The Name Holzmacher & Long Island Water Resources A Three Generation Connection

The year was 1922. Henry G. “Gus” Holzmacher had just completed one year as a civil engineer with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Rail Road, his first professional job after graduating from Cooper Union. He was about to start an engineering assignment with the Consulting Engineering firm of Fuller and McClintock, one of the major sanitary engineering firms in the United States.

For the next few years young Holzmacher traveled extensively, overseeing the installation of the city sewer system in Reading, Pennsylvania, the public water system in Katonah, New York, and the city sewer system in Glen Cove, Long Island. During the construction of the Glen Cove system, Holzmacher enjoyed the luxury of commuting from his new home in Central Park (now Bethpage), Long Island, where he had moved with his widowed mother from the Bronx. He also met the girl “down the road”, Grace E. Leslie, whom he wooed and soon wed. He was not looking forward to leaving Long Island on his next assignment, so he readily accepted an offer in 1927 from Sydney B. Bowne, Consulting Engineer of Mineola, to supervise the installation of the original sewer system for the hamlet of Oyster Bay, Long Island. During this same year, his son Robert G. “Bob”, was born. Gus continued in the employ of Sydney Bowne until 1933, and upon completion of the sewer project he worked on projects for the Jericho Water District and several other Long Island water districts. During this period he attended engineering graduate school in the evening and in 1929 was awarded an advanced Civil Engineer degree from Cooper Union. In 1932 he obtained his license as a land surveyor and, one year later, was licensed as a professional engineer.

As the great depression deepened, engineering and construction were particularly hard hit and, in 1933, Gus Holzmacher was out of a job along with millions of others. He shortly ran for and was elected as a water commissioner in Central Park. He was elected by his co-commissioners to be Chairman and he held this position for the next twenty one years, serving for much of this time with fellow commissioners Albert A. Lang and Sal J. Greco Sr. He retired from the Water Board in 1951 to become the consulting engineer for the District.

Being a part time water commissioner was never a way to make a living. In those difficult days, commissioners rarely would consider having more than two meetings a month, at a stipend of ten dollars each per meeting. So after leaving the Bowne firm, Gus obtained a position with the Long Island State Park Commission, which was in the process of building Jones Beach and the Long Island State parkway System. He was assigned as field engineer to oversee the construction of the Goose Creek Bascule Bridge on the Meadowbrook Parkway. During the bitterly cold and snowy winter of 1933-34, he went out to the bridge site each day on a small workboat from a landing in Seaford.

Holzmacher was anxious to get back to his first preference which was public water supply. In 1936 he obtained a position with the Nassau County Department of Public Works, Hydrology Section, under W. Fred Welsh. His first major assignment, along with several other engineers in the Department, was to prepare a water resources report. This was to be used by the County to oppose and refute the application of the City of New York to the State Water Power and Control Commission, to greatly expand the City’s Long Island ground water system, which ran from Valley Stream to Massapequa. The County’s position was upheld in this landmark battle, thus preventing the city from appropriating much of the ground water that today serves the needs of Nassau County.

In 1936, the South Farmingdale Water District retained Gus Holzmacher as Consulting engineer. This District, which had been formed just four years earlier, was mired in controversy, and the new Board wanted a new engineer. Holzmacher served the relatively modest needs of this district on a part time basis for the next eleven years, frequently using his young son Bob as a tape-man, in measuring up pipeline extensions.

As the great depression ended with the buildup for World War II, Holzmacher continued his full time position with the County DPW. He continued to build a part time engineering practice working nights and weekends, frequently using co-worker friends from the DPW. This ended abruptly in August 1944 when Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. retained Holzmacher on an emergency cost-plus contract to provide topographic surveys for enlargement of the runways at the Bethpage facility. He resigned his position with NCDPW and within several weeks had twenty-three full and part time surveyors and engineers on his payroll. But this assignment was completed in less than three months and for the next two years, he subsisted on land surveys, several engineering projects for the Town of Oyster Bay, and a few water distribution system extensions for the South Farmingdale Water District. Much of this was accomplished with one draftsman and several part time surveyors.

By the spring of 1947, growth was beginning in earnest on Long Island, paced by the Levant Organization which was just starting Levittown. Subdivisions started replacing farms as a nineteen-year hiatus in housing construction came to an abrupt end. The South Farmingdale Water District began to grow rapidly and the planning and bidding of water main extensions became a full time activity. By 1951, the District, which up to then purchased all it’s water wholesale from the Bethpage Water District and the Village of Farmingdale, would soon need it’s own plant facilities. Gus Holzmacher soon found himself very busy planning plant facilities and transmission mains for both South Farmingdale and Bethpage. Holzmacher moved his office, which had been in his home in Bethpage since he had started his part time business in 1933, to Hicksville. It was situated in a single room above Sausmer’s Hardware Store on Broadway. In the meantime, he purchased an old home in an area zoned for business, at 66 West Marie Street. As soon as the house could be made suitable as an office, the move was made to the new address.

In June, 1951, Gus’s son, Robert G. (Bob) graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute with a degree in civil engineering. Bob originally intended going to work for his father upon graduation but his father strongly suggested that he go out to get a few years experience with another employer before joining the family firm. Bob went to work for the Long Island Water Corp. in Lynbrook where he worked as Assistant Engineer under Chief Engineer Samuel C. McLendon. For the next two years he worked with Sam McLendon on a wide variety of public water supply projects and the two men developed a close professional relationship.

