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the people. I have stated the sanitary claim thus mildly, because the general public has an undue disposition to expect too much from the improvement of local conditions. It bases hopes upon local amelioration which, being disappointed, may react and discredit that which is really valuable in modern sanitary suggestion. So, also, much of the advice that is given by enthusiasts,— their enthusiasm carrying them beyond the reach of ascertained knowledge or probability,-failing of its desired effect, leads to a doubt as to the value of any sanitary recommendation on the subject. Too much must not now be expected; but full confidence may be accorded to the simpler and more perfectly defined branches of the subject, concerning which all authorities are agreed.
The first and most important thing to be considered, in studying the sanitary features of any town, is the natural and the artificial topography of the ground upon which it stands. Original conditions are sometimes obliterated to the eye without being deprived of their power for harm. In other cases, they may have been so overcome and counterbalanced by "improvements" that it is to the artificial rather than to the natural conformation that we have to look for causes of salubrity or of insalubrity. The city of New York, settled early in the seventeenth century, and now grown to be one of the great human hives of the world, was founded, and, for a long time, was extended, without the least thought being taken of the question of health. Many of the original inherent defects of the territory are now concealed rather than suppressed, and, in not a few cases, the effort to fit it to the uses of a dense population a dense population has tended greatly to increase its original unhealthful condition. Could the natural surface of Manhattan Island be taken in hand afresh, in the light of what is now known, a New York might easily be made which would satisfy all the requirements of the sanitary law. It has some natural advantages which are almost unequaled elsewhere, and which even now exert a very important influence in counteracting local causes of ill-health. Built as it should have been built, it would have been a sanitarian's paradise. Built as it has been built, it is riddled with faults of the gravest character, from the Battery to Harlem River.
The accompanying map shows the original topography of Manhattan Island below Sixty-fifth street, as accurately as it has been possible to reconstruct it from the best
available records. It is overlaid with a faint indication of the present streets and avenues. The original water-courses of importance, the swamps and ponds to which these furnished outlets, the original shore-line, and the various elevations and depressions, are shown, it is believed, with reasonable accuracy.
It cannot be claimed that this map is absolutely correct. It disagrees in some essential features with Gen. Viele's map, and in some cases the courses of the streams differ from those which have been accepted by local authorities. It is, however, the product of careful study, and it may be considered as being, on the whole, more in accordance with the sum of the information contained in the earliest records than any of its predecessors.
The earliest settlement, up to 1642, was on the low land about Bowling Green, Fort Amsterdam occupying the site of the present block south of that space. In 1661, the growth had extended as far as Wall street, and, in a straggling way, up the east side of Broadway and along Pearl street, which was then washed by the waters of the East River. In 1728, there had been some encroachment on the shore by filling-in,―or by "dumping," from the foot of State street to Old Slip, and about the foot of Wall street. A village-like extension of the settlement reached as far as Duane street. In 1755 the filling-in had progressed as far as Front street for about half the distance from the Battery to Fulton street; and in 1782, the city having solidified rather than extended, the filling to the line of Front street had become general, and piers had been projected nearly to the present line of South street. Corresponding encroachments had been made on the North River shore.
The character of the filling by which this extension beyond the original water-line was made is described in an account of a severe epidemic of yellow fever, in 1796, as being a sufficient (and the probable) cause of the outbreak. The slip east of Whitehall was filled with street dirt and garbage and spoiled provisions. Even whole carcasses of horses and swine were half buried there from time to time, and left to rot under the summer sun. This condition was reformed after the first outbreak, and such excessively foul deposits were confined to the upper end of Front street. The next year, the fever made its appearance near this new dumping-ground, and the region of the Battery was exempt.
and the discharge of the sewers being led to the heads of the piers, the refuse of the ash-barrels will be more safely disposed of, and the mud of the sewers will be deposited where, whatever its effect upon the channel, its influence on the public health will be much modified. On the other hand, the reflex action of the natural drainage of the filthy soil, arrested by the sea-wall and provided with no adequate means of deep escape, cannot be regarded as a promising feature of the coming condition.
