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Full text of "History and development of the sewerage system of Baltimore up to 1916 / Alexander A. Lopata."

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Little is known about the sewerage system of Baltimore 
prior to 1905 except the fact that it consisted of cesspools, 
private drains and few scattered storm-water drains. Several 
commissions appointed between 1862 end 1699 investigated and 
reported on imprevemerts to the sewerage system of Baltimore 
but little material propress made. 

The real sewerage system of Baltimore dat^s back to 
the formation of the Baltimore Sewer-ape ComTission in 1905. 
The corrrrission authorized by the Sewerape-Enabl inp Act of 
1904 served until 1916. During this period of time practically 
the entire city, as it existed prior to the annexation, had 
been properly sewered, a sewerage treatment -works at Beck River 
built, a sewerage pumping station constructed, Jones Fails 
covered from Baltimore Street to Freston Street with a highway 
built over it, and the storm-water drainage system greatly 
extended and Improved. The work of the Baltimore Sewerage 
Commission was financed by three bond issues totaling $23,000,000, 



As the founders of Baltimore came from England, it 
was natural for their to adopt the method used in England for 
disposing- of human wastes, that of using cesspools. The sandy 
soil of Baltimore was suited for the use of cesspools, and the 
fit /-hen first dug of reasonable size and depth will under 
favorable circumstances, serve Its purpose for a long time with- 
out causing trouble or expense. At the houses were scattered 
when Baltimore was young, it was simple to replace a cesspool 
that had filled up by a new one, but ss the population increased 
and bouses were built close together, it was not easy to find 
a new site for a cesspool when the old one filled up. Also 
the introduction of the Gunpowder water in 1881 provided a 
liberal supply of water for water closets. Increased use of 
w&ter-closets was necessarily followed by more rapid filling 
up of cesspools and property holders were glad to avail them- 
selves of access to storm drains for the purpose of getting 
rid of the overflow of cesspools. Where storm-water drains 
were not available, permission was readily granted to construct 
private drains to the nearest water course. Though private 
drains were expensive and only corporations or persons of wealth 
could afford them, by 1G05 there were 15,000 private drains in 

When pits became filled to the top resort was had to 
the night-soil scavenger who cleaned the pit more or less 
thoroughly carting the contents to spots authorized by the Board 
of Health. There they were loaded on scows, removed to some 


locality beyond the city limits and sold to farmers for ferti- 
lizing purposes. 

Tbe early city of Baltimore had & topography such that 
the extensive water front, the ravines and streams could provide 
adequate drainage. Put wtfefe the expansion of the city and the 
filling in of ravines leaving arched f lat-bottorred openings 
at the bottorr of some of the ravines, soon found Baltimore 
without adequate drainage. Rocks washed from tbe surface col- 
lected on the fl&t bottoms and formed traps for silt, dirt and 
wastes which were allowed to flow down tbe open street gutters. 
The accumulation of rock, dirt and wastes decreased the size 
of the opening and during sumrrer months the stench from the 
sewers was very ob iectionsble . During heavy rains the sewers 
were unable to drain tbe storm water fast enough, and in places 
where there were no sewers, and they were many ss sewers were 
few and far apart, the water flowed down along the surface of 
the streets. The water flowing along the surface would tend 
to accumulate in hollows and depressions causing iniury to 
property and loss of life. To relieve the existing sewers of 
their burden during storms and to provide sewers in places where 
there were no sewers, by 1887 the city had expended $ 4, 000, 000 
in construction of 33 miles of drains v ut that was insufficient. 

Considering five persons to a private drain, it would 
mean that 75,000 persons disposed of their wastes in the patapsco 
River Basin. Engineers on the other band estimated that tbe 


Patapsco River could only dispose of the sewerage by dilution 
of a city of s population of 37,000. Added to the waste from 
the privs-te drains must he added the wastes brought down by the 
storm-fc&ter drains. With more sewerage being poured into the 
Basin and Jones Falls than the Fstspsco River could dispose of, 
the Easin became a gigantic cesspool with the odor being 
noticeable for miles around. Records show that with the wind 
in the right direction, the odor was objectionable 9 miles 
away in Towson. 




