Graduating from Harvard in the thick of the Great Depression, Arvo A. Solander worked as a civil and sanitary engineer for a variety of state and federal agencies, including the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. During the 1930s, as opportunity arose, he filled positions as a road engineer, in the design and construction of water and sewage plants, in pollution control, as a safety engineer in the shellfish industry, and in mosquito control, taking jobs throughout Massachusetts and as far away as Tennessee. After using his talents as an officer in the Sanitary Corps during the Second World War, based primarily in Arkansas, Solander returned home to Massachusetts and opened a private engineering office in South Hadley. He worked as a civil engineer and surveyor until his death in January 1976.
The Arvo Solander Papers consists of twenty-four bound volumes documenting thirty years of varied work as an engineer, including his contributions to the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir. Within the bound volumes are a wide range of reports, typescripts, sketches and diagrams, graphs, contracts and design specifications, photographs, and postcards.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Arvo A. Solander
Born in Wichendon, Mass., on August 26, 1909, the civil engineer Arvo A. Solander graduated from University of Maine and received a Masters Degree in Sanitary Engineering from Harvard University.
During the early years of his engineering career, Solander worked with the State Highway Commission of Maine, building bridges and roads in Eden and Hancock during the summer sessions of his junior year 1930-1932. In the following months, however, the Great Depression made it impossible for Solander to find any work in engineering, leaving him to take a job with the Harvard Employment Bureau. Although he helped engineer a dike for the Quabbin Reservoir, then nearing completion as a water source for metropolitan Boston, Solander was hired only as a "sand dog," paid forty cents an hour for a forty-eight hour work week. His body fell into shape under the intense labor, though his back suffered the consequences.
After leaving the Harvard Employment Bureau, Solander worked for the State Department of Health at the Scituate Shellfish Plant in Scituate, Mass., taking responsibility for maintaining sanitation. While at Scituate, he took a series of examinations for the Massachusetts State Health Department, which opened the door for him to work in industrial waste.
From 1934 to 1935, Solander worked at a Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Rutland, about fifteen miles northwest of Worcester, Mass. Funds for this position were supplied in part by the New Deal relief agency, the Public Works Administration. He also worked as a salt marsh mosquito worker for the Massachusetts Reclamation Board, whose funds were supplied by another New Deal agency, the Civil Works Administration. From 1935 to 1937, Solander continued on his round of New Deal agencies, working as a teacher at Lake Dennison for the Civilian Conservation Corps, operating under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army. The CCC was said to be the best of the various relief agencies in operation during the depression years. Solander taught mechanical drawing three nights a week with a modicum of success, however according to Solander, men selected in relief roles did not seem always interested in broader education.
For the next twenty years, Solander worked as a civil engineer for a long succession of agencies and water-related projects. His work in surveys of water, sewage, and garbage works in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, he wrote, only "served to show the need for Federal Legislation to conserve one of our most valuable natural resources, water." From February 1941 through May 1942, Solander helped engineer the drainage of almost 18,000 square miles in the Cumberland River Basin while his services were loaned to the Tennessee State Department of Health. During this time, he volunteered for military service with the Army's Sanitary Corps, writing "In retrospect, I can very truthfully say that my work and accomplishments as a commissioned Officer in the Sanitary Corps, U.S. Army, were a greater contribution to the continued freedom of the United States than my civilian activities after the 1941 maneuvers." Solander was commissioned a First Lieutenant, but by the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of Major.
In 1947, while stationed at the District Office of the U.S. Public Health Services in New Orleans, Louisiana, Solander aggravated a hernia and had to be confined to bed for several days. While laid up, the funds for his research on septic tanks ran low, and the project was shut down. "As the son of Finnish emigrant parents," Solander wrote, "it appears that I had reached my peak, namely, the honorary rank of Major in the Sanitary Corps of the United States Army. It did not appear quite proper to assign a man of my age, education, and experience to this type of work. As the record of the past twenty years is reviewed, it seems that as much or more physical work has been done since my Army career than at any other time in my professional career."
While en route from Cincinnati to Winchendon, Solander was hired by the firm of Tighe and Bond, a company that contracted for sewerage work, mostly in West Springfield and Easthampton. Unfortunately, when the owner of Tighe and Bond passed away and the company was bought out, Solander was again out of work. Calling upon his training as a land surveyor, and purchasing the necessary tools, Solander set out on a new path. Becoming familiar with the Hampshire County Commissioners, he took a venture into the political field, running for the Board of Public Health in South Hadley in 1950. Short of cash and time for his campaign, Solander was edged out by 200 votes.
Arvo A. Solander died at the age of 66 on June 9, 1976, in Holyoke Hospital. A member of the First Congregational Church of South Hadley, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Congress of Surveying and Mapping, Water Pollution Control Federation, Society of American Military Engineers and Engineering Society of Western Mass, he left behind his wife, Elizabeth (Ray) Solander, and three children: Richard F. Nancy Miller, Miss Joan L. Solander, and Mrs. Gregory V (Sarah) Camp.
The Solander collection consists of twenty-four bound volumes of letters, reports, and ephemera documenting the ups and downs of the life of a civil engineer during and after the Great Depression. From 1930 to 1958, Solander kept and collected a wide array of information on the varied engineering jobs on which he was employed, including photographs, blue prints, graphs, daily reports, references, journals, diagrams, articles, maps, specifications, and sanitation plans. The range of projects is remarkable: Solander worked primarily on water programs and construction, but at various times, his employers sent him from his home in New England to Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Ohio, and Florida. The final volume includes various newspaper clippings pertaining to political matters, more specifically, pertaining to Solander's campaign for election to the Board of Public Health. There are also flyers and articles on other Massachusetts electives and on the 1960 presidential election.
The material collected in these volumes provides an impressive resume and historical blueprint for the life of an engineer. The photographs and prefaces within the volumes add a personal touch. The majority of the final volume consists of paperwork from Solander's run for office and newspaper ads for himself and his competitors. In addition to material relating to the election in Solander's own district, the volume also includes a few pieces relating to the 1960 presidential election: an article on John F. Kennedy during his years in the Senate and also a five page report issued by U.S. News and World Report entitled "More Light on the '60 Election." Finally, the collection includes twenty-one pieces of ephemera pertaining to political contests in western Massachusetts covering the various nominees for Governor, Senator, and House of Representative. The newspaper clippings mostly include articles on the same nominees.
Gift of Nancy Solander Miller, 2002.
Processed by Joel Nilles, March 2009.
Cite as: Arvo A. Solander Papers (MS 587). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.