico and its port facilities, on a feasibility study for a tunnel under the East River for the Long Island Railroad, and had worked on other railway projects in Mexico, Central America, and Nova Scotia. 

Between 1913 and 1916 a study was conducted on a proposed South Brooklyn Marginal Terminal Railway, and Bogue wrote the report of this proposal which was published in 1916. In addition, Bogue consulted for the Canadian Pacific Railway, studying the line between Calgary and Vancouver, B.C. At his suggestion the line was revised with the building of a five-mile tunnel at Rodger's Pass. This was under construction in October 1916. 

Virgil G. Bogue died unexpectedly on October 14, 1916, aboard the Ward Line steamship Esperanza returning from Mexico. (Several obituaries omit any information on cause of death.) He is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.  He was survived by his wife, Sybil Russell Bogue, and their three children.

Sources: Murray Morgan, Puget's Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), 156-211; Virgil T. Bogue, Bogue and Allied Families (Holly, Michigan: Herald Printers, 1944), 119-120; Virgil G. Bogue, "On the Erection of the Verrugas Bridge," in Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers for 1876 (New York: American Society of Civil Engineers, 1876), 243;  Virgil G. Bogue, "History of the Discovery of Stampede Pass," reproduced by John A. Phillips, III, website accessed February 11, 2011 (; Virgil G. Bogue, "Stampede Pass Cascade Range Washington " in Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, Vol. 27, No. 3 (New York: American Geographical Society of New York, 1895), 239-40; Gilbert H. Kneiss, "Fifty Candles for Western Pacific in Western Pacific Mileposts, March 1983, Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society website accessed March 2011 (; Rob Ketcherside, "Research into Virgil Bogue, 1846-1916," accessed January 11, 2011 (; Matthew Klingle, Emerald City:  An Environmental History of Seattle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 289, note 4; "Virgil  Gay Bogue," Pacific Builder and Engineer (Seattle) October 27, 1916, p. 12.  "Architectural Exhibition, Seattle," Ibid., April 23, 1910, pp. 158-161; "City Sensible," Ibid.,  February 5, 1910, p. 41; "Virgil G. Bogue Dies on Steamer at Sea," The New York Times, October 16, 1916, accessed February 11, 2011 (,); Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Tacoma Unveils the Bogue Plan for Tacoma Harbor on January 29, 1912" (by Jennifer Ott), (accessed February 11, 2011); "Descendants of Capt. David PERRY," RootsWeb website accessed February 11, 2011 (;   The Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 9 (1922) "Bogue, Virgil Gay" available at (;  "Bogue, Kansas," and Alan LeSage, "Bogue," Solomon Valley Highway 24 Heritage Alliance website accessed February 13, 2011 (; "The Bridge Bill Signed," The Brooklyn Eagle, May 20, 1897, accessed February 14, 2011 (; "Engineers of the New Bridge," Ibid., July 24, 1895, p. 2; "Buck is Chief Engineer not Bogue," Ibid., August 2, 1895, p. 1; "Engineer Bogue Sworn In," Ibid., October 30, 1896, p. 1; Green-Wood Cemetery Burial Results, Green-Wood Cemetery website accessed March 17, 2011 (; William Denison Lyman, History of the Yakima Valley, Washington: Comprising Yakima, Kittitas, and Benton Counties, Vol.1 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1919), pp. 663, 705, 802, accessed February 20, 2011; "Timeline,"  Prospect Park Alliance website accessed February 13, 2011 (; Sybil Russell Bogue, "Mercy,"  Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine (San Francisco), Vol. 11, No. 63 (March 1888), p. 259-274. Sybil Russell Bogue, "Nightfall in the Upper Andes," San Francisco Call, Vol. 106, No. 48, July 18, 1909, p. 4. Graeme McClare, Assistant Secretary, N Z Railway & Locomotive Society, Inc. , email to Dotty DeCoster,  March 9, 2011, in possession of Dotty DeCoster, Seattle, Washington; Jennifer Ott, email to Dotty DeCoster, February 12, 2011, in possession of Dotty DeCoster, Seattle, Washington. "Virgil G. Bogue To Help  Beautify City," The Seattle Daily Times, September 2, 1910, p. 3.  "Virgil Bogue Dies While Aboard Steamer," Ibid., October 16, 1916; The Seattle Sunday Times, September 4, 1910, p. 6; "The Otira Tunnel Opening," Grey River Argus (New Zealand), May 6, 1908, p. 3; ""Bogue Plan," Record Group:  Municipal Plans Commission; Record Series:  Plan of Seattle (Bogue Plan), ID:  9359-01, 1911, Seattle Municipal Archives Guide; "Cedar River Project, Virgil Bogue Report,"  2602-02, Box 7 Folder 15, 1915-1916, and 2615-02, "Cedar River Pipeline Virgil Bogue's Report,"  Box 1 Folder 448, Seattle Municipal Archives. 

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