As the map indicates, there was not very much elevated level land in the lower part of the island. A deep creek set inland along the course of Broad street, nearly to Wall street, another ran up Maiden Lane to Nassau street, and a depression penetrated for some distance at Peck Slip. Just above that point, a low marsh nearly connected the East River with the Collect Pond (where the Tombs now stands). This pond found its outlet to the Hudson River through a depression at Canal street, its channel being joined by that of another stream running from Reade street west of West Broadway. There was a continuous swamp separating the lower part of the island from the higher ground north of Canal street and of Pearl street. This higher ground, with the exception of an extensive swamp on the east side, between Grand street and Twelfth street, was apparently well elevated above the tide level, and parts of it were of tolerably uniform grade. It was penetrated by the valley of Minetta Brook, which led to the Hudson River above Canal street, and which extended as far as Twentieth street and Fifth Avenue. Another brook of considerable size discharged into the East River at Fifteenth street, and took its rise in the district between Fifth and Sixth avenues, and between Twenty-first and Twentyseventh streets. The other streams shown are still familiar to those who have known
That such material should have been used for the formation of ground upon which human habitations were to be erected, would, to one not familiar with the lateral growth of New York, seem almost incredible. Unfortunately, the subsequent record of similar work is hardly more flattering, and it would not be extravagant to say that a very large portion of the river border of the city, which has been considerably extended on both sides to about Fortieth street, has been built up with a mixture of sewage deposits, garbage, street dirt, and the composite product of the ash-barrel.
This process of constructive geology is now going on with considerable activity. All about the shore of the lower part of the city there are many sewers discharging at the bulkhead between the obstructing slips and among vessels, by which the tidal movement is very greatly retarded. Eighty such outlets are in action below Fourteenth street; the street dirt and other solid matters washed out of them during heavy storms, much of it of the worst organic origin, forms, when not removed by dredging, the basic stratum upon which future more directly artificial deposits are to be made. Along West street, near the Cunard Dock, where the impervious bulkhead has been completed,. and where the great collecting sewer is being constructed, a capital opportunity is afforded for studying the sanitary features of this method of town extension. The whole of this street, two hundred and fifty feet wide, has been filled in on a deposit of sewer mud, and there are indications that this deposit reached in places very nearly to the surface of the street. The bulkhead obstructs the natural soil drainage so that the water coming from the higher land, being dammed back, has to be removed during the construction of the sewer by pumping. After the work is done, this water will be largely removed by evaporation. The liquid now delivered by pumping is black with filth, and of the vilest odor. Much of the material of which West street is being constructed is nominally ashes; but it is evidently ashes enriched with that endless variety of organic matter which the New York domestic deposits in the ash-barrel-a material entirely unfit for the production of a stable soil, or for deposit within the limits of a great city.
The probability is that when the present undertaking of the Department of Public Works shall have been completed, the city being inclosed with a wall of solid masonry,
New York for a quarter of a century past; but those above described became obliterated so long ago that few remember their exact locality and character. During the growth of that part of New York through which their courses lay, the only thought given to natural water-courses, or swamps, or hills, was to prevent their acting as an impediment to the making of streets or the building of houses.
The character of the surface to be exposed by the leveling of hills, and the character of the subsoil to be covered by earth removed during this operation, troubled no one's
mind. All that was exacted of a stream, or pond, or marsh, was that its water should not rise high enough to interfere with improvements—and even this exaction was by no means general. Dampness of soil, as such, and the exposure at the level of the cellar of water-bearing strata of rock or clay, were doubtless unheeded then as they are still.
Fortunately, that part of the city now under consideration, which was high above tide level, was mainly a porous sand formation, affording excellent foundations for buildings. But the swamps and the courses of the old streams, and the low, wet banks of these streams, afforded extremely unfavorable foundations. The houses built over them are suffering to this day from undue moisture and a stagnation of water, due to the total obstruction of natural channels.
At Seventeenth street, the made land has been extended from First Avenue, which was the original shore-line, to beyond Avenue D. On the west side, Twenty-third street has been extended from the original shore at Tenth Avenue to about four hundred feet beyond Eleventh Avenue. The whole shore from Thirty-fifth street, on the east side, to Fortieth street, on the west side, has been considerably projected beyond the original shore-line, and a vast population is there living on artificial land, the composition of much of which has already been indicated, and the drainage of all of which is at least imperfect.
