W. Calhoun Smith

1915 to 1985
Engineering Geology

W. Calhoun SmithWilliam Calhoun Smith, known to his associates as “Calhoun,” was born in South Carolina. He earned his A.B. and M.A. degrees in 1938 and 1940, respectively, from University of Missouri. During the next year he was an instructor in geology at the University of Missouri. From 1941 to 1952, except for two years (1946 to 1948) spent teaching at the University of Tennessee, Calhoun served as an engineering geologist with the Little Rock District Corps of Engineers on the Norfolk Dam and other projects in Missouri. He then joined the Engineering Geology and Topographic Mapping Section of the Illinois State Geological Survey in 1952 under George E. Ekblaw and completed his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Illinois in 1961. Calhoun's doctoral thesis used engineering compaction principles to provide glacial geologists a more precise determination for thickness of glacial ice.

From 1963 until his retirement in 1978, Calhoun directed the work of the Survey's Engineering Geology and Topographic Mapping Section. In addition to his contributions to the engineering geology program of the State, he was active in the Illinois cooperative topographic mapping program with the U.S. Geological Survey. He established visionary programs to ensure that topographic maps were up-to-date, especially during years of rapid development in Illinois. Maps were selected for updating by coordinating the needs of Illinois industries such as road construction, oil and gas, and mining. Calhoun maintained a close relationship with Illinois Registered Land Surveyors, and he worked to provide current U.S. Geological Survey benchmark data files.

In 1965, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner called on the Illinois State Water and Geological Surveys for comprehensive information relative to Illinois sites proposed for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's planned National Accelerator Laboratory, a 200-billion-electron-volt "atom smasher." Under Calhoun's direction, Engineering Geology selected, among others, a site near Batavia, west of Chicago, which was ultimately selected for the $300-million installation from among more than 200 sites in other states. Batavia now is home to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, known as Fermilab.

Calhoun's previous experience as a professor at the University of Tennessee and his training in engineering geology with the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Missouri enabled him to identify suitable sites for construction of lakes in the state. He led a statewide research program that provided counties with appropriate sites for lakes. In 1975, Calhoun joined with Richard Dahlberg of Northern Illinois University to establish the Illinois Mapping Advisory Committee, which identified the immediate mapping needs to build Illinois interstate highways.

At the Survey, Calhoun was known as "Mr. PC" for his insistence that all previous correspondence be checked before responding to requests for information. He believed that the people of Illinois deserved a uniform, complete, and accurate response. He also clearly understood the need for all Survey staff to work as a team. In retirement, Calhoun provided unselfish assistance to his fellow senior citizens.

Honored by: 
Paul B. and Dollie DuMontelle
Citation Contributed by: 
Myrna M. Killey
Based on or verbatim from unpublished notes of Paul Du Montelle and Smith's 1985 AIn Memoriam