It seems strange that Baltimore sbould A delay~"so long 
in providing a rrodern sewerage system ( (bui phe sandy soil of 
Baltimore was well suited for cesspools and many felt that as 
long £s the cesspools were economically ,1ustif table there was 
no need for a rrodern sewerage system. Baltimore also showed 
little progressive spirit* But it was not alone internal forces 
hut external forces that delayed a sewerage system. As the State 
Constitution provided that it was necessary for the State Legis- 
lature to authorize a loan for any sewerage improvements, and 
as the majority of the members were from the counties there 
was little hope for an authorization of a loan without great 
demand from Baltimore City. The counties bordering on the 
Chesapeake Bay viewed with great concern any project to "build 
a sewerage system discharging sewerage into the Chesapeake 
Bay &nd thus menacing the oyster industry. 

The condition of the Basin had sroused many people 
and now with the Great Fire of February, 1904 to awaken them, 
the people of Baltimore demanded that a modern sewerage system 
be put in while reconstruction was going on in the city. On 
April 7, 1904, the General Assembly of Maryland passed the 
Sewerege-Enabling Act, enpowering the Mayor and City Council 
of Baltimore to issue stock to en arrount not exceeding #10,000,000 
for the purpose of defraying the cost of establishing a sewerage 
system, for Baltimore. The act authorized the Mayor to appoint 
a .corrrr ission of seven men with the Mayer to be a member ex- 
officio. The commission as then to appoint a Chief Engineer. 


The comrrission had full authority over the building 1 of the 
sewerage system but no power to make purchases or award contracts 
exceeding $500, to decide matters of a legal nature or to 
determine the amount of money to he spent annually. The 
counties to safe-guard the oyster Industry had included in the 
act a provision specifying that no sewerage or sewerae-e effluent 
was to be discharged into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay 
that could in any way contaminate or harm the oysters. 

The Baltimore Sewerage Comrrission originally con- 
sisted of; 

feter Leary, Jr., Chairman 

Hon. E. Clay Timanus, frsyor 

Ira Remeen 

ftilliarr D. Piatt 

Ji'orris ,j hit ridge 

Charle s England 

J. Edwerd Wohler 

Harry W. Roger, Secretary 
Calvin V, Hendrick was selected as Chief Engineer. 
The commission was in existence from 1905-1916 and during that 
period there were several changes in the membership. In 1911 
Charles England succeeded Peter Leary, Jr. as Chairman upon 

Mr. Le&ry's death February 15, 1911. William A. Mclntiri was 

appointed to fill the facancy in the comsrission, However, 
Mr. ivclntire died March 3, 1912 and was succeeded by .Villiarr 
B. Kines. J. Edward tfohler died August 6, 1912; Gustav 


Siegmund receiving the appointment to his position. /lilliam 
D. Pl*tt died December £2, 1913 sr.d Thomas J. Shryock was 
appointed to the vacancy. 

As the commission could not discharge the sewerage 
directly into the Chesapeake Bay, it had to have a sewerage 
treatment plant built. There were three methods considered: 

(1) That of Intermittent Filtration throush natural sand 
beds in Anne Arundel County . 

(2) That of In tent Filtr&tion through artificially 
constructed sand beds of select sand. 

(Z>) That of preliminary treatment in Septic Tanks, 

followed b$ sprinkling over filter beds of broken 
stone with a final purification by intermittent 
filtration through artificial sand filters. 

ter conducting mar.y experimental tests upon the 
woil of Anne Arundel County, the soil was found to be unsuited 
for filtration purposes, ss it conte ined clay matter. That 
necessitated the abandonment of the first plan. 

It was next decided to see if artificial sand beds 
could be used. The sard necessary for this method was esti- 
mated at 7,000,000 cubic yards. Examination of all suitable 
sand beds in the locality revealed the fsct that there were 
4,700,000 cubic yards of sand available. As it would be 
too expensive to import sand that plan had to be dropped. 


