Highway Department History
Commissioners of Highways
The Town of Tonawanda was incorporated in 1836 and the first meeting of the Town Board was held on April 4, 1837. At that time there was no such office as superintendent of highways. The Highway Department was run by a group of three separately elected commissioners of highways. These individuals were elected to staggered four-year terms. The election for one of the seats was held every two years, much like the way we elect United States senators. The first commissioners in 1837 were John Simson, William Best and William Zimmerman.
Past Superintendents of Highways
The Office of Superintendent of Highways was created in 1905. The first Town of Tonawanda superintendent of highways was Philip A. Landel. He served from January 1, 1906 to November of 1913. He was succeeded by DeWitt C. Zimmerman. Superintendent Zimmerman served from November 1913 to December 31, 1921. On January 1, 1922, Fred Ebling became superintendent of highways. He served from January 1, 1922 to December 31, 1925. The next superintendent set the record for longest term in office. His name was Henry J. DeWitt. His record term was from January 1, 1926 to December 31, 1949.
All of these men were voting members of the Town Board
until January 1, 1934, when a change in state law removed them from the Town Board.
Superintendent DeWitt won election to the Office of Town Supervisor in 1949 and his department clerk, Russell G. Corrie, succeeded him on January 1, 1950. Superintendent Corrie served from January 1, 1950 to December 31, 1969. On January 1, 1970, Paul F. Babcock, who had been Corrie’s deputy, took office. He served from January 1, 1970 through February 5, 1982 when he suffered a massive heart attack and died in office. No doubt under the saddest circumstances ever, Deputy Superintendent of Highways Roger D. McClean took the oath of office on March 1, 1982. Mr. McClean served until December 31,1989. In November of 1989, in one of the closest elections ever, 23-year department employee John G. Hedges was elected to succeed the retiring Roger McClean. On January 1, 1990, Mr. Hedges was sworn in as the eighth Town of Tonawanda superintendent of highways. He was reelected in 1993, 1997 and 2001. Superintendent Hedges passed away on August 5, 2003. On August 25, 2011 the Town of Tonawanda Town Board appointed Bradley A. Rowles as Superintendent of Highways. Mr. Rowles was elected in a Special Election in 2003 and re-elected in 2005 and 2009. On March 28, 2011, Superintendent Rowles retired after a 35 year career.
On July 13, 1995, the Town Highway Department garage and a considerable amount of its equipment were destroyed in one of the most devastating and costly fires in town history. Amazingly, town residents did not see any interruption of services from the Highway Department. Garbage was picked up and streets were paved as if nothing had happened. The quick rebuilding of the department and the beautiful state-of-the-art building that now houses the department, is part of the lasting legacy of initiative and leadership of Superintendent Hedges and his employees.
On March 29, 2011 at a Special Meeting of the Town Board, William E. Swanson was unanimously appointed as the 10th
Superintendent of Highways in Town of Tonawanda history. Superintendent Swanson brings over 35 years of experience to the position having first been hired as a Laborer in April of 1976. In the ensuing years, Mr. Swanson served in a variety of positions and was promoted to Assistant Crew Chief of the Forestry Division in 1993. Prior to his appointment as Superintendent, Bill served as the Supervisor of the Forestry Division having been promoted to that position in 2002. Under his supervision, the Forestry Division has worked to allow the Town to receive National Recognition as a TreeCity by the National Arbor Day Foundation in each year since 1997. The Town also received 4 Growth Awards during this time. Most recently, he spearheaded the effort to create the first suburban tree farm in Western New York located in the Old Town section of the Town. As Superintendent, Mr. Swanson’s main goal is continue to deliver the finest highway services to the residents of the Town of Tonawanda and to expand on the Highway Department’s reputation as one of the finest in Western New York.