Above Twenty-seventh street we strike a much more rugged and varied formation, rock predominating over a very large part of the area, and the elevation above tidewater being considerable. This district was intersected by several considerable streams, running through deep valleys bordered by high, rocky hills. In establishing the grade of the streets and avenues, consideration seems to have been confined solely to the equalization of "cut" and "fill," so that, in grading a street, the excavation through the necessary higher land should give material for the embankment across the valley. A very large part of the cutting was through solid rock, and this rock was dumped into the flat in the most irregular manner, as a foundation for the extension of the street. When a stream was crossed, there was generally a pretense of making a culvert; but too often the superimposed weight pressed the rough stone culvert so deeply into the mire as to close the channel entirely. For example: the stream shown
as leaving Central Park just east of Sixth Avenue was, during the construction of the Park, tolerably well defined, the low land through which it flowed rarely being flooded. By 1865, the heavy embankments of the streets and avenues had so destroyed the drainage culverts, that several squares were sufficiently flooded to be used for a number of winters as skating-ponds. These are now built over.
It would be proper to say that the obstructions to the natural drainage, caused by the filling of streets across these deep places, are sufficient to do harm, but not sufficient to prevent a greater harm. While it prevents anything like free natural drainage, it permits a widely diffused percolation of sewage matters, now that the area has been occupied by houses. An attempt has been made to relieve this defect, in this particular locality, and elsewhere, by the construction of open stone-work drains to restore the original flow of the stream. Those who have had an agricultural experience of the instability of such conduits will hardly expect this relief to be permanent.
Scriptural injunction to the contrary notwithstanding, rock generally forms the worst site for a house, and a deep, dry, clean sand forms the best. sand forms the best. Rock or impervious clay diverts the downward movement of water which falls upon the surface of the ground, and carries it laterally in the direction of greatest inclination. Where a town is built upon an undisturbed, impervious surface, it is easy to determine the constant direction of under-ground flow, and to provide against it; but where the natural conformation is seriously interrupted by deep street-cuttings, or by excavation for cellars, both the surface-flow and the water borne by seams and fissures are subject to modifications which are rarely taken into the account in the subsequent building of houses. There are very many districts, in the most expensively built parts of New York city, where these features of uncertainty are especially prominent.
To reconsider the influence of the natural conditions of Manhattan Island, and of the manner in which those conditions have been modified by art, with a view to indicating the sanitary result, it may be said that much of the city below Madison Square—the sand formation-was originally good, and would be good to-day, but for its contamination, by leakage from sewers and otherwise. It certainly has no defect which it is not possible to remove quite completely.
The swamp areas were originally bad, and are probably, all things considered, not less bad at the present time. They have been more or less efficiently drained,-generally less, but the ground-water naturally moving toward them carries with it an unwholesome amount of organic matter, leading probably to a decided contamination of the soil. The accretions of the shore were bad in origin, and are vilely bad in their present condition. Work now in progress may modify, but it will by no means remove, their inherent foulness. The rocky sites, with proper attention to the drainage of foundations and cellars, and with an amount of care that is rarely, if ever, expended in excluding soil moisture, need not be objectionable; without such caré they must be unwholesome. The sites of the old marshes and valleys, across which streets have been carried on high embankments, were not fit for human habitation in their original condition, and unless much more than ordinary care is exercised in construction, houses built several feet above their stagnant and polluted waters cannot be healthful residences. The heavier soil of Murray Hill, and of other parts of the island bearing naturally much water, needs, for the safety of its population, the same careful treatment that has been indicated as necessary in the case of the rocky sites.
Upon the foundation thus described, and with an eye single to rapid aggrandizement, a busy and bustling community has grown as by magic, and has secured to itself most of the superficial attributes of a great and splendid city. The intelligence and enterprise out of which the prosperity of New York has been created has concentrated itself intently upon two leading objects: material prosperity, and architectural and decorative magnificence. It has not only thrust the fundamental requirements of healthful conditions of life into a collateral position, it has, until very lately, absolutely ignored the whole subject. From the time when New York began to be a city until this day, the construction of its streets, and sewers, and wharves has been, if not guided, at least largely controlled by men who have either sought only political or pecuniary profit, or who have been obliged to concentrate their attention so fixedly upon the security of their chairs and their salaries that the interests of the public have been too much unrecognized or disregarded. In saying this, no personal reflection is intended upon the present or past chiefs of department
of the city. Some of the important offices. are now, and have often hitherto been, held by worthy, respectable, and intelligent men; but any one who may attempt to obtain information at their hands cannot fail to be impressed with the degree to which their attention and their best exertion is necessarily devoted to the mere business of politics. To this is to be added vast cupidity among lower officials, and endless rascality. Surely any one who examines the older sewers, and drains, and pavements of New York must recognize the fact that much of the most important work has been conceived in ignorance and executed in infamy.
