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Patrick McGovern – The World’s Master Tunnel Builder

By J.L. Allhands, as published in the America’s Builders Journal (Volume 4, No IV)

Patrick McGovern
Patrick McGovern

When Jimmie Lovell asked me to tell about the achievements of a construction star of yesteryear, I wondered how anybody in a few pages of anything could do justice to such a fabulous builder as Patrick McGovern.  However, in a brief attempt to tell some of his amazing story we will have to go back to a December morning in 1891 when this Irish immigrant lad walked down the gangplank in the Boston Harbor as far as he’d been able to pay his way.  That day marked the fulfilment of a dream that Patrick McGovern had carried in his head and heart for a very long time.  He had at last landed in America, although an observer unfamiliar with the circumstances could hardly have recognized any evidence pointing toward what is usually termed a successful start.

Born in the village of Blacklion, in County Cavan, Ireland, August 15, 1870, the son of Patrick and Mary McGovern, he had early contracted a bad case of “American Fever” and began looking toward the day when he could come to this new world.  The years passed and his savings as a labourer grew slowly as he scrimped himself, socking away a few pence here and a shilling or two there.  He was just coming of age when his savings were sufficient for the cheapest steamship fare.

Down in the cabins of that steerage class were -several hundred immigrants coming to this land of promise.  But the insolence and arrogance of the steerage stewards had made life aboard rather miserable ever since the ship set sail from Old Ireland.  Fellow passengers kept running to Patrick with their troubles.  There was no love lost between McGovern and those stewards, but when their bullying became intolerable, he singled out the head “pusher.” Digging deep in his pocket he came up with a single pound note.  Tearing the note in two, he handed that gentleman one of the halves, with a promise to give him the other portion upon arrival in Boston, providing they were given a little consideration. According to Patrick’s own words, the trip was not bad after that, and he fulfilled his part of the bargain with the officer.

That practically penniless immigrant had come alone.  He knew no one in Boston and all that he had was on his back.  But he was rich in other resources, a willingness to get down to hard, humble work at any job he could find.  Then came the big day when he got a job laying granite blocks and swinging a pick and shovel in the narrow, alley-like, cobblestone streets of Boston.

He made use of that great American right – free enterprise – and in a few years Patrick was the head of a large and growing business.  He was known as one who made good in the big league of America’s builders, and became one of the wealthy men of our country.

Patrick McGovern climbed to the top the hard way.  The years 1892 to 1896 were bitter for him, but he weathered them and during that time became a full-fledged granite block paver.  Having been born with large, capable hands, and a quick brain to guide them, he readily demonstrated his skill by turning out a prodigious amount of work.  Of all the pavers around Boston there was only one other who could lay as many or more granite blocks in a nine-hour day than master craftsman McGovern.

The year of 1895 found the Boston Transit Commission busy building its first tube.  This was in fact the very first underground subway constructed for transit transportation in the United States.  That project was being handled by the Commission with its own forces under the direction of Howard A. Carson, Chief Engineer, with a young man at his side by the name of Charles R. Gow, Resident Engineer.  The reins of night superintendent rested firmly in the capable hands of Arthur E. Weaving, with Charles J. McCarty as timekeeper, office accountant and general factotum.

Lady luck sometimes does a better job of arranging destinies than she gets credit for, as is best illustrated by the following story often told by Charles R. Gow.  One morning Superintendent Weaving asked Resident Engineer Gow to engage a paver.  He was to report on the job at 7:00 that night for the handling of a street job in the vicinity of Scollay Square-a hurry job in order that a stretch of street might be opened to traffic.

Mr. Gow, a very busy young man, proceeded to forget all about this request until it suddenly popped back into his mind about 5:30.  Remembering that the superintendent could blister with a hot tongue in two languages, he was scared pink.  Further, he had a personal dread of offending Mr. Weaving because he was ardently wooing the hand of his daughter (who subsequently became Mrs. Gow).  About that time, as Charlie’s brow was fur­ rowing in perplexity, he happened to glance across the square.

