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Joseph Phineas Davis Journal of Travels in Cuzco (Peru)

Identifier: SC MS 0305

Scope and Contents

This manuscript consists of one small journal measuring 15 x 10 x .75 cm with a brown and black marbled paper over board and tan paper spine with small paper label edged in red with ink handwriting – J. P. Davis 1864 – May 26. Jul 28. Trip to Islay – Trip to Cuzco…. The entire notebook is closely written in pencil on 112 blue lined pages. Each entry is headlined with the calendar date. The inside flyleaves have numerical notations, a laundry list dated July 29, 1864, as well as a list of location for four bridges and roadways in Peru surveyed by Mr. Davis. Also inside the front cover are two labels: a small one for Carlos Midroit Paris Calle de Plateros S.Pedro 186 Lima, and a bookplate for Harlow Brooks NYC MDCCCCVIII NYS. Binding is loose with torn spine paper and crosswise crack on both front and back cover.


  • Creation: May 26 to July 29, 1864

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Phineas Davis was born in Northboro, Massachusetts in 1837 youngest son of William Eager and Almira Davis. He entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at age 15 and graduated in 1856. He immediately began work on the Brooklyn, N.Y. waterworks. In 1860 he learned that the Peruvian Government wished the services of American engineers and made a contract through the Peruvian Minister for five years. While waiting for a decision the Civil War began. He drilled with the Brooklyn regiment and went to the Peruvian Minister to withdraw his contract. The Peru Minister informed him that he was bound to the contract. On July 11, 1861 Davis as topographical engineer of Peru, accompanied by two other Americans, sailed for Peru. During his four years’ time in Peru, he kept carefully noted journals and sent reports to the Minister of Public Works in Peru concerning water supply of towns, plans for bridges, railroads, artesian wells and repairs to public works. It is known that he made designs for an iron bridge across the Piura river at Piura, a stone arch bridge across the Ilave river in the region of Puno, a number of wire cable bridges for mule traffic and a sewage system for Lima. Perhaps the most important work Davis did was a survey of the guano beds of the Chincha Islands and the coast north of Lima with estimates of its industrial value but this is not reported in the journaling possession of Lehigh. At the time, there was trouble with Spain over the guano beds, so in 1864 Mariano Felipe Paz Soldan, Director of Public Works sent him inland to the province of Puno and Cuzco for surveying public works sites. He made this trip with a fellow engineer named Church who is mentioned in his journal. At Lake Titicaca, they met Mr. E. George Squier, an antiquarian and U.S. Commissioner to Peru (1863-1865), with whom he traveled to Cuzco and down over the Andes to the coast. They surveyed the Inca temples in the region especially the Viracocha temple as they were much interested in the pre-Columbian structures. [Machu Picchu site was not known at this time.] Davis also surveyed the hammock-like swinging bridge across the Apurimac, on the head waters of the Amazon. Although Davis had a five-year contract with the Peruvian government, he returned to the United States in July 1865 on a permitted leave of absence and did not return in 1872 at the end of the revolution. In this journal it is evident that a revolution was threatening with the reports of soldiers along the roadways. The revolution was successful and the engineer corps in Peru was abolished. He returned to work at Brooklyn’s Ridgewood Reservoir. In 1866 Davis was made chief engineer of Prospect Park. Subsequently he was offered a position as assistant engineer on the St. Louis Water Works about to be constructed under the direction of T. J. Whitman. In 1870 Davis was appointed chief engineer of the Lowell, Massachusetts, water commissioners to build a new system of water supply. In 1871 he accepted a position with Boston, Mass. water board being made chief engineer a position he held until 1880 when he became chief engineer with the Telephone Company – American Bell Telephone and American Telephone & Telegraph Company. In 1884 he was appointed to the New York Aqueduct Commission. He resigned in 1886 due to ill health but after a trip to Europe was appointed in 1888an expert to the Aqueduct Commission. During his career he was consulting engineer to many telephone and telegraph companies on the eastern seaboard. He was a director and vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineers; a member of the Society of Telegraphic Engineers and Electricians of England, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Boston Society of Civil Engineers. He died March 31, 1917. Regarding Howell Brooks (1871-1936), New York City (see bookplate date 1908), Dr. Brooks was a New York City pathologist and bacteriologist. He is known to have had an interest in Native American culture sufficient for him to have perhaps acquired the Davis journals for his own library.


1 book, .25 linear feet (Stored in phase box) : One notebook measuring 15 x 10 x .75 mm blue lined pages bound into brown and black marbled paper over board. Outside cover has paper label trimmed in red with handwritten notation: J. P. Davis 1864 – May 26. July 28. Trip to Islay – Trip to Cuzco. Inside front cover is bookplate from Harlow Brooks NYC MDCCCCVIII NYS (two bears holding a banner supporting moose antlers over an owl), another label in upper left corner Carlos Midroit Paris Calle de Plateros S. Pedro 186 Lima. Flyleaf page Joseph P Davis Journal (in pencil as well as a laundry list dated July 29, 1864 with numerical calculations). Inside back cover written in pencil a list of four bridges in Peru and some roads and numerical calculations. ; 15 x 10 x .75 mm


Informative journal of travels in the region of Puno and Cuzco containing information about the Andean culture, indigenous populations, places, topography, Andean Indian ruins and building features. During the Davis exploration of southeastern Peru he was joined by American archaeologist and U.S. Commissioner to Peru, Ephraim George Squier and together they measured and observed with great care the Inca ruins in the Cuzco region.


The pages are arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired by purchase sometime in March 2015.

Related Materials

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Archives MC 26. Joseph P. Davis papers, 1861-1903. Series I. Correspondence and II. Journals.

Separated Materials

No material has not been removed from the Lehigh holding but related journals of Joseph P. Davis, as well as a transcription of this May to July 1864 journal, are in the Archives of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as Joseph P. Davis papers, MC 26, Series II: Journal Box 2 Folder 9: Journal transcript of Cuzco trip – survey of Inca ruins 1864. Lehigh University owns the original journal - presumably the original source of the transcript.

Joseph Phineas Davis Journal of Travels in Cuzco (Peru)SC MS 0305
Ilhan Citak and Eleanor Nothelfer
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Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
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