Part of Troeger’s drawing for the Burton Street Bridge, on US-131 in Grand Rapids
Being a farm boy from Iowa did not stop Philip Theodore Troeger (1889-1976) from designing highways. Troeger’s Michigan highway career actually began in Chicago, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree from the School of Agriculture, University of Illinois at Chicago in 1916. Troeger combined landscape gardening with civil engineering when he studied at the Lewis Institute (one of the schools that later became the Illinois Institute of Technology). By 1930, Troeger had left the Windy City for Detroit. At first, Troeger supported his wife, Harriet, and son, John, by working as a salesman. Luckily, by 1933, he was able to switch to his chosen avocation – landscape architecture – by joining the staff of the State Highway Department.
While working for the State, Troeger applied to be registered as a civil engineer in Michigan. His first two attempts, made in 1939, were denied by the State Board of Registration for Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. While the board considered him a landscape architect of high caliber, members did not believe that he qualified as a civil engineer. It was suggested that he reapply for registration as a land surveyor. The following year, Troeger ignored their advice and reapplied as a civil engineer. He prevailed and was registered as a professional civil engineer on March 20, 1940.
Registered or not, Troeger successfully designed rural and urban highways for the State from 1933 until 1959. He also drafted project specifications for roadside parks and information stations along Michigan’s highways. Not much is known about Troeger during his time in Lansing. Luckily for us, we do have a collection of his pen and ink drawings of proposed highway projects. The Design Division of the Michigan Department of Transportation transferred approximately 125 Troeger drawings to the Archives of Michigan in 1988. This architectural record documents expressway bridges, interchanges and overpasses. The communities documented vary from urban areas like Detroit to small towns like Holland. What I like about Troeger’s drawings are the intricate details: roads built amid rolling landscapes, buildings and railroad tracks; cars and trucks barreling down the highways; ships navigating the rivers.