For a moment he could only stare, then he caught his breath, as he beheld a powerfully built young man carrying a paving hammer across his shoulder.  The man turned out to be Patrick McGovern, en route home in South Boston after finishing a day’s work laying blocks. Asked if he was a paver, McGovern confidently replied: “I am, and a very good one.”

Whereupon Engineer Gow arranged for him and two other pavers to report for 7:00 work that night.  Their services proved to be so satisfactory to both Messrs. Weaving and Gow that Patrick’s crew was thereafter engaged to do all patch paving work over the complete subway structure.

Those were days when pavers were subject to call any­ time, much of their work having to be done at various hours during the night.  In a short time, Chief Clerk McCarty conceived the idea that it would greatly expedite the work if the paving could be handled at so much per square yard.  However, when Mr. Gow first approached Patrick with such a plan, he promptly turned it down because of his complete satisfaction with his 55-5/9t per hour, plus the fact that his co-workers were also being paid on the same basis.

That was the prevailing paver’s wage in Boston at that time-$5 per day for nine hours work.  After several conferences Mr. Gow finally prevailed on Pat to give the square yard basis a trial, with the understanding that he and his men did not make as much, they could return to the hourly basis.  It is interesting to remember that those men might report on the job or return home at any hour of the night, and that their daily wage was a flat rate, for “double time” or “premium time” simply did not exist.

Patrick McGovern little realized on that very day when he consented to lay those granite blocks on this new payment plan, that another great American builder was being born, for after several months on the square yard basis his unquenchable ambition to get ahead so overcame all timidity that he hung up his paving hammer, and never again worked for day wages.  Henceforth he was all wrapped up in the challenge of getting substantial things built in the quickest and most efficient way.

The friendship of these men – McCarty, Gow and Weaving- endured for over a quarter of a century until the passing of Mr. McGovern.  All of them had a hand in framing Patrick’s bid on his first real job. Never a single one of them ever hesitated to sing McGovern’s praises both as a man and as an outstanding contractor.  McCarty joined his organization and stayed with him for about ten years; Mr. Gow became his Chief Engineer in the building of Section C of the East Boston Tunnel, and Arthur E. (Ned) Weaving took over the super­intendency on the same project.

For the next two- or three-years Patrick kept busy on the Tremont Street Subway, doing the restoration pavement work at a price per square yard.  On this he prospered beyond his fondest dreams.  As that work drew to a close, he looked around for some time trying to find other jobs of a similar nature.



The love of adventure must have gotten in his blood about now for it sent him forth to join the stampede of fortune hunters into the great, gold-mad Northland.  That was no place for a softie, as he worked his way as a barge hand, but his wiry constitution enabled him to handle sacks of sugar with which the barge was loaded, at top speed, without weariness. However, he long remembered the bitter cold and the painful lacerations suffered by his hands from shouldering those sacks of frozen sugar.  There, in the Klondike, he sought to wring wealth out of that Alaskan storehouse, but his hectic days in the booming gold camp quickly passed without rewarding him with fortune; but he had a grand time, made expenses, and brought back a world of experience.

City Tunnel No.2
City Tunnel No.2



In those early days, Patrick McGovern called at the office of the United States Fidelity & Guaranty Company in Boston, of which the late Mr. T. J. Falvey was manager. Pat’s name was signed to a small contract that re­quired a bond of $500.00.

That performance bond was for the lull amount of the contract, and all that Patrick could muster as assets were “a horse, cart and small shed, along with a few hand shovels and picks.”  However, he made such a favourable impression upon Mr. Falvey that the bond was written, and the contract was concluded successfully.  Recognizing the character and ability of his client, Mr. Falvey continued to render service as needed, on other small jobs that followed.

It is interesting to note that the contract bond rate of that day was $3.50 per $1,000 on the contract price up to $100,000.  That was at a time, too, when Mr. Falvey’s company confined its business strictly to the bonding field and did not write casualty coverage.  If you have memories of that far away period, you’ll recall that there was no such thing as Workmen’s Compensation, that accident frequency was excessive.  Nobody enjoyed the assurance that comes from safety, as the safety-first movement had not caught on. Therefore, if a builder carried risk insurance at all, he had to be satisfied with the protection afforded by “Employer’s Liability” as that was practically the only policy written in those times.

