January 11, 2009
Virgil Gay Bogue, a starter bio

Virgil Gay Bogue has several major claims to fame, and a lifetime of interesting achievements in between.

The popularly available biography of his life - universally recounted by newspapers and historians - was published as the opening letter to the 1911 Plan of Seattle, which he was hired to author. The half-page of text provides the following information on Bogue in this order:

  • Graduate of Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute
  • First job was on the engineering staff of Frederick Law Olmsted, working on Prospect Park
  • Then moved to Peru to work on the Trans-Andean Railway
  • Returned to the US to work on the Northern Pacific Railway, discovering Stampede Pass in the Cascade Mountains
  • Worked as a railway consultant in the US, Mexico, Central America, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, and Alaska
  • Built the Western Pacific Railway to San Francisco Bay
  • Built the terminals of the Western Maryland Railroad Company in Baltimore
  • Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad
  • Consulting Engineer for Mayor Strong in New York City
  • Now working on waterfront facilities in Seattle and Tacoma
  • Sat in an office in the Central Building starting September, 1910, writing the Plan of Seattle.

It's frightening how much written about Virgil Bogue in the last 100 years is simply a riff on that list. There has been apparently no effort to question this biographical sketch, look for others, or to fill in the gaps between and after it.

The problem is, the riffing is the good stuff. Many respected historians have taken liberties to spice up the story rather than do the time-consuming research into this character who was always on the move. For example, renowned Puget Sound historian Walt Crowley calls Bogue a "protégé" of Frederick Law Olmsted because of his entry-level surveying work on Prospect Park. That's just normal though. Most people don't even get his name right. And some mix him up (who'd guess that there were a ton of Virgil Bogues 100 years ago?). The Wikipedia entry for Baby Island Heights, a community on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, incorrectly associates him with an entirely different Virgil Bogue.

I've been looking into the brief facts listed above, looking for new ones, and studying Bogue's Plan of Seattle. Because of the wonders of the Internet and an inquisitive mind that doesn't know when to quit, I've been able to put together a pretty rich picture of Virgil Gay Bogue's life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I'll be posting information slowly over time. I know now that this work will probably never end, it will only take long breaks. Virgil Bogue was simply involved in too much, and there are too many rich tangents.

Written by Rob Ketcherside at January 11, 2009 12:20 AM
Lost Seattle
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