James B. Donnelly
James B. Donnelly, the head of one of the heaviest contracting companies on the lakes, is known as one of the busiest men in the whole lake system, and the company's operations have been such that activity is the great essential next to financial ability.
Mr. Donnelly was born in Oswego, N. Y., April 22, 1847, and took his first contract in that city. Since that time he has extended the operations of the firm and subsequent company all the way to the Sault. The firm name was originally Donnelly Brothers, the junior member being William P. Donnelly. After operating under that name from about 1877 they were incorporated in 1891 under the name of the Donnelly Contracting Company, with James B. Donnelly, president; E. B. Mott, vice-president; and William P. Donnelly, secretary and treasurer. Possessed of ample capital, the company has sought and obtained many of the largest State and Government contracts in the lake and canal district. They have built about 1,600 feet of the Buffalo breakwater, having one contract in 1891 and another in 1893. One of the notable pieces of work that the company has performed was the building in 1896 of half a mile of piers and approaches to the new lock at the Sault. They were given till May, 1898, to finish the work, but it was found that this length of time would incur a great risk of seriously delaying navigation by an accident to the old lock, which besides was sometimes too small for daily transportation of traffic; so the company finished the work eight months ahead of time, obtaining therefore a bonus of $12,000.
To give some idea of the magnitude of the company's operations it need merely be noted that in 1893 it had breakwater contracts in Buffalo, Dunkirk, Erie and Fairport, all under way at the same time. It has done government work on about every harbor on Lake Ontario; but finding that district too far to one side for a base of operation the headquarters were moved to Buffalo in 1890, since which time they have been maintained there. The company does no dredging, but sublets that work when any is to be done in connection with the general contract. They were the lowest bidders on the timber crib section of the Buffalo breakwater that was let in the fall of 1896, but the government, after some consideration, concluded to let the whole in a single contract, and therefore gave the work to the lowest bidder on the whole. The Donnelly Company, has in addition to the ports already mentioned, done considerable breakwater work in Cleveland, thus making its operations well and favorably known all over the lakes, for the work has been carried on with such uniform promptness and excellence that the government has always placed the greatest confidence in them. When there was a question over the payment for the construction of the Buffalo breakwater extension of 1893, which, with one or two other sections, was destroyed in the great storm of October 14 of that year, Mr. Donnelly had only to go to Washington and lay the matter before the proper authorities to obtain prompt settlement.
The company in the winter of 1896-97 carried on the most extensive contracting operations on the western end of Erie canal in Buffalo ever undertaken there, especially if the time allowed is taken into account. The contract calls for the deepening of the canal two feet from the western end at Commercial slip, Buffalo, to Ferry street in that city. The improvement is part of the appropriation of $9,000,000 for this work, and the Donnelly contract is for over $400,000, and will probably reach $430,000, the exact amount being fixed by contingent circumstances. Though the work could easily have been extended to a second season, as boats could find another route, the company thought it best to have the work completed early in the spring of 1897, and in order to do this it was necessary to erect a great plant; pumps with a capacity of 90,000 gallons a minute, derricks, cars and steam engines were constantly in use, and an army of men, sometimes as many as 1,500, were employed, together with 150 teams for removing the canal bottom up inclines built along its sides. Mr. James Donnelly is also extensively engaged in the coal trade, under the firm name of Donnelly, Dunham & Company.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.