Friday, January 4, 2008

Biography- Orlando Metcalfe Poe

Some of the most ornate and architecturally sound lighthouses on the Great Lakes were designed and built by the army's Chief Engineer of the Upper Great Lakes Lighthouse District, Orlando Metcalfe Poe.

Poe was born on March 7, 1832, in what is now the Village of Navarre, Ohio. Located on the banks of the Tuscarawas River, Navarre is adjacent to the town of Canton, which houses the American Fooball Hall of Fame, and approximately 40 miles south of Cleveland.

Entering the United States Military Acadamy, (West Point), at the age of 20 in 1852, Poe graduated sixth in his class in 1856. Assigned to the Corps of Topigraphical Engineers, (the map makers of the Army), he was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1860 while he was Asst. Topographical Engineer on the Survey of the Northern Great Lakes from 1856-1861.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Poe returned to Ohio and assisted in the recruiting of volunteers to aid the Northern cause. He soon caught the attention of General George McClelland and was assigned to the general's staff. It was in this capacity he participated in the battle of Rich Mountain.

When McClelland was promoted to General of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln, Poe was also promoted. The newly appointed colonel of the 2nd Michigan volunteers was in command of the defenses around Washington D.C. He also took part in the battles of the Virginia Peninsular campaign, leading his men from Yorktown through the battle of Seven Pines, then given a field command prior to Second Bull Run.

On November 29, 1862, Poe was commissioned Brigadier General of volunteers, (a commission which never was confirmed by Congress), and took part in the battle of Fredricksburg.

Reverting back to his rank of captain, Poe was transferred to the Western Campaign as chief engineer of XXIII Corps, the Army of the Ohio. It was during this time that he successfully led the defenses of Knoxville, Tennessee against the Confederate army of General James Longstreet. It was because of these efforts that Poe was selected to be General William T. Sherman's chief engineer in his march through Georgia. It was Poe who was responsible for the almost total annihilation of Atlanta, as he directed the destruction forces there. He continued as chief of engineers for the remainder of Sherman's march to the sea, as well as the subsequent final battles of the war.

At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, Poe was appointed the Lighthouse Board's chief engineer. In 1870, he was reassigned to the position of Chief Engineer of the Upper Great Lakes Lighthouse District.It was in this position that Poe designed some of the best-known and best built lighthouses on the Great Lakes.
The first light he designed, the new Presque Isle light station in 1870, displayed the distinctive Poe signature which would be found in many of his lighthouses. These tall brick structures, gently tapering from top to bottom, displayed an embellished array of masonry gallery supports and arched top windows. This unique mix soon came to be known as the "Poe style". Other "Poe style" lighthouses included South Manitou Island, (constructed in 1872), Outer Island, Au Sable, and Little Sable, (all built in 1874), Grosse Point, (1873), and Wind Point, (1880). All of these lights remain standing to this day.

Along with all of the previous land-based lighthouses, Poe was instrumental in designing one of the very first off-shore lighthouses, Spectacle Reef. The Spectacle Reef Lighthouse took nearly three years to build and cost a whopping $406,000, much more than the average $40-$70,000 lightstation cost at that time. During this time, he also served as general Sherman's aide-de-camp from 1873-1883.

In 1883, Poe's engineering role was once again redefined, as he became Superintendent Engineer of improvements of rivers and harbors on Lakes Superior and Huron. It was in this role that he designed what many believe to be the finest work of his career, the Poe Lock at Sault Ste Marie. At a length of 800 feet and a width of 100 feet, it was, at the time it was completed in 1896, the largest in the world.

Unfortunately, Poe never got to see the completed project. While inspecting a problem at the lock, he slipped and fell, breaking a number of bones in his body. While bedridden and recovering from the accident he contracted what was believed to be malaria and died ten days later, on October 2, 1895 at the age of 67. Lieutenant-Colonel Orlando M. Poe, a career military man, was buried with honor at Arlington National Cemetery. Buried with him are his wife Eleanor, sons Orlando Wanrner and Charles, and daughter Winifred.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I learn something new everyday. I wasn't aware that the designer of the Poe lock also did lighthouses. And I'm originally from Michigan and have been through the locks several times (it's a fun trip and an amazing piece of engineering). What a delightful post, Roland.

January 8, 2008 at 2:42 PM  

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