Jordan, Kaiser & Sessions celebrates 50 years of engineering

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Footprints of a 50-year-old Natchez company cut a wide trail throughout most of Mississippi and Louisiana &045;&045; across bridges and bluffs, highways and riverfronts, treatment plants and ports.

In the hometown area, however, the work accomplished by Jordan, Kaiser & Sessions looms the largest &045;&045; most recently, for example, in the riverfront development in Vidalia, La., and the bluff stabilization project in Natchez and subdivisions scattered about the area.

&uot;We started with three employees,&uot; said C. Hayden Kaiser Jr., who joined B. Chandler Jordan

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Jr. in 1954 to establish the firm. The two civil engineers had one field worker and did all the office work themselves.

From that small start, the company grew to several dozen employees, now numbering 31, Kaiser said. &uot;We’ve had many more employees, up to 45 in the heyday of oil and construction projects.&uot;

In 1955, J. Proby Sessions joined Jordan and Kaiser, adding not only his own expertise as an engineer and surveyor but bringing with him the historically important work of Charles W. Babbitt and his son, John Walter Babbitt, dating to the 1850s.

The old field notes have been a valuable resource, Kaiser said. &uot;Mr. Babbitt wrote his notes in long hand, just as though he was walking down a trail. Here are some notes from 1883, when he surveyed property starting at Ellis Cliffs,&uot; he said as he pulled one of the small old books from the case and opened it randomly.

When Sessions joined the firm, the three partners knew they needed larger quarters and moved to an upstairs office at the corner of Main and Canal streets from a small building on North Pearl.

Amon Jordan recalled the year her late husband and Kaiser spent at a small house behind the home she and her husband shared with Mr. Jordan’s parents.

&uot;When Chandler started in business, we were living with his mother and father on Pearl Street. There was a little dependency in back, and he set up his office there with one helper,&uot; she said.

&uot;When Hayden graduated from LSU, he and Chandler worked there together from our back yard,&uot; Mrs. Jordan said. &uot;They worked hard. They did their own office work. And they had a wonderful relationship. They complemented each other.&uot;

By 1957, the company had outgrown the Main Street office and moved to a new building near the Natchez port and the then bustling International Paper mill.

Projects were plentiful through the years, including work for Adams County, Wilkinson County and other counties and Louisiana parishes.

Work on the Natchez port included surveying and engineering for the original construction, a dock extension, the bulk materials loading dock, rail spurs, warehouses and an industrial area.

At the Natchez airport, the company undertook many projects, as well, including extending the runway and fuel storage improvements.

&uot;Over the years, surveying has been about 40 percent of our business, and the main thing has been construction,&uot; Kaiser said. &uot;We’ve done plans, specs and surveys for the highway department. We did all the property surveys for where the Natchez Trace is coming into Liberty Road. We’ve been engineers for the port and airport since they were founded.&uot;

Subdivision work includes most of those on the north side of town, such as Glenwood, The Trees, The Hills and others.

In 1980, the company added a materials testing laboratory.

Through that service, the lab workers could analyze concrete, aggregates and soil, for example, to assist clients in meeting technical specifications for projects.

In its vast archives, the company holds an estimated 31,000 surveys, 2,500 engineering projects and 3,400 maps, among other articles.

What’s more, the years of experience of the company employees add further depth, Kaiser said. &uot;We’ve had good people working with us, some of them for more than 40 years and many at least for 25 years,&uot; he said.

Technology has changed the work of civil engineers as it has for most all professions, he said. &uot;We had these little red books and had to figure our numbers by logarithms,&uot; Kaiser said. &uot;When hand-held calculators came along, we were thrilled. And now the new engineers use sophisticated equipment that works by satellites.&uot;

Important dates in the company’s 50-year history include 1973, when Sessions retired and remained a consultant until his death in 1984; and 1997, when Jordan retired in January and remained a consultant until his death in April that year.

In 1991, Kaiser’s son, Hayden Kaiser III joined the firm as an engineer. &uot;I didn’t push him to do this. He wanted to become an engineer,&uot; the elder Kaiser said.

Mrs. Jordan said the three partners worked well together. &uot;I think Chandler was very proud of how the business grew. And I’m sure Hayden and Proby were, too.&uot;

Kaiser said the company has always tried to give clients good service. &uot;And you have to be honest and treat people fairly. You have to work well together. I consider myself very lucky to have had such wonderful partners.&uot;

The business remains vital, and Kaiser is upbeat about the future. &uot;We’re still here. We are a part of the city. I think things are going to be good in the future &045;&045; for our firm and for the city.&uot;