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City Document. — No. 11.
NORFOLK COUNTY JOURNAL PRESS.
CITY OF ROXBURY.
In Board of Aldermen, June 8, 1857.
Report read, laid upon the table, and ordered to be printed for the
use of the City Council.
JOSEPH W. TUCKER, City Clerk.
The Committee to whom was referred the petition of
Sylvester Bowman and others, abuttors on Fellows
Street, praying the City to lay a Common Sewer in said
A densely populated town or city requires more or less
sewerage, in order that the offal and filth necessarily gen-
erated in them may be easily removed. Without it, a city,
in many respects, might be likened to a vast encampment,
with no facilities for purifying itself, or changing its local-
ity. London and Paris show us how large cities can be
purified and rendered healthy, by sanatory improvements
and regulations. Constantinople and the cities of Asia
afford striking examples of what sinks of pollution they
may become without them. Cities are sometimes unjustly
stigmatized as sores and moral plague spots on the body
politic. A city without the means of self-purification may
not unjustly be termed a physical nuisance, and a blotch
on the fair face of nature. We must consider, then, that
sewerage is indispensable in all well-regulated cities. This
is an established conclusion. Connected with, and grow-
ing Out of, a thorough system of sewerage, is another ad-
vantage, and one of vital importance in all communities,
we mean under-drainage.
The evils that result from want of suitable drainage are
innumerable. It is universally admitted, that all organic
matter, in a state of decay, is injurious to health. This
effect is visible in all the low and marshy districts of the
South and West ; — such districts are unhealthy, and in
many instances almost uninhabitable. Portsmouth and
Norfolk, Virginia, are situated opposite each other, on the
banks of the Elizabeth River, near its junction with the
Chesapeake Bay, and not more than eight miles distant
from the upper border of the Dismal Swamp. Thus these
cities are nearly enveloped by marshes — every where
water is within a few feet of the surface, and there is lit-
tle or no drainage. The result of such a state of things
we need not detail ; — the terrible ravages of the Yellow
Fever in those cities, in 1855, are fresh in the memory of
all. The examination of the bills of mortality in all large
cities, will abundantly show that, in low and undrained dis-
tricts, the number of deaths from fever, dysentery, consump-
tion and other pulmonary diseases, is much greater in pro-
portion to the population, than in localities more favorable
in these respects, and the average duration of human life
is much less. In such localities, in the absence of any sys-
tem of drainage, open cess-pools are resorted to, and a
system of private drainage is adopted. Such means rather
aggravate than alleviate the difficulty. For the emana-
tions proceeding from stagnant ditches and open cess-pools^
are additional and accelerating causes of disease and death.
It is the opinion, as you are aware, of some of the most
distinguished of the medical faculty, that the National Ho-
tel disease at Washington, was the effect of the imperfect
drainage of that establishment. Nor are these deadly ex-
halations confined to the immediate districts in which they
occur ; but extend their influence to neighboring, and even
With regard to the pernicious agency of such emana-
tions, it would give a very inadequate view to restrict it
to diseases most obviously produced by it. Its indirect
action is highly noxious, though the evil is not so manifest.
When it is not present in sufficient intensity to produce
fever, it weakens the general system, and thereby becomes
a powerful predisposing cause of the most common and
fatal maladies to which the human body is subject. It has
been stated, on the highest medical authority, that no one
who lives long in, or near, a malarian district, is ever for a
single hour free from some disease of the digestive organs.
The foregoing considerations are urged upon the atten-
tion of our City Government, with direct reference to the
lower section of our City, especially in "Ward One ; it is
through this that the petitioners pray a sewer may be laid,
extending from Hunneman, through Fellows Street, to the
water's edge. This locality has now become a permanent
nuisance, and an object of just reproach to our City. Here
is an area of many acres of marsh, hemmed in on all sides,
and possessing no outlet. The soil is low, wet and treach-
erous ; the water, as it falls from the clouds, or is emptied
into this district from the adjoining upland, including the
liquid filth and offal of the factories and houses, having no
outlet, remain stagnant upon the soil. A greenish scum is
frequently seen covering the pools of water that are scat-
tered over the surface. The effusions, and noxious ema-
nations that arise therefrom, are inhaled by other resi-
dents in the neighborhood, and thus the seeds of disease
are sown broadcast.
