Celebrating C.S. Davidson’s 100th anniversary – third installment

October 2023

At the end of the most recent installment of the C.S. Davidson hundred-year history series, in 1965, David Davidson Sr. had just become president of the company.

David Sr. was known to take the long view on civil engineering and in his approach to the company. He expanded services in land planning, zoning, and sanitary sewer design work while bringing on more public sector clients. Today, the firm’s client base is about two-thirds public and one-third private.

“A 60-40 mix of municipal and private clients is a little like relying more on bonds than stocks in an investment portfolio,” said David Davidson, Jr., former company president and current chief financial officer. “Municipal work allows the company to mitigate the ups and downs that are so common in the private sector. It has really protected us from the dramatic downturns which can occur.”

To accommodate the firm’s growth, in 1970, David Sr. moved the company to its current location at 38 North Duke Street in York. At that time, the company had about 13 employees.

After the move to 38 North Duke, the firm purchased several properties in the area, creating a “campus” which today spans 34, 36, 38, 42, and 53 North Duke, as well as 128 East Philadelphia Street.

A new era in leadership

In the late 1960s, David Davidson, Jr. started his career at the family company.

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, his father suffered a massive heart attack and died in 1973. David Jr. was studying engineering at Vanderbilt University. When his father passed away, his mother was the vice chair of the board of directors for the company. She asked him to come home until things stabilized with the company, which he did – and he’s still with C.S. Davidson 50 years later.

David Jr. did become president – but not right away. He did not yet have his Professional Engineer (PE) license, and that was a requirement for the company’s chief executive. The company had just one PE at the time, and that was George Miller. Miller became president and kept the ship steadied until David Jr. was ready to take the helm.

That changing of the guard came in 1983 when Miller retired, and David Jr. became the chief executive. However, by then, his mother had decided to back away from her duties with the company. She eventually convinced Linda, David’s wife, to leave her career as a teacher and take over most of his mother’s duties with C.S. Davidson.

Linda had some reservations about working and living alongside her husband all day. But when she realized that David was responsible for making the money and she was responsible for spending it, she was ready to sign on the dotted line.

More changes

It was in the early 1980s that C.S. Davidson began using AutoCAD computer software, which is now the industry standard but, at the time was a very inexpensive alternative to another computer-aided drawing system.

“I remember designing the York Galleria Mall on AutoCAD version 1.9, a really early version of it,” said David Jr. “There were sets and sets of sheets that had to be plotted. I would be in the office until 11 o’clock at night working on the plans. The final step was plotting them, which was a very slow process. I would hit ‘print,’ turn off the lights, and hope that in the morning, they might be finished. That was pretty primitive software. Today, our CAD technicians can do design changes in minutes.”

The next milestone for C.S. Davidson was opening the Gettysburg satellite office in 1992. The catalyst for the expansion was an increase of work for the Adams County Economic Development Corporation, including the Adams Commerce Center, an industrial park at the intersection of Routes 15 and 30.

With the Commerce Center and other projects in the area, company staff were regularly driving an hour each way to job sites, so leadership decided to open the new branch. When it opened, there were just two or three people in the Gettysburg office – today, there are 14.

Perhaps an even bigger change started when David Jr. began considering an ownership transition for C.S. Davidson. He understood that ownership transition in privately held companies can be a painful and prolonged process, and he wanted to make any changes carefully to avoid any negative outcomes for the company or its employees.

Stay tuned for our fourth and final installment to learn more about where the company stands today!