Leverington Street Stormwater Outfall
in the context of the development of
stormwater and wastewater disposal systems
in Manayunk and Philadelphia
for the Fairmount Park Commission in fulfillment of
December 10, 2005///Revised January 16, 2006
Leverington Street stormwater sewer drains a small section of Northwest
The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers
Compiled by Adam Levine
Philadelphia Water Department
Proper drainage, of both stormwater and sewage wastes, is as crucial to urban development as the provision of pure drinking water. Without proper drainage, cities would be plagued by an array of problems, which, in simple terms, include:
Disposal of Human Wastes
The development of Philadelphia’s drainage system follows a pattern typical for large industrial cities of the 18th and 19th centuries. Before the “water closet” (the predecessor to the modern flush toilet) came into widespread use after 1860, human wastes were deposited in privy pits, located either in the basement of a house or in the backyard. These pits needed to be emptied periodically, and in the 19th century the business of privy cleaning was regulated by the city’s Board of Health. The Board investigated complaints of foul-smelling or overflowing privies, and issued permits to homeowners to empty them when necessary. The Board also issued licenses to the privy cleaners, who were often required to work only at night—thus one of their nicknames, “nightmen,” and the common euphemism for the material they handled, “nightsoil.” 
In the first half of the 19th century the Board maintained several “poudrette pits” on the outskirts of the city, where nightmen would empty the casks of wastes that they excavated from privies. In these pits the wastes were mixed with charcoal, and either swamp muck, gypsum or other materials which absorbed excess liquid and odors and helped compost the wastes. The resulting “poudrette” (from the French for “powder”) was considered an agricultural fertilizer that, depending on the composition, could be equal in the value of its constituents to bone meal. Board of Health records from this period indicate a number of sales of this human-based manure to farmers. 
In 1880, the city issued about 9,000 privy cleaning permits, with about 20 licensed cleaners removing about 27,000 tons of waste. This included an estimated 22,000 tons of actual human “excreta,” and “5,000 tons consisting largely of coal ashes and cinders, brickbats, broken dishes and glass, bottles, kitchen-utensils, boots, shoes, tin cans, cast-off wearing apparel, and, in fact, every imaginable thing which servants and others find it more convenient to hide in the privy-vault than to expose in the ash-barrel or to throw into the streets." 
As water-closets came into common use, the several gallons of water needed for each flush overwhelmed the privy system, which was designed to accommodate directly-deposited wastes containing far less fluid. As a result, privies had to be cleaned more often, and overflowed more often. As new sewers were built in the second half of the 19th century—with an especially accelerated pace of construction in the 1890s, when the Leverington Street sewers were built—households and businesses were required to abandon their privies and connect their waste pipes to the new sewers. The extension of sewers to all of the city’s 129 square miles was a long process, however, and use of privies continued in scattered locations well into the first half of the 20th century. 
The disposal of industrial wastes was, in many cases, far more straightforward than that of human wastes. Before the use of steam power became widespread beginning in the mid-19th century, most factories were situated near streams, to take advantage of water power to run their machinery and for access to the water for use in industrial processes. Wastes from these processes—which, using the textile industry as an example, could include soap or bits of wool or dye or bleach—were often simply dumped back into the stream below the mill. This often led to conflicts, as in one case where a paper maker located downstream of a dye works was unable to obtain clear water—instead the water would run black, or blue, or red, depending on the dyes being used at the upstream plant. Disputes over water-rights often ended up in the courts, as this one did, with the winner sometimes simply being the factory that got to the water first. 
As sewers were extended to industrial areas, factory waste lines were sometimes connected directly to the sewers. In other cases, owners were required to “pre-treat” their wastes before piping them into the sewers; or allowed to directly discharge this pre-treated effluent into the nearest stream. Despite all the laws against factory pollution of rivers and streams, the political influence of factory owners was such that abuse of waterways was allowed to continue well into the 20th century, and only ended beginning in the 1970s, with the passage of the federal Clean Water Act and its subsequent enforcement by the newly-created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Underground drainage pipes were built in Philadelphia as early as the 1740s, but only to facilitate efficient removal of stormwater from built-up areas. Until the 1850s, anyone desiring to drain anything from private property into these public sewers needed the approval of both City Councils, in the form of an ordinance. 
Most of these ordinances simply allowed drainage of water from cellars, but toward the middle of the century various wastes were also allowed into the sewers. By the 1860s, admission of wastes from water closets and factories became general practice in the city, and by the 1880s sewers began to be designed to handle this kind of material. In this rather makeshift way—and not without disagreements between the health and engineering departments of the city—a system of pipes originally designed to handle only inoffensive stormwater runoff was transformed into a “combined sewer” system handling both stormwater and wastes. 