It is true that this district is not yet densely settled ;
but in a few years it will be covered with structures of
some kind, and the imagination shudders at the thought
that a crowded population is to tenant such a locality.
Now we submit, that the remedy for the evils under con-
sideration, is an efficient and thorough system of sewerage.
This would furnish means for the ready removal of all re-
fuse and filth ; the whole neighborhood would be cleansed,
and the effect upon the residents would be marked and
immediately perceptible. In Manchester, England, the
deaths in twenty streets were ascertained, both before
and immediately after their being paved and drained, and
they were found to be diminished, by the improvement,
more than twenty per annum out of every one hundred
and ten — that is, a little more than one-fifth.
What is now the fertile and healthy territory of Hol-
land, was, in the days of Julius Caesar, one wide-spread
and pestilential marsh, extending along the North Sea, and
by the mouth of the Rhine. The tide flowed over most of
it, and it was totally unfitted for the occupation of the hu-
man race. Yet this country, by a careful and elaborate
system of canals and drainage, has been converted into a
land of plenty, and now supports a dense and thriving
population. Such would be the effect in our City. The
soil, saturated with moisture, would become dry and firm ;
the cess-pool nuisance would be abated, and the net-work
of subterranean canals, running noiselessly beneath our
feet, would cleanse and purify the dwellings and streets of
our entire City.
We are called upon, in the prayer of the petitioners,
only to commence this great work of providing sewerage
for the City. A common sewer in Fellows Street, would
be the commencement of the whole enterprise. Years
may pass away before it is completed ,• but it is of essen-
tial importance that a beginning should be made. It is a
feeble and shiftless policy to delay longer — the necessity
is urgent — your action should be prompt and efficient.
The cost of a thorough plank sewer four feet square, ex-
tending from Hunneman Street to the City Wharf, was
estimated by a committee of the City Government in 1855,
to be the sum of three thousand dollars.
There are various ways by which this expense may be
defrayed. The whole expense might be charged to the
City, in the first instance, the land holders remuner-
ating by payments for private drains to the general sewer ;
or the whole cost might be assessed on the abutters.
But it is not our object to lay down any plan in this re-
port. This will be a subject for subsequent consideration.
Nor do we deem it expedient to make any recommenda-
tions as to the material, construction, and laying down of
the sewer. To enter upon this subject, would require sur-
veys, measurements and estimates, that are without the
province of your Committee. We are confident, however,
that a plan can be devised, whereby, in course of time, the
City will be amptly repaid for all outlays for this improve
Our citizens are very properly opposed to a City Debt
but we think the importance of this improvement will jus
tify the incurring of a limited liability on its account. For
it is not for ourselves alone that this work is undertaken
it is also for the benefit of all who are to succeed us
Surely, there can be no injustice in imposing upon them a
part of the burden of a work which they will hereafter so
abundantly enjoy. But if we insist on paying as we go, a
system of sewerage can be so constructed as not to per-
ceptibly increase our taxes. Let the work be carried on
gradually, and advance by slow, yet certain steps. Mean-
time, the lands that are drained will increase in value, and
be built upon. And your Committee are assured that,
immediately on the completion of the sewer on Fellows
Street, herein proposed, the abutters will grade it, and
erect thereon respectable structures, and thus the taxable
property of the City will be increased, and the undertaking
partially pay for itself.
In conclusion, the Committee would recommend imme-
diate action on the construction of a sewer in Fellows
Because the sanatory condition of that portion of the
City imperatively demand it ;
Because it is the initiatory step of an undertaking, which,
from its magnitude and necessity, cannot be delayed with-
out detriment to the best interests of our people.
They accordingly recommend that the prayer of the
petitioners be granted.
For the Committee,
JOSEPH H. CHAD WICK, Chairman.