After iruch deliberation, the system selected consisted 
of trebtrrent In septic t&r.ks followed by sprinkling over filter 
beds of broken stone, with a final purification by lnterrait- 
tend filtration through artificial sard filters. To test the 
system, an experimental station was built in Aalbrook con- 
sisting of a testing plart, a laboratory, arc sewers at a 
cost of | 44, COO. The results indicated that the intermittent 
send filter beds could "be eliminated frsm the system this 
saving over :£, 000,000 in original construction and upkeep. 
The sewerage would now pass through three steps of the 
purification process, the septic tank, sprinkling filters 
and settling basins. 

The site selected for the plant was Back River. As 
estimates showed that to sewer snd drain the city in accordance 
with the Sewerage-Enabling Act would require over twice the 
amount then authorized and as it was not certain that suf- 
ficient rroney would be forthcoming later on, it was deemed 
advisable to build the Disposal Plant in units. Thus in case 
work h&d to stop due to lack of money there would be a complete 
workable plant e&peble of serving about half the population 
of the city. 

The plant was begun in 1907 and by October, 1911 the 
first purification of sewerage wes performed. By the end of 
1911 when the first oj 10, 000,000 had all bean expended, the 
plant was capable of purifying the sewerage from 275,000 


persons. Ey 1916 the plant had been expanded until it had a 

capacity of 600,000 persons. Construction on the plant is 

expected to continue until the sewerage disposal plant has a 

capacity of 1,000,000. 


The Outf&ll Sewer extends from Chase and Durham 
Streets to the Sewer ape Disposal Plant &t Back River. Aork 
on the Outfall Sewer mas started December £7, 1906 and 
completed on August 1, 1S09 at a cost of U, 280, 621. 53. The 
sewer is of the horseshow type being- built of concrete, the 
lower h&lf being lined with brick. From Chase and Durham 
Streets to tfsdison srd Luzerne Streets, a distance of 3,879.21 
feet, the sewer is 10 feet 9 inches high and 12 feet wide; 
ther.ce to the Disposal Flant, a distance of 26,351.80 feet, 
it is 11 feet high and 12 feet 3 inches wide. The Outfall 
Sewer is a gravity sewer with the flow from the High Level 
Interceptors entering by gravity while the flow from the Low 
Level Interceptors is pumped up to the Outfsll Sewer from 
the Pumping Station a height of 72 feet. 


As the sewerage had to undergo treatment before 
being disch&rged into the Eey , the separate system was the 
only possible one. In the separate system the sewer*sge 
system is independent of the drainage system. If both the 
sewerage and the storm-water had been allowed to pass into 

the same system the cost of purification and the size of the 

disposal plant, the Outfall Sewer and the tumping Station would 
have made the system too expensive. 

The sewertpe system consists of a number of High 
Level and Lorn Level Interceptors with many lateral sewers. 
From the lateral sewers are run house connections. The 
interceptors tre circular in shape having a layer of hard "brick 
with layers of water-proofing between the brlcfe and concrete 
with 8 sub-drain beneath. A minimum diameter of eipht inches 
was adopted for the laterals with connections running to 
property line fixed at six inches as minimum. In residence 
districts the laterals are deep enough below the ground to 
drain the "average basement ard in the business section to 
drain basements 13,5 feet deep. The sewerage system was 
started October ££, 1906 and the first house (1701 Jef- 
ferson Street) was connected and caring for the sanitary sewer- 
age of the city begun, py the *r.d of 1916 there were 83,053 
housfe connected. 


Unlike the sewerage system which rad to wait until 
the Sewerage Disposal Flar.t and the Outfall Sewer was com- 
pleted, the drains were put into service soon after work 
began. Although not as much money was expended on the drains 
at first as they were not considered as necessary as the 
sewerage system, yet by the end of 1914 most of the city was 


adequately equipped with drains. The si?e of the smallest drain 
6 inch cast iron pipe, while the largest was a horseshoe drain 
96 inches by 93 inches. The drains discr.arre into Jones Falls, 
Gwynng Falls and the Easin and are built to handle a rain at 
the rate of 4 inches per hour. 