Sewage Collection and Treatment:
As engineering advances in the later 19th century introduced “self-cleansing” sewers, designed with a size (not too large) and slope (not too shallow) to keep the sewage flowing fast enough to retain the solid component of the wastes in suspension, the system became more and more efficient at moving wastes away from their sources. Unfortunately, most of these pipes simply ended at the nearest natural stream, polluting both the city’s smaller creeks and the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. In fact, many of the creeks that once ran on the city’s surface were completely encapsulated in pipes, which then served as combined sewers to drain the rapidly-expanding neighborhoods through which they flowed. 
As early as 1866 Strickland Kneass, the City's Chief Engineer & Surveyor, wrote that this dumping of raw sewage could not continue indefinitely, and that some method of purification would have to be eventually implemented, but that eventuality did not occur until a century later. In 1923, the city opened the first of three planned sewage treatment plants, in Northeast Philadelphia, but the other two plants, the Southeast and Southwest
Plants, did not open until the 1950s. Even then, raw sewage continued to be piped directly into the city’s streams and rivers until 1966, when a system of collector or interceptor sewers, to carry sewage to the treatment plants, was finally completed. 
Sewage pollution in the city’s drinking water supplies led to deadly epidemics of cholera in 1832, 1849 and 1866. Worse still were the annual epidemics of typhoid fever, beginning after the Civil War, which killed thousands of Philadelphians and sickened tens of thousands more. In the worst year, 1906, more than 1000 people died of this disease. By this time it was widely accepted that water-borne diseases such as typhoid were spread by the bacteria in sewage-tainted tainted drinking water. However, keeping that sewage out of the drinking water supplies would eventually prove to be monumentally expensive. In Philadelphia, close to 200 sewer outfalls ranging from 4 feet to 20 feet in diameter were belching millions of gallons a day of raw sewage into the city’s streams and rivers—that is, into the drinking water supply. It proved simpler and less costly for Philadelphia—and other cities facing the same dilemma—to purify this polluted water rather than stem the pollution at its multitudinous sources. By building large drinking water filtration plants in the first decade of the 20th century and, in 1913, adding chlorine at the end of the filtration process, the city’s rate of typhoid and other water-borne diseases dropped dramatically. Unfortunately, the condition of its rivers and streams continued to deteriorate. 
Philadelphia built the first municipal water supply system in America, with water first delivered to customers in 1801 from a steam-powered pumping station on the Schuylkill River at Chestnut Street. “At the time,” reads a city report from 1914, “few towns existed on the banks of the [Schuylkill] and its water was almost uncontaminated by sewage, mine wastes or other impurities.” In 1815 the water works were moved upstream to Fairmount, with reservoirs placed on top of the “mount” to allow water to flow by gravity down into the city. Several years later, when the steam engines proved incapable of providing enough water to meet the demand, a dam (then the longest in the world) was thrown across the Schuylkill, with water power used to pump the water up into the reservoirs. 
This dam was a joint venture between the City and the Schuylkill Navigation Company, which, beginning in 1815, had sought to tame the Schuylkill with a system of locks and dams. By the time the company got to Fairmount, it had run short of money. A deal was struck with the city, which built the dam and the locks for the company in exchange for the rights to the water to power its pumps and to supply its citizens. The dam was completed in 1821, and the first water-powered pump went into operation a year later. 
The dam backed up a lake of water six miles long, and protecting the purity of the “Fairmount pool” became the object of a number of laws over the next hundred years. An early concern was the growing industrial community at Manayunk, about eight miles upstream from Fairmount. Manayunk was also a product of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, which completed the Flat Rock Dam and Manayunk Canal in 1819. By 1828, Manayunk was home to so many factories that a Fourth of July orator could boast that the community stood in the ranks of the world largest textile producers.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that in 1828 one of the first comprehensive laws against pollution of the Schuylkill River was passed by the Pennsylvania legislature. The law mandated, in its quaint legalese, a fine of $50 for "any person or persons [who] willfully take, lead, conduct, or carry off, or shall knowingly suffer or permit to be taken, led, conducted, or carried off, any offal or any putrid, noxious, or offensive matter, from any dye house, still house, brew house, or tan yard, or from any manufactory whatever, into that part of the river Schuylkill which is between the dam at Flat Rock and the dam at Fair Mount." The act further forbade pollution of river close to the Fairmount Water Works with "any dead animal, or any putrid or corrupt thing whatsoever, or any noxious or offensive matter of any kind." It also outlawed swimming, by people or dogs, within 100 yards of the head race, which conducted water into the Fairmount Water Works. Similar laws, which often expanded the list of prohibited activities and increased the amount of fines for violations, were passed in subsequent years.
