Freese and Nichols Founder Honored for Water-Supply Ingenuity During WWI

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Exhibits in Fort Worth and abroad are celebrating Freese and Nichols founder Major John Hawley for his military service and his water-supply ingenuity during World War I.

To recognize the 100th  anniversary of the armistice this year, Fort Worth Library’s new exhibit “Remember Me!” features Hawley among local veterans and their contributions during the Great War. The exhibit at the central location in downtown Fort Worth runs through Feb. 23.

Earlier this year, a historical association in Pontchateau, France, honored Hawley for his work there. That exhibit ran through October.

In May 1917, Hawley was commissioned Major of Engineers, and his contributions during the next 18 months would earn him international recognition for service to the Allies.

An excerpt from the exhibit: “… John Hawley, a Fort Worth Engineer specializing in water-supply and sanitary engineering was 50 when the United States entered the war and he joined the Army. … His biggest challenge during the war, and the project that brought him international recognition for his service to the Allies, was in and around Saint-Nazaire, the debarkation port for United States troops and supplies landing in France. In 1918, by constructing a variety of dams and creatively using natural and man-made resources, he solved a water-supply crisis that officials called ‘the most difficult engineering problem behind the fighting front in France.’”

Major Hawley returned to the U.S. after being discharged from the military April 19, 1919, and he reopened his Fort Worth office and resumed his consulting practice.

That same year, the French Government conferred upon him the order of University Palms, with rank of Officer of the Academy. Hawley was known to wear his Army uniform, proudly displaying his ribbon from the French, to observe Armistice Day each year on the 11th day of the 11th month.

According to A Century In The Works​, a book covering the first 100 years of Freese and Nichols’ history, Hawley had a lifelong affection for the country and its people since serving in France in World War I. He learned to speak and read French with facility. Hawley often remarked to friends and colleagues that he rated his water-supply work in France among his greatest lifetime achievements.

“I had the pleasure of visiting Major Hawley once at his home in Fort Worth after I returned to the States, I think in the winter of 1919-20, and meeting some of his family. His charming and gracious wife I remember with affection —the same affection that I always felt for the Major himself,” Billings Wilson, who worked under Hawley in France, wrote in a letter published in the Texas Civil Engineer in 1970.

Click here to read more about Hawley and his work during World War I.