When Patrick McGovern commenced getting bigger jobs, he was resourceful enough to protect same with this Employer’s Liability, the annual premium for which was but $50 and he paid $10 per year for his Public Liability policy.  The limits in both cases seemed amply high for the times – five and ten thousand dollars.

City Tunnel No. 2
Negotiating a curve in City Water Tunnel No. 2 just south of Hillview Reservoir on May 24, 1932. Construction of the entire tunnel, from Yonkers to south Brooklyn, lasted from 1929 through 1935. It then became the primary means of water delivery for Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.


Late in 1898, seven years alter walking down the gang­ plank in Boston, with the assistance of Charles J. Mc­ Carty, Patrick managed to procure his first contract on competitive bidding. It called for the paving of Webster Avenue, in the city of Somerville, a suburb of Boston. However, it was only after considerable difficulty that he was able to convince the Somerville city fathers that he was competent and able to satisfactorily perform their $3,236.54 contract.  The award was finally made and the association between McGovern and McCarty continued until 1910.

In a matter of months McGovern landed another contract with the city of Somerville.  That second job called for the paving of Washington Street, Tufts Street to the Boston Line.  Its total was $4,053.57.  A “reserve” of $212.46 was held back for a period of ten months after completion.  The 110,000 paving blocks required for the job were furnished by S. and R. J. Lombard at a cost of $49 per thousand, and this number laid an area of 4,442 square yards. In connection with the paving, 1,350 square feet of granite flagging were laid, 1,778 linear feet of edge stones reset, and 1,967 square yards of brick sidewalk re-laid.



On May 6, 1901, McGovern’s figures of $64,888.50 and $6l,161.69, submitted the Metropolitan Water and Sewer Board, were low on two separate portions of the Weston Aqueduct.  This was the cut and cover type of construction, about ten feet in diameter and 4,150 arl.d 4,155 feet in length respectively.  Horses and men handled this work, all the concrete being hand mixed; and work began at daylight and continued till dark, six days per week.  The men got in 14 and 15 hours per day and were paid straight time – nobody had ever heard of time and a half for overtime.


Weston Aqueduct
Weston Aqueduct

The maximum force employed on one of these projects was 120 men and 18 horses, and for the other, 72 men and 11 horses.  McGovern worked at a fast pace, completing these contracts about one year ahead of schedule. He was highly commended for the construction methods employed and particularly for the finished product.  Built more than fifty years ago, this Aqueduct is still in first class operating condition.  It was located about twenty-five miles out of Boston.  After its completion he returned to the city and was successful bidder on many small contracts for the next couple of years.



Patrick was low bidder on the Ash Street sewer relocation job in Boston.  His bid thereon was in excess of $200,000 and covered work preparatory to the building of the Washington Street Tunnel.  When those bids were tabulated on the morning of the letting, it developed that Pat McGovern was low, the obstacles were many – his bid figures as well as the risks-looked pretty formidable, and there was some question as to his ability to handle the job. But there was no doubt in Pat’s mind, for he felt boundlessly sure of himself.

Perhaps no contractor ever learned earlier than Mc­ Govern how the profits in that business depended on quick performance.  He took pride in the perfection of his work, and his determination to give the buyer a good job was early recognized in the construction world.
In submitting bid on this Ash Street project, he had made inquiry of a broker as to the cost of protecting same with liability insurance.  The rate had been increased and the premium seemed awfully stiff so that he told the broker, “I’ll be d – – – – if I will pay that much for insurance.”

However, the agent, feeling assured that he would want coverage even at the advanced rate, went ahead and placed the insurance.  It was a break for McGovern that he did, for before the job had been going two days, the broker’s phone rang with urgency.  McGovern on the other end of the line, sorrowfully reported that one of his workmen had met violent death.  Patrick was so overjoyed in learning of his protection that he had great difficulty in expressing his thanks. In sharp contrast to today’s death settlements, that claim was taken care of in due time upon payment of around $3,500.