The creation of a park around Fairmount beginning in the mid-19th century, besides providing a pleasure-ground for the citizenry, was also intended to protect the quality of the river water, and was a direct response to the current and potential industrial development along the Schuylkill riverfront. In fact, when the Park was expanded after the Civil War, many mills and factories upstream from Fairmount, along the Schuylkill and the Wissahickon Creek, were bought up and demolished.
In spite of all these precautions, the state of the Schuylkill, and of the drinking water drawn from it at four separate pumping stations—at Shawmont, Belmont, Spring Garden, and Fairmount—continued to deteriorate. One of the problems was that even if Philadelphia had been able to completely eliminate pollution of the river within the city limits, it had no direct control over the sewage and industrial pollution from communities upstream. Col. William Ludlow, the Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Department, said about the river in 1884:
"The history of the Schuylkill is both interesting and instructive. In earlier days a noble river with a bountiful and healthful drainage area of woodland, mountain and meadow, pouring a powerful and fairly equable current of pure water through its channel, the occupancy of its valley and the growth and development of population and industries from source to mouth have greatly modified its characteristics. Generation after generation have made fresh inroads upon its resources and added its quota of varied pollution, until at length the river, whose pure volume for a long period was able to eliminate the evidence of man's careless work and presence, and which even yet might have continued to do so were it not, Samson-like, shorn of its power of conservation by the ruthless cutting away of the forests and clearing of the land upon which it depended to equalize its flow, has become a sewage and trade-polluted stream whose failing volume in seasons of drought is unequal to the nauseous task of digesting and disposing of the extraneous and dangerous matters with which it is surcharged." 
The Schuylkill Interceptor and the Sewers on Leverington Street
A year before Ludlow made these remarks, construction began on a collecting or “interceptor” sewer—the city’s first—that engineers hoped would minimize the sewage and industrial pollution of the Schuylkill River. This sewer, which was completed in the early 1900s, paralleled the east bank of the river from below the Fairmount Dam to the city line above Manayunk, with branches along the banks of the Wissahickon Creek and its tributaries. Its purpose was to “intercept” all the sewers that had previously flowed into these streams, and carry this collected sewage downstream to an outlet below the Fairmount Dam, out of reach of any of the water supply intake pipes. 
The stormwater sewer on Leverington Street (the focus of this report) was one of two sewers in this street that were built in conjunction with the Schuylkill interceptor sewer. As discussed, most older areas of the city were served by a combined sewer system in which both stormwater and sewage is carried in the same pipe. A more efficient way of handling the two flows is to carry them in parallel but separate sewers (with stormwater carried in one pipe and wastes carried in a smaller “sanitary” pipe) built at the same time, in the same trench. Separate sewer systems have been installed in newer sections of the city, such as the Northeast, and in several neighborhoods, including Manayunk, that feed into the Schuylkill interceptor sewer.
The two sewers in Leverington Street in Manayunk begin their downhill course at Mitchell Street, about 250 feet above the Schuylkill River. The sanitary sewer is connected to the Schuylkill interceptor, while the stormwater sewer empties into the Manayunk Canal. The upper section, from Fleming Street to Mitchell, was the last to be built, in 1917. The section from Fleming to the canal was built in 1894, and by plan, the Schuylkill Interceptor was completed as far as Leverington Street in the same year. These sewers were just a small part of the 84 miles of sewer pipes completed by the city in 1894, the most ever built by the city in a single year and a total that astounds even modern engineers. Mayor Edwin S. Stuart, boasting of this accomplishment in his annual message to City Councils, wrote: “Never before in the history of the City has anything approaching the extent of work completed during such a period been nearly approached.... A sewer, once built, is buried from sight, and the public is apt to forget the extensive public works that are under the streets they daily walk; and, therefore, may fail to comprehend the importance of the sewage system in promoting the health of the City. The fact is, however, that it was a public wrong that this work was so long neglected, and as years come on it may be forgotten, but it will always show in the decreased death and sick rate of the City.” 
