Henry Larcom Abbot papers, 1853-1943

Overview of the Collection

Abbot, Henry L.
Henry Larcom Abbot papers
1853-1943 (inclusive)
1855 (bulk)
0.5 cubic feet, (1 document case and 1 reel microfilm)
Collection Number
Mss 94
The collection consists primarily of letters written by Henry Larcom Abbot (1831-1927) to his parents in 1855, journals he kept during his work on the Pacific Railroad Survey in California and Oregon in 1855-1856, and various field notes and celestial observations he took for the survey.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Henry Larcom Abbot was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1831. A descendant of Revolutionary War veterans, he graduated from West Point in 1854, joining the Army Topographical Engineers soon after. He was part of the Pacific Railroad Survey led by Lieutenant R. S. Williamson, exploring routes in California and Oregon in 1855-1856. He next investigated flood control and channel improvement on the Mississippi River. During the Civil War, he was wounded at Bull Run, and eventually received seven brevets, ending as major general of volunteers. After the war, Abbot was placed in charge of the engineer battalion and established the Army's Engineer School of Application in New York. He became an authority on high explosives and, following his retirement from the Army in 1895, he became involved in the building of the Panama Canal. He was a member of the engineer board, and actively championed a lock canal over the sea level design favored by others. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1927 at age 96.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists of letters Henry Larcom Abbot wrote to his parents in 1855, journals kept during his survey work of 1855-1856 in California and Oregon, and various books of field notes and celestial observations taken for the survey. The collection also includes a microfilm copy of one of Abbot's field books. Also in the collection is the text of an address given by Robert W. Sawyer at the 1943 launching of a Liberty ship named for Abbot.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Preferred Citation

Henry Larcom Abbot papers, Mss 94, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Restrictions on Use

The Oregon Historical Society owns the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Gift of Marion S. Abbot, circa 1930.

Preservation Note

Due to fragility of field book, researchers may be asked to use microfilm copy. Contact library staff for assistance.

Processing Note

Collection guide was revised in July 2023 to add microfilm copy of field book, and to conform to current standard.


Extracts from Henry Larcom Abbot's letters and journals were included in a two-part article by Robert W. Sawyer, "Abbot Railway Surveys," that was published in Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume 33, No. 1 (March 1932) and Volume 33, No. 2 (June 1932). The article was reprinted the same year by the Oregon Historical Society Press under the title "Henry Larcom Abbot and the Pacific Railroad Surveys in Oregon, 1855."

The final Pacific Railroad Survey report was published by the War Department in 1857 as "Report of Lieut. Henry L. Abbot, Corps of Topographical Engineers upon explorations for a railroad route, from the Sacramento Valley to the Columbia River, made by Lieut. R.S. Williamson, Corps of Topographical Engineers, assisted by Lieut. Henry L. Abbot, Corps of Topographical Engineers."

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
1 1 Letters 1855
1 2 Address by Robert W. Sawyer at the launching of the Liberty ship Henry L. Abbot 1943
1 3 Journal, volume 1 1855 May 30-July 1
1 4 Journal, volume 2 1855 July 2-July 10
1 5 Journal, volume 3 1855 July 10-1856 April
1 6 Map of 1855 survey routes 1932
1 7 Abstract of disbursements 1857
1 8 Field book, Deschutes Valley and Cascade Mountains 1855 September-October
1 Field book, Deschutes Valley and Cascade Mountains (microfilm copy) 1855 September-October
Box Folder
1 9 Photographs of maps from Field Book, Deschutes Valley and Cascade Mountains 1855 September-October
1 10 Field notebook: barometric computations 1853
1 11 Field notebooks: Time by Equal Altitudes (1855); Latitude by Circumemredian Altitudes (1855-1856) 1855 July 23-November 4, 1855 July 23-1856 September 25
1 12 Field notebooks: Time by Single Altitudes (1855-1856); Latitude by Polaris (1855, 1870) 1855 July 29-November 4, 1856 September 7-25, 1855 July 15-November 4, 1870 December 16-20

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Pacific railroads--Explorations and surveys

Personal Names

  • Abbot, Henry L.--Correspondence
  • Abbot, Henry L.--Diaries

Corporate Names

  • United States. Army. Corps of Topographical Engineers

Form or Genre Terms

  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • field notes