This condition, unfortunately, is an immovable one. It seems almost futile to point out errors or to indicate improvements in face of the probability that public work will always remain in the hands of politicians, and in face of the certainty that politicians, however meritorious in their private capacity, will never render such public service as the public good demands.
The feature of the municipal improvements of New York to which reference is most frequently made in sanitary discussion is its sewerage. A very careful expert examination of this work, conducted during September, October, and November, 1880, shows it to be, as a whole, very much better than the popular belief concerning it would indicate. There are still, especially below Forty-second street and in Harlem, many old sewers, which were constructed without reference to any definite plan, which were laid in insecure ground, of which the materials are inadequate and the grades most defective, and which are, all things considered, as bad as they very well could be. Some of the worst of these sewers have been rebuilt and much improved, but there is still a very large proportion of the work done before the sewerage was put into the hands of the Croton Aqueduct Board, in 1849 (when the length of the existing sewers was estimated at about seventy miles), which is quite unfit for the work of sanitary drainage.
In New York, as everywhere else, the early work of sewerage related to the suppression of brooks. In 1676, the brook flowing through Broad street was lined with planks, and converted into an open sewer. This originally drained the low grounds about Beaver street. It has been improved and rebuilt from time to time, and little positive information is to be obtained concerning it. It has no man-holes, and it is mostly
below tide-level. It is said to be built of stone and brick, and still to retain some of its original wood-work. It is liable, at any time, to fall in pieces; but it still serves as an outlet for the entire drainage of about thirty-eight acres of densely covered territory. The lines of drainage now delivering into it are indicated in the accompanying sketch. In like manner, the brooks leading from marshes and ponds, in other low parts of the city, were first inclosed, and then covered, and finally converted into public sewers, serving for the discharge of domestic wastes and of surface and subsoil water. Such work was done only as necessity compelled it, and the manner of its doing was dictated by the opinions or by the notions. of those who happened for the moment to be in positions of authority.
About the beginning of the present century, when speculation in real estate became rife, public improvements of this sort were prosecuted with vigor. The brook in Canal street was walled in, and a stone bridge was built at Broadway. It was proposed, at about this time, to lay out an extensive park on the east side, one of the leading features of which was to be the Collect-a beautiful pond supplied by living springs, and reported to have no bottom (its depth was about forty feet). The suggestion was considered impracticable, because of the remoteness of the locality and the impropriety of spending public money for such a purpose. This remote region is now probably the most densely populated area of Christendom.
The increase of pavement and of roofed area made necessary some general provision for the removal of rain-fall, and the system of conducting it to large, deep sewers was a natural outgrowth of the office already being performed by large, deep sewers originally constructed with another aim. Stone being inconvenient to handle, brick came into use, and the construction of the sewers was much improved,-though, as the brick-work was laid with lime-mortar, which seems long since to have disappeared, many of these sewers are simply shells of open brick-work, held in position by the pressure of earth about them.
In New York, as elsewhere, the introduction of a public water-supply was undertaken without the accompanying provision of a comprehensive system of drainage. The house waste was turned into old drains and sewers not constructed for such use, and not adapted to it, or into vaults
and cesspools and street-gutters where there were no sewers. Experience, the world over, has amply indicated the defects of the prevailing method of sewerage, but no important modification of it was made in New York until the introduction of pipesewers, in 1864. It is still adhered to wherever sewers are constructed of such large diameter as to require the use of brick.
When the care of the construction and maintenance of sewers was placed under the control of the Croton Aqueduct Board, the population of the city being about half a million, the extension of the sewer system was carried on at the rate of about twelve miles per year, so that in 1855 the total length had more than doubled. trol of the Croton Aqueduct Department was rather nominal than real. It had charge of the construction, it is true, but it could build only such sewers as were ordered by the Common Council, and there was nothing like system in the work. Sewers were sometimes required to flow in a direction