The city of Boston started construction of Section C of its East Boston Tunnel.  The work was being handled on a force account basis with Gow and Foss.  Arthur Weaving (better known as Ned) was again in charge as superintendent.  In the forepart of 1903, the city decided to take competitive bids for the completion of this project, calling for bids to be in by January 20th.

City Tunnel No.2, Section 1
City Tunnel No.2, Section 1

Pat McGovern was a very busy man, studying every phase of the proposed work.  He made many a recon­naissance trip to this Section C. Mr. Gow turned him over to one of his young assistants with instructions to show McGovern every detail of the work; to take him in through the air lock and up to the shield, thus affording him every opportunity to see what was going on, and to give him any and all information he might desire.  On one of these inspection trips McGovern was accompanied by a competing contractor by the name of Harry Nawn.  This gentleman insisted on making a most minute ex­amination of the old granite stone buildings that lined State Street on each side.

As they trudged along together, Mr. McGovern pointed out the many cracks in these old buildings, taking the position that they might have been caused by the tunnel’s construction, and suggested that the underpinning of those structures would prove to be a very expensive item.

When the bids were read, Nawn proceeded to upbraid McGovern when he saw his figures, asking “Pat, did you forget about that underpinning, how could you bid such a price on it?” McGovern’s reply was “Go on, Harry, every crack in those buildings is older than your grandfather.”

As they returned from the letting McGovern was wagged a little by competitors, some of whom wanted to know when he planned to open the big compressed air job.  His reply was, “I’ll start Monday morning just as soon as the contract is signed.”  This he did, and as usual took off in high gear, finishing the contract far ahead of its completion date, and again was complimented by the engineers of the Transit Commission.

That Section C extended under State Street from near Atlantic Avenue to a point about the middle of India Street and tunnelled from the latter street easterly as far as the westerly end of the proposed passenger station at the foot of State Street under Atlantic Avenue.

Just before this contract was holed through, on May 28, 1903, the compressed air blew out through a sand vein in the north drift of the tunnel.  Two men were blown into the roof and their bodies were never recovered.

The next morning the contract was a deplorable looking sight.  A crack appeared in the centre of the arch which was 40 ft. 5 in. between the sidewalls.  The arch in the station area was cracked from one end to the other and a sheet of water formed a veritable curtain from the roof to the invert.

Naturally there was considerable comment from the men in the tunnel and envious eyes scanning Patrick’s predicament were freely asking what he would do next, firm in their belief that his sun had set.  On the contractor’s grapevine predictions were made that when the arch was repaired McGovern would never again be heard from as a contractor.

At 10:30 a.m. Chief Engineer Howard A. Carson arrived on the work.  After a thorough inspection he re-marked: “Well, I guess it’s gone as far as it will go, you’ll have to shut that water off,” all of which caused both Gow and McGovern to heave a big sigh of relief.  Within a short time, all water had been successfully grouted and the crack was thoroughly sealed.

This tube has now been in service more than half a century and no further resulting damage has developed from the crack that occurred after the blowout, thus vindicating Carson’s judgement at the time.  Another interesting feature was the fact that the Carson report of June 30, 1903 to the Transit Commission made no mention of that crack in the arch.  The report stated, “No damage was done.”



McGovern moved along from the East Tunnel job to Sections 1 and 2 of the Washington Street Subway, which were let to him on November 17, 1904.  This contract ran from the southerly side of Eliot and Kneeland Streets to the northerly side of Boylston Street.  This contract was also successfully completed, but not before another close call had been made against the fortunes of McGovern.

A portion of that subway had to be holed out under a four-story brick building, one end of which was supported by needle beams on blocking.  The other end rested on the subway wall, which had been placed in a sheeted trench.  The night foreman, pulling a boner, knocked out about a dozen props and all the bracing collapsed.

For a day and a night, it was “touch and go” whether the building wall resting on the needle beams would collapse into the excavation.  However, after 24 hours of gruelling work the shoring was caught up.  The building wall itself had not settled over one-fourth inch.

Ripened to his responsibilities by such experiences, Mc-Govern became meticulously careful in all his operations.  He continued in the construction business in the vicinity of Boston until 1908 when he took a large size contract for the City of Montreal, Canada, which was successfully completed even though it was built outside the United States.



