Samuel Risler Probasco was born September 18, 1833 in New York City to Samuel Probasco and Sarah Risler. He was a pupil in the New York city public schools up to the time he was 15 years old, when he left home and boarded a vessel bound for China by way of Cape Horn. When the vessel landed at San Francisco, California, he went ashore and never returned to the ship again. Instead, he went to the mining camps, and after a years experience in the California "gold rush" started on foot across the continent home. Upon reaching New York City he took up the study of civil engineering, being his own instructor, and was employed by the Brooklyn Waterworks Company from 1850 to 1867. He then established himself as a professional civil engineer, and was located in Mt. Holly and Lumberton, Burlington County, New Jersey, as inspector of pipe at the Lumberton Foundry from 1857 to 1865.
On September 12, 1858, Samuel married Anna M. Phillips, the daughter of Theodore Phillips and Harriet Lorman of Vincentown, Burlington County, New Jersey. After his marriage, he established his home in Lumberton, with his first three children being born there. He removed to Burlington in 1866, and afterward made this city his home, making the journey to and from New York City daily.
In 1869, Samuel R. Probasco became an assistant engineer in the planning and construction of the Brooklyn suspension bridge. Though John A. Roebling had gotten approval for the bridge from the New York Government in Albany, it still had to be authorized by Congress. To obtain this approval, an inspection party was arranged of Army engineers and private consultants to inspect previous works of John Roebling to assure that traffic to and from the Navy yard in Brooklyn would no be disrupted. In the Spring of 1869 John A. and Washington Roebling, William C. Kingsley, Samuel Probasco and other engineers accompanied the Army engineers in their journey of observing some of John Roebling's bridges throughout the United States, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Niagara, and others, and made thorough examination of the bridges at all these important points. A little later the Government Commissioners presented their report, and approval was obtained.
Samuel was involved in the construction of the Brooklyn suspension bridge working for Washington A. Roebling, the engineer-in-chief on the project, until its completion on May 24, 1883, thereafter continuing as a professional engineer. Upon the consolidation of the cities of New York, Brooklyn, Long Island City, Yonkers and adjacent territory, and the election of Robert A. Van Wyck as mayor of Greater New York, Mayor Van Wyck appointed Mr. Probasco chief engineer of the Commission of Bridges, Board of Public Improvements of the City of New York, and he held the office for four years. During this time the New East River Bridge from the foot of Delancey Street, Manhattan borough, to a point between South Fifth and South Sixth streets in the borough of Brooklyn, familiarly know as the Williamsburg Bridge, was planned and construction commenced, and the bridge across the East River over Blackwell's Island was also planned, to be a cantilever bridge supported by four towers, one on the Manhattan side, two on Blackwell's Island, and one on the Queensboro side, and this bridge was opened for traffic in May 1909, and was known as the Queenstown Bridge. Mr. Probasco laid out the plans for both of these gigantic examples of engineering skill. He also laid out the plans for the Manhattan Bridge from Catherine street, Manhattan, to Sands street, Brooklyn, with its approaches in each borough. The entire bridge system in New York City came under his supervision, and he had charge of the enlargements of terminal accommodations and of the repairs and changes necessary from time to time in the economy of the bridge management. During his tenure he was paid $8,000 annually, the highest renumeration in the Department of Bridges, Borough of Manhattan, even more than the Commissioner.
Samuel R. Probasco was a charter member of the Old Manhattan Lodge, F. & A.M., and was elected its first secretary. He was a member of the Brooklyn Club, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and of the Municipal Engineers of the City of New York. He was also a member of the Long Island Historical Society, of which he was one of the regents.
Samuel and Anna Probasco had five children, with only two children reaching adulthood, Selden Richards Probasco born July 1865 and Samuel Kingsley Probasco born Sep 1869. Three other children, Helen, Joseph and Beatrice Amy, died while young. Samuel R. Probasco died on January 19, 1910 in Burlington, Burlington County, New Jersey.
Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey, Vol. 1, Francis Bazley Lee, ed., Lewis Historical Publishing Co., NY, 1910.
David McCullough, The Great Bridge, Simon & Shuster, 1972.
Henry R. Stiles, History of the County of Kings and the City of Brooklyn, 1683-1884, NY, Munsell, NY, 1991.
Minutes and Proceedings of the Commissioners of Rapid Transit Appointed by Hon. Alfred C. Chapin..., Brooklyn Citizen Print, Brooklyn, NY, 1888.
The New York Times, New York, NY, published January 21, 1910, obituary for Samuel R. Probasco.
James S. Barcus, Public Service Comprising Outline Maps of Political Divisions: Names, Official Titles and Renumeration..., Globe Publishing Co., NY, c1898.
Back to Biographies Page / Back to Home Page
Back to Top