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History of CEE

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CEE History Continued...

The 2015 Engineering Sesquicentennial edition of the CEE Update newsletter highlighted the history of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering in greater depth. Please read/print/download the pdf at the link below. 


1868 At opening, Morrill (South) Hall built and White (North) Hall and Laboratory Building nearing completion. Museum of Technology and Civil Engineering has 5 collections. 4-year B.C.E. degree, 2 more years to get a C.E. degree. Post B.C.E., Licentiate certificates can be earned in Surveying and/or Draughting. Ph.D. offered.

1868-1871 The School of Civil Engineering is established, housed within the College of Mathematics and Civil Engineering.


1871 The large temporary wooden Laboratory Building on the quad houses the draughting & lecture rooms of CE. Collection of survey instruments expanded.

1871-1873 School identity is changed to School of Engineering within the College of Civil Engineering and and Architecture

1873 Meteorology observations begin.

1873 School of Engineering within the College of Civil Engineering and Architecture becomes the Department of Civil Engineering. (independent, with no umbrella college)

 Hydrographic surveys of Cayuga Lake full-time for 2 weeks begin.

 4-year B.C.E., 5-year C.E., and 2 Licentiate certificates offered. “Methods of instruction include ...textbooks, lectures profusely illustrated on the screen, or by diagrams or models, and actual practice in the field, laboratories and workshops.”

1877 Summer survey camp begins as a required annual course and as a model of experiential learning adopted at most U.S. CE departments.


1881 CE laboratory, museum and library expansion begins by accelerated acquisition of equipment, instruments, models, photographs and books. The first primitive, temporary astronomical observatory built near the Laboratory Building for use by CE and physics students.

1884 CE and Architecture fully occupy the wooden temporary Laboratory Building. Work begins on an enlargement of the temporary observatory.

1885-86 Degree designations changed to 4-year C.E. and 5-year M.C.E., both requiring a thesis in the spring term. The graduate courses offered are in Bridge, Railroad, Sanitary, Hydraulic and Geodetic Engineering.

1889 Lincoln Hall opens, shared by CE and Architecture. Includes several CE teaching/research labs (10,000 sf), the CE library (3,000 volumes) and the CE museum (12 collections). Meteorological Bureau of State of NY established at College of CE with Professor Fuertes as Director of the Bureau.


1890-1920 Department of Civil Engineering becomes the College of Civil Engineering

 Observatory moved and reassembled at the current site of Stimson & Day Halls, though still a temporary eyesore, was demolished in 1903.

1898 Fall Creek Hydraulics Lab opens, is continually expanded over the next few years, remains in use until largely abandoned in 1963, and collapses into the gorge in 2009.


1900 Weather Bureau for NYS changed from NYS to U.S. Federal administration, but continues to be housed in CE until 1907, when moved to the College of Agriculture.

1903 The A.C. Barnes Observatory opens just north of the present Barton Hall. Later renamed Fuertes Observatory, but demolished in 1914 to make way for the new State Drill Hall.

1904 In addition to the 4-year C.E., 5-year B.C.E., and Ph.D. degrees offered, a 6-year A.B. + C.E. program is established.

1906 Architecture moves out of Lincoln Hall leaving the entire 5-floor building to the exclusive use of CE for the next 53 years.


 Current Fuertes Observatory north of Beebe Lake opens constructed and operated under the auspices of the Astronomy program in the College of CE.


 With formation of College of Engineering, a common first-year curriculum is established for all three Schools (CE, ME, EE) in the College. Senior thesis no longer required for C.E. degree.

1920-1971 College of Civil Engineering changes to the School of Civil Engineering within the College of Engineering.

1923 The Irving Porter Church Memorial Telescope is officially dedicated at the Fuertes Observatory, honoring the generosity and instrumental efforts of its chief donor and advocate.

1929 Camp Cornell on Cayuta Lake is constructed by the School of CE and becomes the annual home of the 5-week summer surveying course until its last use in the summer of 1963.

 Astronomy is transferred from the School of CE and is established as a Department in College of Arts & Sciences

1936 With establishment of national accreditation by ECPD (precursor of ABET), the B.C.E. is first accredited.


 A wartime degree added for the Navy v-12 program is a B.S. in CE.

1946 With the College-wide introduction of the 5-year undergraduate curriculum, the B.C.E. becomes a 5-year degree program. Other degrees offered are the M.C.E., M.S. and Ph.D.


 CE Structural and Material Testing labs in Thurston Hall open, including a state-of-the-art high bay.

1959 Hollister Hall opens, an entirely new and modern home for the School of CE, including classroom, office and laboratory spaces with easy access to the testing labs in nearby Thurston Hall.


 Concrete lab wing added to Thurston Hall complex. Last offering of the 86-year-old summer survey course, although other surveying courses continue to be offered until the late 1970s.

1965 Five-year B.C.E. degree ends in favor of a 4-year B.S. degree. The one-year M.Eng. (Civil) professional degree program begins. M.S. and Ph.D. degrees continue.


The School of Civil Engineering becomes the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, within the College of Engineering

 DeFrees Hydraulic Lab is dedicated, a major wing added to Hollister Hall.

1986 Cornell CEE becomes one of the 5 founding university entities of the NSF-sponsored National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER).

1987 Takeo Mogami Geotechnical Lab is dedicated in a renovated space in Hollister Hall.

1988 M.Eng. program in Engineering Management begins in CEE.


 The Class of 1949 Electronic Classroom is dedicated, one of the first such teaching spaces in the College.

1994 Two options offered within the accredited Civil B.S. degree: the Civil and Environmental options.

1996 CEE becomes lead institution of NYSDOTsponsored Transportation Infrastructure Research Consortium (TIRC)

1997 CEE becomes part of the MCEER consortium, one of three EERCs that replace NCEER.

1998 An innovative Environmental Engineering Instructional and Research Lab is created in Hollister Hall.

1999 Renovations in Hollister Hall create the CEE Conference Center, a suite for meetings, seminars, classes and receptions that is equipped for internet conferencing

 Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) founded at Cornell CEE.

2004 AguaClara founded at Cornell CEE.

2004-2008 Renovations and modernizations to the Thurson Hall lab complex: The complex becomes part of the Network for Earthquake Simulation (NEES), is renamed for benefactor Harry E. Bovay Jr. ‘36, and each lab space within is named after a principal donor.

2005 Environmental Engineering major begins, jointly supervised by CEE and BEE.

2007 ABET first accredits B.S. degree in Environmental Engineering, offered jointly by CEE and BEE. CEE formally initiates an exchange program with the University of Cantabria, Santander, Spain for a junior year abroad.

2009 The Environmental Fluids Teaching Lab in Hollister Hall is completely renovated and re-equipped.