As Patrick McGovern’s reputation grew apace, it was found that he had outgrown Boston, and broader fields offered by New York attracted him.  Alter obtaining a number of small contracts there, he built, in 1912, a great section of the Lexington Avenue extension of the Interborough Rapid Transit Eastside Subway line.  The speed and efficiency of this work attracted such attention in that great city that he was given additional sections of that project to build, later having been called on to construct New York State’s Barge Canal.

While those New York jobs were under way Boston employed him for the construction of twin tunnels under Fort Point Channel, a rather large, tough assignment – a subaqueous tunnel built under air pressure.  That Irish contractor was being recognized as a master digger. His long suit, if one was to be picked, was undoubtedly a natural instinct to burrow in the ground with his human moles.

As will be noted, Patrick McGovern had a big hand in building New York City’s “Hole in the ground,” the most famous subway system in the world.  He was just winding up construction on Boston’s twin tunnels when he was awarded the job of burrowing out the Sixtieth Street Twin Tunnels, to be used by the B.M.T. under East River.  That was not only considered one of the most difficult in the entire tunnel system of that city, but was also a war-time undertaking in the days when many other contractors were falling down on their commitments because of the sharp demand for higher wages.  However, the “boss,” as nearly everyone in New York referred to McGovern, went successfully through such construction difficulties as quicksand and unsettled labour conditions.



In 1924 he was awarded the biggest job ever tackled by him up to that time.  It was the $26,000,000 Philadelphia Subway.  Then came the work of connecting Long Island with the New York tunnel system.  His last big Boston job was the foundation for a $3-million Army Base in South Boston.

Other contracts which Pat assumed were the Fourteenth Street Subway link of the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit System; and live sections of the Broad Street sub-way in Philadelphia, built at a cost of $14,000,000.



Applying the McGovern scientific methods, Patrick was able to complete the subway from Fifty-third Street and Eighth Avenue to Queens with such speed that the tunnel was ready nearly two years ahead of schedule, enabling him to take down his $22,000,000 while the city was paying interest on the capital lying in the ground.  During that construction he set many records.  The river section of the tunnel was started at both ends, his crews affecting a perfect meeting within a fraction of an inch.



In 1928 Patrick McGovern signed a contract which on completion aggregated $46,193,349.89 and was said to be the largest award ever made a single contractor.
That project was to double the supply of pure Catskill water needed to quench the thirst of our greatest metropolis, New York City.  The tunnel and shafts of that project totalling 22 miles, passed under rapid transit sub-ways, under the deep foundations of the city’s huge skyscrapers, under railroad tunnels, under East River and Harlem River, coming to the surface again in Brooklyn.

In order to handle that project economically and efficiently, McGovern invested $2,000,000 in plant.  First, he wanted power shovels that would meet conditions to be found while working in a 19 loot tube hundreds of feet below the surface.  He wanted a shovel that would require a minimum of maintenance, and one that would be capable of a 24-hour hard grind per day over a period of years.  Many different types of shovels were considered but it remained for the Osgood Shovel engineers to come up with the design that seemed to best meet his needs.

City Tunnel No.7
City Tunnel No.7

Since that work was to follow the same general lines that prevailed in mining, he bought 16 Electric Mine Hoists and 62 Mine Locomotives, all of which were built by the General Electric Company.  As the removal of muck was to be hauled through the tunnels to the hoists, seven-ton storage mine locomotives were ordered to assure its speedy disposal.  Four hundred h.p. synchronous motor driven compressors furnished air for the compressors and shovels.

One-eighth of a mile below the streets of New York City three thousand men worked ’round the clock while the city’s millions toiled, sought pleasure, and slept over-head.  That great hole, burrowed through solid rock, was concrete lined to outlast the Roman Aqueducts.  For the underwater section, compressed air, with a pressure as high as forty pounds to the square inch, kept the water from entering while McGovern’s “sand hogs” did their digging. That work went forward throughout the day and night and was carried on by four daily shifts.

