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James E O'Sullivan
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Birth: Jun. 26, 1876
Port Huron
St. Clair County
Michigan, USA
Death: Feb., 1949

James O'Sullivan was born in Port Huron, Michigan June 26, 1876 to James Edward and Anna Waller O'Sullivan. Graduated from the University of Michigan with an A.B. degree in 1902. Studied law there and in 1903 was admitted to practice in the Michigan courts. Until 1905 helped his father in construction.

Married Pearl Twiss and had three children: John T., Kathleen, and Arthur J. O'Sullivan.

In 1905 was foreman of reinforced concrete construction on the American Savings Bank Building in Seattle, WA. Taught from 1906 to 1909 for State Normal School at Bellingham, WA. From 1910 to 1914 practiced law at Ephrata, WA and installed the first large pumping plant at Moses Lake, WA for the irrigation of 800 acres, developed an orchard and raised various crops. From 1915 to 1929 was president and general manager of the James O'Sullivan and Sons Company, Port Huron, MI, after father's death. Supervised the construction of many large works including electric substations, sewers, drains, canals, coffer-dams, high schools, churches, steam electrical installations, grain elevators, etc. In 1919 visited Ephrata and studied the proposal to build a dam at Grand Coulee high enough to divert water for irrigation without pumping. Interested the U.S. Reclamation Service in the proposal, which requested the State Columbia Basin Survey Commission, which was then studying a proposal to irrigate the Basin lands by the gravity system from Idaho, to include a study of the Grand Coulee proposal. Accompanied the State Survey Commission to the damsite. In 1920 spent three months overcoming the report of the Survey Commission that found the bedrock at the damsite was too deep and that it was improbable that a dam of sufficient height could be built at Grand Coulee. They considered a dam only 180 feet above water and were in favor of the gravity system. Wrote a review of the state report, studied bedrock conditions along the Columbia River, published articles to prove that water could be handled during construction at Grand Coulee and helped interest A. P. Davis, Director of the U.S. Reclamation Service and Hugh Cooper, famous builder of dams, in the Grand Coulee proposal. Accompanied Davis to dam site and secured from him a promise that he would recommend that the State of Washington appropriate funds to core drill the dam site. Davis also recommended that the state employ Willis T. Batchelor, a Seattle engineer, to study the Grand Coulee possibilities. In 1921 when core drilling disclosed excellent bedrock at a reasonable depth at Grand Coulee, reported in favor of a dam 220 feet above low water level and large scale pumping into the Grand Coulee for irrigation. In 1923 Major General George W. Goethals reported against the dam and in 1925 a Federal Columbia Basin Survey Board of Engineers also reported in favor of the gravity system.

In the fall of 1920 O'Sullivan returned to Port Huron to discover that he had lost a valuable contract while he was in Washington State. During his absence Nat Washington, William M. Clapp, Frank T. Bell and others tried to keep the Grand Coulee plan alive and in 1927 or 1928 Senator Wesley N. Jones was instrumental in having the Corps of Engineers, War Department, include the Columbia Basin in its survey of the Columbia River. In February 1929 returned to Ephrata about the time Major John S. Butler began his field survey of the upper Columbia River. O'Sullivan began writing and speaking for Grand Coulee Dam and in June 1929 the Columbia River Development League was formed at Ephrata with him as secretary. For the next 4 1/2 years with only $13,500 in finances, he carried on an active campaign for the dam with the help of others. This work included studies of the power market, of the feasibility of pumping, of the water tightness of the Grand Coulee, of the use of power to make projects feasible, etc. In 1931 Butler reported in favor of the dam as the economic means of irrigating Columbia Basin lands. In 1932 O'Sullivan spent the year in Washington D.C. trying to get the project authorized by Congress and in defending Major Butler's report at the hearings before the Rivers and Harbors Board and helped to secure hearings on the project in the House that when published became known as the Bible of the project. In 1933 was active in Olympia, securing the creation of the Columbia Basin Commission and served as secretary of this Commission until April 1937. This Commission, with the help of others, secured the first funds for the construction of the dam. Was very active in having the foundation of the high dam built in place of the low dam and in clearing the Columbia River of all adverse rights that might prevent the building of the high dam. In 1937 and 1938 successfully undertook the formation of the first Columbia Basin Irrigation District, known as the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District. Was secretary of this district for awhile. In 1938 helped to secure funds for completion of the dam. In 1940 and 1941 was consultant of the Bonneville Power Administration. In 1942 to 1943 secured the passage of the Columbia Basin Project, being representative of the Irrigation Districts at the national capital. In April 1943 became assistant of the newly created Columbia Basin Commission and in 1943-1944 spent six months in Washington D.C. securing the Columbia Basin Allocation and Repayment Report and the preparation of the Repayment Contract. From December 10, 1947 to July 1, 1948 represented the State Commission and the Columbia Basin Irrigation Districts at the national capital in securing appropriations for the Columbia Basin Project. In 1948 was recognized for his efforts with the renaming of the Potholes Dam to the O'Sullivan Dam. Died in February 1949. Altogether, spent 20 years full-time on the project. The Seattle Times stated that he led and won the fight for the Grand Coulee Dam.

From the finding aid for James O'Sullivan Papers 1903-1949 1919-1948 (Foley Center Library Special Collections)
Family links: 
  James Edward O'Sullivan (1847 - 1915)
  Anna T Waller O'Sullivan (1849 - 1923)
  Pearl Twiss O'Sullivan (1881 - 1968)*
  Peter J O'Sullivan (1869 - 1889)*
  Margaret M. O'Sullivan Sabichi (1875 - 1965)*
  James E O'Sullivan (1876 - 1949)
  William C. O'Sullivan (1878 - 1913)*
  Ann Evelyn O'Sullivan (1880 - 1957)*
  Alfred O'Sullivan (1882 - 1964)*
  John E O'Sullivan (1884 - 1885)*
  Paul Joseph O'Sullivan (1890 - 1971)*
*Calculated relationship
Holy Cross Cemetery
Spokane County
Washington, USA
Created by: Twist
Record added: Mar 15, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 66979866
James E O'Sullivan
Added by: JMW
James E O'Sullivan
Added by: Mike Davidson
James E O'Sullivan
Cemetery Photo
Added by: C&P * LaPlante Files
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 Added: Jun. 22, 2013

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