For those of us who live in Southeastern Louisiana, the sewerage and water system has been on our minds quite a bit recently. But let us hearken back to a time when our sewage systems were new and “thoroughly equipped.” In 1914, the Hon. Martin Behrman, mayor of New Orleans, presented “A History of Three Great Public Utilities: Sewerage, Water and Drainage, and their influence upon the Health and Progress of a Big City” to the Convention of League of American Municipalities. According to Behrman’s speech, it was “not until 1900 that New Orleans could be said to have a drainage system.” Until that time, there were no sewers, and open canals and water cisterns were breeding grounds for mosquitoes–and the deadly Yellow Fever. The Sewer and Water Board and the Drainage Commission was created in 1899 to develop New Orleans’ first sewage system, and by 1900 a substantial part of the system was in operation.
Behrman’s speech goes on to detail the increased property value and reduced death rate in New Orleans as a result of the new system. Ironically, a year to the day after Behrman’s speech, the 1915 New Orleans Hurricane made landfall near Grand Isle and put all of the systems operated by the Sewerage and Water Board to the test. A report given by Mr. George G. Earl, General Superintendent of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, details failures by the pumping stations and recommendations for infrastructure improvements–including raising the levees.
Both reports have been transcribed in full and are available to read online:
Both of these items are also available for viewing in the Booth-Bricker Special Collections & Archives Reading Room on the third floor of Monroe Library.
Found in the Archives is a recurring series of crazy cool stuff found in the Monroe Library’s Special Collections & Archives.