Mr. McGovern took great satisfaction in that significant and historic occasion in March ’32 when Mayor Walker “holed through” with a blast of dynamite in a shaft located at 233rd Street and Brownwood, marking what was practically the finish of one of the greatest water tunnels in the world.  This was to be his last contract, and Mr. McGovern died before its completion was finally certified.  However, with the best in tools and equipment of that day, and crews second to none, the organization, under Jack MacDonald, continued the McGovern pace and that contract was finished a whole year ahead of its deadline. Fabulous McGovern had received contracts for subway jobs aggregating $175,000,000.



Perhaps it was the spirit and sparkle of his eyes, but whatever it was, this great builder of America had established a credit rating that made bankers willing to loan him $10,000,000 at a crack.  One of his close friends was Mr. Albert Wiggins, president of the country’s biggest bank, the Chase National, a financial genius in whom Mr. McGovern had the highest regard.

Back in the years when the market was riding high and stock hungry people were falling all over themselves to invest, Pat went to Mr. Wiggins for advice on investments. “If I were you,” said Mr. Wiggins, “I would invest my money in McGovern.”  And following that advice Mr. McGovern missed the late of thousands of rich men who went broke following that autumn day of 1929 when the stock market plunged into the cellar.  Then followed the black years of the 30’s when the bottom fell out of American business and there seemed to be too much of everything except jobs and pay cheques.

Many of us have vivid memories of how the skies throughout the land were overcast with doubt and of how we contractors were hard hit.  But Patrick McGovern held fast to that vital ingredient that always goes with success.  He never wavered in his wholehearted confidence and enthusiasm that the sun would break through the clouds and shine again, and here’s what he had to say about those troubled days:

“We haven’t begun to touch the sources of prosperity in this country.  You can’t stop the people of this nation.  We are going through a temporary lull and readjustment, possibly because we are moving too fast and headed in the wrong direction.  In a few years this depression will be nothing but a dim memory.  The man who is not willing to bet his last dollar on the future of America has no place in this country.  If we keep on digging, we will soon see the light at the end of the dark tunnel.”

Patrick McGovern was a giant in a country that has and is still growing giants in the construction industry.  He seemed to have an uncanny ability to correctly estimate quantities and costs by merely taking a look at the project under consideration.  One of his remembered characteristics was getting there, for when he started a project never a minute was wasted every piece of equipment must be on the job at the right time, thereby precluding any possible delay between the different operations.

His men never let him down, and he zealously reciprocated their loyalty.  He continued to the very last his practice of being on the job before his labourers reported, checking every detail, and there he stuck until after the whistle blew, unless needed elsewhere.  It was said of him that when the digging was toughest and most hazardous, you’d always find him underground in the danger zones and especially whenever there was a bit of perilous “shooting” to be done.  There he remained with his workmen until the job was completed. Among hard rock he was considered an outstanding expert, and his judgement was said to be almost infallible.

Cross Bay Bridge
Cross Bay Bridge


Col. Charles R. Gow was always impressed with Pat’s absolute honesty, and sterling qualities.  Woven into the very warp and woof of that character was a deep devotion to his friends.  That was even more noticeable in later life when he seemed to find delight in helping many an old crony who had not advanced as well as he had.

The story is told of how in his desire to rescue a fellow contractor from a tight spot – a close personal friend who had aided him at the beginning al his career – he became responsible for the completion of the causeway over Jamica Bay.  That friend, far over his depth, struggled in vain with construction and financial problems, and was going in the hole every day.  When Patrick heard of his plight he went to his old friend and offered, even at a considerable personal sacrifice, to take the contract off his hands.

Patrick McGovern brought to that job a capacity for untangling difficult construction problems.  His ability to work magic with such situations not only pulled the project out of the hole, but saved his friend from embarrassment and almost certain ruin.  At the same time, he broke one of New York City’s traffic bottlenecks by the opening of a broad, new passageway extending to the Rockaways and spanning the waters and meadows of Jamica Bay.

