Thomas Lincoln Casey’s Children

Jul 31, 2019

Because of Thomas Lincoln Casey’s excellent record keeping, we have a trove of letters from Casey’s three sons to him and his wife, Emma Weir Casey. These letters provide insight into the family life of a prominent American military family.

Brigadier General Thomas Lincoln Casey (1831-1896) is best known for his architectural and engineering legacies: the Washington Monument, the State, War, and Navy Building, and the Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress. Casey was as meticulous in keeping his professional records as he was in his professional engineering projects. He paid the same careful attention to the organization of his family’s archives.

Thomas Lincoln Casey Jr. (1857-1925) was a West Point graduate, like his father. In preparation for the military academy, he had a tutor and took summer courses, but even with his busy schedule, Casey found time for his hobbies. Writing to his father in the summer of 1872, he explained: “In insects I have done very well, having collected in all about 25 different species in the time we have been down here. Among them are about 6 butterflies.” In the same letter, he asked his father to send him drawing paper as well as his brother’s compass so that he might “construct a map of the planets on a definite scale.” Thomas Lincoln Casey Jr. followed his father into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and went on to become a specialist in both entomology (with a primary focus on coleopterology – the study of beetles) and astronomy. His papers are preserved at the Smithsonian Institution.

Thomas Lincoln Casey, Jr. to Thomas Lincoln Casey, August 4, 1872

On a trip to Florence, Italy, Thomas Lincoln Casey Jr. stopped to visit his aunt and uncle, Louisa and Truman Seymour. Louisa described the visit this way: “…the door bell rang, and a knock at our door soon followed – an individual entered, upon a visitor being announced. He was bearded like a “pard” as the old songs say – + wore spectacles and also then had an aspect of a German professional man and we thought he must have got into our rooms by accident until a twinkle in his eyes betrayed a likeness to his father and we knew him!”

Portrait of Harry Weir Casey (1861 – 1880), Yale University, Scientific School, Class of 1882, taken in the spring of 1879.

Harry Weir Casey (1861-1880) spent his summers at Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. In his short life (he drowned in the Narragansett River in 1880 at the age of 19), Harry showed great promise. He frequently wrote letters to his parents in Washington, DC, from the Scientific Department of Yale College, where he was enrolled, and the Rhode Island farm. From a very young age, Harry included his drawings in letters to his parents. When he was ten during a trip to Maine with his uncle, Harry demanded paper and pencil to sketch the harbor where they were visiting. Harry went on to build his own schooner yacht, the progress of which he described in letters to his parents all through the summer of 1875. At some point in the 1870s, he took up photography and opened up an amateur printer’s shop at his parents’ Washington, DC, home.

Enclosed in a letter from Thomas Lincoln Casey, Jr. to Thomas Lincoln Casey, July 9, 1871
Drawing of a harbor by Harry Weir Casey
Architects at work, Edward Pearce Casey Papers. Photograph by Long & Heppner.

Edward Pearce Casey (1864-1940) was the youngest Casey and was known as “Ned” to his parents and “Duzy” to his brothers. He, like his brothers, was curious and talented. Ned showed artistic promise in his youth. In a letter written from Casey Farm to his father in Washington, DC, he wrote: “I have taken a few sketches since I have been here. Yesterday mama sent you one off of the front piazza and now I send you one out of our windows at the back of the house.” Ned received degrees in Civil Engineering and Philosophy from Columbia University and went on to train at the École des Beaux-Arts. Returning from Paris, he worked for his father as an architect on the Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress. Later, he worked on the Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River, the Grant Memorial, and the DAR Constitution Hall. He also designed the home of his aunt, Julia Casey Bloodgood, in New Marlborough, Massachusetts.

In September 2017, Historic New England secured a $64,415 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to support a two-year, $133,878 project to digitize papers related to Thomas Lincoln Casey’s work (over 37,500 pages). Historic New England will pilot a crowdsourcing program to engage the public in efforts to transcribe digitized records.

The Casey papers covered by this grant include 55.13 linear feet of materials divided into four components: Thomas Lincoln Casey’s papers; major engineering and architectural projects in Washington, DC, worked on by both Thomas Lincoln Casey and his son, Edward Pearce Casey; the correspondence between Thomas Lincoln Casey and President Rutherford B. Hayes; and Edward Pearce Casey’s papers. Edward Pearce Casey bequeathed the Casey Family Papers along with Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, to Historic New England.