By the summer of 1953, two events were occurring that made it plain to Bob that he had better get actively involved in his father’s firm as soon as possible. One was the rapidly increasing project backlog, coinciding with his father’s failing health. Bob joined his father in August 1953 and immediately took as much pressure off his father as possible. Bob reorganized the four-person office, hired additional personnel, and started catching up with the backlog. He also became active in business development and within eighteen months, in January 1955, had acquired the Plainview Water District as a very rapidly growing new client. He promptly hired long time college classmate Norman E. Murrell as a project engineer. Norman had several years experience with the New York City Board of Water Supply plus a few years with another consulting engineering firm. Eight months later the Hicksville Water District retained the Holzmacher firm which was then known simply as ”H.G. Holzmacher, Consulting Engineer”

The workload increased dramatically with the addition of the two additional water districts. At the same time, Gus Holzmacher’s health continued to decline, with very painful kidney stones in addition to a heart condition, which he had since contracting rheumatic fever as a fourteen year old boy. Early in 1956 Bob received his license to practice professional engineering. Within several months, Gus underwent the long delayed surgery for kidney stones, satisfied that Bob could keep the firm going in the event he did not survive. Happily he made a rapid recovery.

Bob realized during this period that he needed another experienced engineer. As an interim measure he started subcontracting some work to his former boss, Sam McLendon. At the same time he began serious discussions with Sam to convince him to leave his secure position at the Long Island Water Corporation to become a partner with Bob and his father. This culminated in the creation of a new partnership in July, 1956, consisting of Gus, Bob and Sam. The new firm was “H.G. Holzmacher & Associates”. It continued to grow, with the addition of a water analysis laboratory set up by Sam and the addition of the Village of Greenport as a client.

Sam and Bob worked well as a team, not only in performing many engineering assignments, but also in successfully marketing the firm’s capabilities to the Long Island water works industry. In 1957 the South Huntington Water District was added as a client. In the same year Bob was awarded the degree of Master of Civil Engineering From Polytechnic Institute, having attended the school evenings since his graduation in 1951.

In 1958 the Village of Farmingdale became a client. In 1959 the firm purchased the assets of the firm of Barker and Wheeler and in the process added the Dix Hills, St. James and Smithtown Water Districts plus the Port Jefferson Sewer District as clients. During this same period the firm was retained to engineer a major enlargement of the East Farmingdale Water District. In the summer of 1960 the firm moved into its new custom designed office building at 500 Broad Hollow Road in Melville. At about the same time, Bob’s first son, James Robert (Bob Jr.) was born. Gus was extremely pleased to have a grandson to carry on the family name and the day of Bob’s christening in October was a happy family occasion. Two months later, Gus took great pride in presiding at the dedication of the company’s new office building, with more than one hundred Long Island water works officials and industry leaders in attendance.

Ironically Gus’s pride and happiness was to be relatively short lived. Less than three months later, after a very cold winter in which he was confined at home for weeks at a time, Gus suffered a fatal heart attack one night shortly after arriving home from a Hicksville Water District meeting. Not long before this, Gus, Bob and Sam had discussed the desirability of admitting Norman Murrell as a partner. Within several months after Gus Holzmacher’s death, Norman was admitted and the firm name was changed to “Holzmacher McLendon and Murrell.”

By this time the firm had become known as one of the top civil/sanitary engineering firms on Long Island. In 1962, the Village of Bayville retained the firm to design the Village’s first water plant facilities. In 1963 the Oyster Bay Water District became a client and in 1965 the Oyster Bay Sewer District became a client. That same year, the firm was retained for it’s most important project up to that time, the preparation of the first Comprehensive Public Water Supply Study of Suffolk County. That study and report, together with an accompanying major test well program, was to occupy almost all the time of Bob Holzmacher and his project team for the next five years. At the same time, Sam McLendon was similarly occupied directing the preparation of elements of the Nassau County Comprehensive Water Supply Study that had been subcontracted to the firm. In 1970, the firm restructured as a professional corporation as soon as this was legalized in New York State.

The firm, which had become quite well known by it’s acronym, H2M, continued to grow and to diversify through the 1970’s and 1980’s, including an increasing number of environmental remediation projects for industry and major environmental aspects of a proposed resource recovery facility for the Towns of Huntington and Babylon. In 1984, Bob Jr. joined the firm as a staff engineer. He had obtained his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1982 and spent the ensuing two years in the Cornell University Graduate School of Civil Engineering studying ground water hydrology. He subsequently moved through the ranks at H2M, working on increasingly important projects for the firm and soon became a project engineer.

By 1978, the firm had completely outgrown its headquarters at 500 Broad Hollow Road, and was renting in several other locations. The building was sold in that same year and for the next nine years the firm relied completely on rented space. In 1987 its real estate affiliate purchased a building at 575 Broad Hollow Road in which it had been renting space. After an extensive rebuilding, the building became the headquarters of the firm, housing all except the New Jersey branch personnel.

In 1991, after protracted negotiations with the younger associates in the firm, Bob Holzmacher, Sam McLendon and Norm Murrell retired after 38, 35 and 36 years respectively, with the firm. Bob Jr. was one of the younger engineers to become a stockholder in the firm at that time. For the second time in six decades a generational transition had taken place. Bob Jr. stayed with the firm for several more years but, perceiving cultural and attitudinal changes in the organization, he decided he did not want to spend the remainder of his professional career there. In 1995, he resigned and during the next four years worked at several other consulting engineering firms. In the spring of 1999, he started his own consulting engineering firm and quickly became established in the Long Island water resources industry. For the third consecutive generation, a Holzmacher was once again heading a water resources engineering firm on Long Island.

Robert G. Holzmacher
December 1999