There were many other incidents of his loyalty.  It was said that on one occasion, early in his career as a contractor, Mr. McGovern had found himself temporarily short of funds as he was about to begin an important contract.  It was necessary for him to obtain a supply of cement immediately, yet every cement concern he approached, except one, refused him credit.  The agent for one company, J. P. O’Connell, took what he no doubt considered a gambling chance, and filled his order. Patrick McGovern never forgot it.

Thereafter, he purchased all his cement requirements from that agent, regardless of where the contract might be located – Boston, Philadelphia or Canada, thus making O’Connell a wealthy man.

As stated heretofore, Mr. McGovern’s first performance bond was written by Mr. T. J. Falvey, who at the time was New England manager for the U.S.F. & G. Company.  Later, when Mr. Falvey organized his own surety concern, the Massachusetts Bonding and Insurance Company, Mr. McGovern was steady as a plough horse in his unswerving loyalty and continued to favour him and his company with all his surety business.  Mr. Falvey’s only complaint was that Pat eventually amassed such a sizeable fortune that he would frequently deposit United States Government securities for the full amount of the obligation with the owner in lieu of the customary performance bond.



“Patrick McGovern,” said his old boss, Col. Charles R. Gow, “was a man born in circumstances of the modest sort and was sharply limited as far as formal educational training was concerned.  But he had plenty of the informal kind.”

Few men of his day and generation proved themselves in such a broad field of construction as did Patrick McGovern.  In fact, he was a born engineer and was internationally respected for his engineering know-how.  He was so gracious in the way which was his peculiar talent that he won the fond affection of engineer graduates from the world’s greatest technical institutions, as they continued to come to him for advice.  He was once described by the late Professor Swain of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as “the greatest engineer I ever met.”  He was a mystery to the engineering profession – a man without education who could successfully carry out projects that would stump the college-trained experts.

The late Jack S. MacDonald, who at the time of his death was vice-president of the Walsh Construction Company, New York City, told of how he started out with the McGovern outfit as a lad of 16 while attending Dartmouth College, learning the construction business during vacation and after graduation.  In later years, when the concern became Patrick McGovern, Inc., Jack Mac-Donald served as its chief engineer and vice-president and continued as such until the passing of his old boss in 1933 and liquidation of the company.

Mr. McGovern had stipulated in his last will and testament that his company wind up its affairs upon his passing.

Mr. MacDonald was indeed one of Patrick’s right-hand men during construction of New York’s water tunnel.  Said he, “Patrick McGovern was a wonderful man and being associated with him was a great privilege and inspiration to me.”

City Tunnel No. 2
City Tunnel No. 2, 27th May 1932



When their life was young, on April 17, 1898, a ceremony united Patrick McGovern and Mary McCallery in marriage.  That home was blessed with three children – bright-eyed, pretty young girls.

Mary married S. W. Ruisseau, Alice became Mrs. Alice Gallagher, and Helen became the wile of Hugh V. Roden.  Nine grandchildren became Patrick McGovern’s constant source of joy.


Pat the Glanman on holiday in Ireland
“Pat the Glanman” on holiday in Ireland


Apart from his business, Mr. McGovern’s life centred in his home, where he found great happiness in the association and companionship of his loved ones.  He regarded money as of “no value except to build things with, so that man may be engaged in overcoming obstacles of life.”  But the Lord blessed him with a lot of it, and he was a good example of the “stewardship” theory of wealth.

He gave unostensively to charities and became one of the best known laymen of the Catholic Church in America, a devout and true believer, and his many magnificent gilts to his Church were made in a most humble spirit.  Indeed, their full extent was never known, because he did not care to reveal them.

He was a member of St. Aloysious’ Roman Catholic Church at Great Neck, Long Island.  He was also a member of the Holy Name Society and the Knights of Columbus and was twice honoured by the Pope in recognition of his services to the faith.

Fortune bequeathed to Patrick McGovern only about 63 years, but he used them well and they were a harvest of rich years, building a stronger and better America.  His conspicuous and active career ended suddenly Feb. 22, 1933, when he was called in death at his home, “Harbor Knoll,” Long Island – a victim of a haemorrhage of the brain.

The reward of that great American builder was the realization and achievement of rather a large part of a universal plan, which included his own life.


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