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 Sherman Day  (1806 - 1884)

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Lived/Active: California/Connecticut      Known for: topography, town views, history

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Sherman Day
An example of work by Sherman Day
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
In addition to his artwork depicting 19th-century views of cities of the eastern United States and early settlements in the West, Sherman Day is known also as an architect, engineer and senator.

Sherman Day was born in New Haven, Connecticut, 1806. He was graduated from Yale, A.B., 1826, and received also the degree of A.M. His father, Jeremiah Day (1773-1867), was president of Yale from 1817 to 1846. After his graduation from Yale he lived in New York and Philadelphia for a time as a merchant. For several years he was in Ohio and Indiana as an engineer. In 1843 he published "Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania".

He came to California in 1849 and engaged in civil and mining engineering at San Jose, New Almaden, Folsom, and Oakland. In 1855 he compiled for the state a survey of wagon-road routes across the Sierra. Day served in the State Senate in 1855-56 and was United States Surveyor General for California, 1868-71. He was one of the original trustees of the University of California, and for a time was Professor of Mine Construction and Surveying.

Sherman Day married Elizabeth Ann King, of Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1832. The couple had two daughters: Harriet (Mrs. Charles Theodore Hart Palmer) and Jane Olivia (later Mrs. Henry Austin Palmer). Their son, Roger Sherman Day, married Harriet Clark of Folsom.

Day's artwork is collected in several books, including Ephraim Dyer's "Collection of the Sketches of Sherman Day." The book contains the original sketches used for the engravings in Day's 1843 publication, "Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania", (Philadelphia: George W. Gorton 1843), which presents his finely detailed sketches of public and private structures throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The collection is considered to be one of the most important early histories of Pennsylvania. This work included individual histories for all the counties within the Keystone State, as well as numerous, illustrations of scenes of all parts of the state done by Day. These images show the larger cities, but also many of the smaller towns and other sites of local interest.

These histories were based on first-hand images and were produced by wood engraving. This process enabled the printmaker to provide the detail wanted for such views, while at the same time allowing the images to be printed with the same press as the typeface. These sketches were reproduced in: Murphy D. Smith's book 'Sherman Day: Artist, Forty-niner and Engineer' (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1980). Accompanying these sketches are 150 pages of photocopied letters of Day, from originals at Yale University.

One typical example of Day's work is the wood engraving titled 'Fairmount Water Works' from his Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania. The engraving shows a view of the waterworks from the canal on the far side of the Schuylkill, with a boat passing out of a lock and strollers looking out at the fishermen below the dam. Day also authored '1843 History of Schuylkill County'.

In the West, Sherman Day was active as an engineer in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and with George H. Goddard co-authored the hypsometrical study (dealing with mapping elevations and topography) '1855 Sierra Nevada Wagon Road Survey'. He also did many sketches of early settlements. In the mid-1800s Nevada Surveyor-General, H. S. Marlette, appealed to local citizens and the supervisors of the counties interested in a road terminating in Carson Valley. Enough money was raised by June 1855, so that Sherman Day, who was by then a civil and mining engineer and California State Senator, could start a survey of practicable routes.

Starting from Georgetown he followed the general route of the immigrant road to Lake Tahoe. Then Marlette and Day together made a reconnaissance of the Carson and Johnson Pass routes. Day reported that, as the result of his explorations, these two routes only were worthy of further consideration. In addition to giving him many opportunities to sketch early settlements in the West, the Day' explorations and resulting reports with Goddard are considered the most complete and trustworthy information regarding these two important immigrant roads. On the basis of their reports, local officials became convinced of the practicability of building a road over the Sierra via Johnson Pass.

While living in the San Jose region of California, Day was head mining engineer at the New Almaden Mines, very rich quicksilver mines there. In his journals of early California, William H. Brewer wrote of an 1861 visit with Sherman Day: "He (Mr. Day) has two daughters now home. A young lady was visiting, and half a dozen came in, and a lively time we had of it. We were invited to a horseback ride the next afternoon with some of the ladies. Mr. Day is a son of President Day of Yale College, is a fine man with a very fine family, has been here twelve years, and many a chat we have had about New Haven and old Yale".

Sherman Day died in Berkeley, California, 1884.

Sources:, a website about John Charles Fremont
"Up and Down California in 1860-1864; The Journal of William H. Brewer": Book 2, Chapter 3 New Almaden'

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