Construction on the station iras started in 1907 and 
the station put into operation January 31, 1912. The station 
is located at Eastern Avenue and President Street. The 
sewerage from two Low Level Interceptors flows to the station. 
The West Low Level Interceptor is 84 inches in diaireter and 
the East Lorc Level Interceptor is 60 inches in diaireter. 
Both interceptors enter the station at 13 feet below mean 
low-tide. The purrping station is equipped with three verticle 
triple expansion pumping engines. Each engine has a rated 
capacity for pumping 27.5 million gallons per day of sewerage 
against a total head of 72 feet when operating at 20 R.F.M. 
Space is left so that two additional pumps of similar size 
can be Installed. 


The open Jones Falls had long been an eye sore and 
when an additional #10,000,000 was turned over for s sewerage 
system in 1911, one of the first projects considered was 
Jones Falls. Jones Falls was enclosed In conduits from 
Baltimore to Chase Streets. From Chase to Freston Streets a 
tunnel was dug across a bend in the river. Over the conduits 


w&s constructed a low grade street. The conduits hsd a capacity 
of 15,000 gallons per second sr.d the work was completed by 1914. 


kethod op treatment of sewerage 

The sewer goes from the houses through the house 
connections into lateral sewers hy grsvity. The lateral sewer 
discharges into larger sewers called interceptors; in the 
interceptors, if it is s high level interceptor, the sewerage 
flows hy gravity to tire Outfall Sewer. If the interceptor is 
a low level interceptor the sewerage flows by gravity to the 
Sewerage Pumping Station. At the Furcr/ing Station it is lifted 
72 feet through force mains into the Outfall Sewer. In the 
Outfall Sewer it flows a distance of rear 6 miles to the 
Sewerage Disposal Hant all flow taking place by gravity. 

At the mouth of the Outfall Sewer are installed 
screens which catch such things as sticks, rags, etc., 
which are removed by hand and burned. The sewerage then 
passes through the Meter-house where the flow is measured, 
then into settling tanks. It remains in the settling tanks 
for a period of from two to eight hours depending on the rate 
of flOTJ of the sewer*g«. The liquid now passes on to an 
intercepting channel to'revelviBg screens of a 20 mesh where 
more of the suspended solids ere removed . Proo the revolving 
screens house it passes to the control house which distributes 
it to the sprinklers in the trickling filters located at a 
level 15 feet b r -low the settling tanks. The flow is so 
regul&ted that the si?e of the spray increases erd decreases 
periodically . 

Spraying of the sewerage through the air is essential 


to the aeration and purification of the sewerage. As the 
sewerage falls on these beds it trickles down through 8.5 
feet of broken stone varying 1 in size from 1 inch to S.5 inches. 
The passing of the sererage through these heds forma a gelatine- 
like film on the stones in which certain bacteria multiply by 
the millions attacking and killing the injurious bacteria in 
the sewerage. The sewer&ge effluent on reaching the bottom of 
these stone beds is practically pure. It is then carried by 
drains to the settling tanks for the purpose of settling out 
certain mineral substances. The sewerage effluent then passes 
through a powerhouse where a drop of 18 feet is used to operate 
turbines. Electricity generated by those turbines is used 
to light the plant, run sludge pumps , and lift clarified 
sewerage to a water tower for flushing purposes. From the 
powerhouse the effluent flows down to Back River. The sludge 
which deposits out of the sewerage is pumped into separate 
digestion tanks. After remaining in the tanks long enough to 
digest, it is drawn off into sand beds to drain. The sludge 
is quickly reduced by evaporation and filtration and the result- 
ing nearly dry humus and mineral matter is inodorous and in- 
offensive. The sludge is then given free of charge to farmers 
who use it as a fertilizer preparatory to planting. 


The information for this thesis was obtained from 
the following sources: 

1. Report of the Baltimore Sewerage Commission — 1862 

2. ' Report of the Baltimore Sewerage Commission--1897 

5. Second Report of the Baltimore Sewerage Corrmiss ion--1899 

4. Sewerare-fcnahling Act of 1904--Chapter 349 

5. Nine Annual Reports of the Sewerage Commission of 
Baltimore— 1906-1914 

6. Reprint of Articles Pertaining to Sewerage System of 
Baltimore City--Issued by the Bureau rf Sewers--1927 

7. Tour of the Back River Sewerage Disposal Flant and 
an interview with Mr. Cromwell, one of the chemists 
at the plant. 

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