The 1920s: Mr. Freese, Mr. Nichols and the Riverwalk

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Freese and Nichols

As we celebrate Freese and Nichols’ 125th anniversary, this series will chronicle company achievements decade by decade

After saving a community from a water crisis abroad, Major John Hawley, Freese and Nichols’ founder, returned stateside to use his wartime experience in Breckenridge, Texas, which needed a new system of waterworks and needed it in record time.

Over the next 10 years, the firm added namesakes, took on a host of projects and left a mark on communities across the region.

Hawley and Sands

In June 1921, Hawley joined practices with Edward E. Sands of Houston to form the partnership of Hawley & Sands, with separate offices in Fort Worth and Houston. The firm specialized in sewage treatment plant design. On the drafting table in 1922 were plans for Fort Worth’s first sewage disposal plant, which went into operation in April 1924.

From 1921 to 1923, Hawley & Sands designed and supervised construction of water purification and sewage disposal works at Breckenridge, Fort Worth, Lubbock, and Sweetwater, Texas. In association with Robert J. Cummins, consulting engineer of Houston, Sands also prepared plans for a new harbor and port at Corpus Christi. A multimillion-dollar project, the port was formally opened in September 1926, after Sands’ untimely death in October 1923 at age 46. During the mid-1920s, Hawley’s office also designed a modern rapid sand filtration plant for Beaumont and a water supply dam for Comanche, Texas. Also in 1924-25, the Hawley firm did extensive work for Lubbock on a large program of municipal improvements.

A “remarkable young man and one of the coming engineers of the State” was Simon Wilke Freese, in the opinion of Major Hawley’s brother. Freese went to work for the Major Jan. 2, 1922.

Though barely 21, Freese had years of construction experience, for building was the Freese family business. Simon Freese began working in construction as a small boy carrying water on his father’s jobs in East Texas.

Freese took leave of Major Hawley in September 1923 to do graduate work at the University of Cambridge and to investigate the English activated sludge disposal plants. Freese’s interest in activated sludge dated from his brief association with Edward Sands. At Cambridge he had the opportunity to study the English activated sludge plants and processes that had been in successful operation in Great Britain for several years, and were then the most advanced in the world.

On March 28, 1927, the Major, age 60, signed an agreement with his junior associate making the firm of John B. Hawley the partnership of Hawley & Freese.

Hawley, Freese and Nichols

Eagle Mountain and Bridgeport, which are both located northwest of Fort Worth, were the first large dual-purpose reservoirs in the U.S. to provide separate capacities for flood control and water supply. While not unique in their dual-purpose nature, Eagle Mountain and Bridgeport were innovative in providing separate reservoir capacities for their flood control and water supply objectives. In November 1927, the firm of Hawley & Freese won a contract to design the dams and supervise their construction.

Supervising engineer of construction was Marvin C. Nichols, a new professional in Hawley’s office. When the Major and Freese first met him, Nichols was acting city engineer for Amarillo.  During his years there, Nichols supervised extensive municipal improvements including brick paving, drainage, sanitary sewers, a sewage pumping station, and an incinerator. The most pressing need, however, was for a new water supply.

An impounding dam, receiving reservoir, and new well system were developed on Palo Duro Creek to supply 10 million gallons daily. Nichols was chief construction engineer on the work. It was his first experience with a sizable water supply project and it planted the seeds of a lifelong interest in water resource development. Thereafter the challenge of developing and conserving water–the Southwest’s most precious resource–would be his first concern as a professional engineer.

Nichols became a partner in 1928.

San Antonio Riverwalk

San Antonio became Hawley, Freese and Nichols’ second home when the firm established a branch office there in 1928. A major job for the firm at San Antonio was to plan a storm sewer system and design the Great Bend Cut-Off Channel on the San Antonio River. The City had Hawley, Freese and Nichols design the cutoff after a flood on the river inundated the downtown area. The firm’s 1929 flood protection work made possible one of the city’s most famous features, the “Paseo Del Rio” or San Antonio Riverwalk.​

See Also:

1894 to 1910: Innovative from the Start

The 1910s: Solving Water Crises Here and In France

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