A small unnamed natural stream crossed Leverington Street at Silverwood Street, meandering across several city blocks before finally entering the canal. An 1893 construction plan indicates that the flow of this stream was to be captured by the new storm sewer in Leverington Street. Part of the purpose of building stormwater sewers is to help drain the surrounding land, so it is not surprising that channeling small streams into city-built sewers was common practice for hundreds of years. 
The same plan shows that, before the sewer was completed, the stream flowed in a culvert under Leverington, and continued to the southwest past the James Stafford & Co textile dyeing factory. There it was probably used both to provide water for the steam boilers and the dyeing vats, and to carry away the factory’s wastes. Today’s Leverington Street outfall no longer carries any industrial wastes or sewage, but it does carry wastes of a different sort. Some are human-generated, such as motor oil that either drips onto the roadways and is washed into the sewer, or which is directly poured into the inlet for disposal. Litter also washes into the sewer and out into the canal, as do dog wastes left behind on the streets by irresponsible pet owners. In comparison to the gross pollution that once flowed from Philadelphia’s sewers into its streams and rivers, “non-point” sources such as dog wastes might seem almost too trivial to care about. However, with the major “end-of pipe” sources mostly eliminated, these once-minor sources now make up a significant proportion of stream pollutants.
. Board of Health minute books from which this information was extracted can be found at City of Philadelphia Archives, Record Group 37. Also of interest is Roberts, Daniel G., and Barrett, David, “Nightsoil disposal practices of the 19th century and the origin of artifacts in plowzone provenances,” Historical Archaeology, Vol. 18(1), 1984, pp. 108-115.
. Poudrette is listed under “Fertilizers” in Henderson, Peter, Henderson’s Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture. New York: Peter Henderson & Co., 1890, p. 154.
. Report on the Social Statistics of Cities. Part I: New England and the Middle States. Compiled by George E. Waring Jr. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1886, p. 829-830. In this massive compilation of data from the 1880 U. S. Census, Waring also notes: “The matters removed are largely used by farmers and market-gardeners of the vicinity, the liquid portions generally by surface application after a considerable dilution with water in vats and cisterns constructed for the purpose.” [Most of the Philadelphia section of this report, including a large section on the city’s drainage, can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/backpages/SociatStats_1880/SocialStats_Drainage.htm ]
. See Tarr, Joel A., The Search for the Ultimate Sink (University of Akron Press, 1996), and Melosi, Martin V., The Sanitary City (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000) for a fuller discussion of the switch from privies to water closets, as well as most other issues touched on in this paper.
. Thanks to Donna Rilling for this example, which is from her as-yet unpublished research into 19th-century pollution in Philadelphia and other industrial centers. The 1884 Annual Report of the Philadelphia Water Department contains the “Report of a Sanitary Survey of the Schuylkill Valley,” with detailed descriptions of the types of materials used in industrial processes and of the types of wastes disposed of in the river, and 12 charts to summarize the data.. [The full text of this report and the accompanying charts can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/archives.htm ]
. The fact that the City Councils saw the need to pass an ordinance regulating sewer connections indicates that illegal connections to drain wastes into the sewers were indeed being made, though I have found no records of any specific cases.
. The arguments of the Board of Health, which wanted to preserve the sewers for stormwater only, and the City’s Department of Surveys, which supported and ultimately gained approval for the admission of other wastes into the pipes, can be found in the annual reports of both departments from the mid-1850s through the mid-1860s. One concern was that wastes would not drain away, but simply accumulate in the pipes beneath the streets, generating foul-smelling gases or “miasmas” that were thought by some to the source of disease. In 1880, one city engineer described the situation in the following quantitative terms: “It may be interesting to note in connection with this subject, what a small percentage of our population has made use of the water carriage system. There are about 150,000 houses in the city and only 33,100 water-closets. The Board of Health estimates in all about 70,000 wells or cesspools, about 50,000 of which are not connected with the sewers. We may safely say, that in the improved sections of the city nearly 500,000 persons make no use of underground drainage, but store up their faeces [sic] in privy wells, which are cleaned only when they are full, after saturating the surrounding earth with the liquid. To form an idea of the magnitude of this pollution of the soil, let us consider that about 10,000 permits are yearly taken out for cleaning wells, which, averaging less than 200 cubic feet, gives a gross quantity of filth removed of less than 2,000,000 cubic feet. As one person discharges one cubic foot in twenty days; or at least eighteen cubic feet per year; 500,000 will discharge 9,000,000 cubic feet. Therefore, at least 7,000,000 cubic feet drain yearly into the soil beneath our habitations.” (Hering, Rudolph, “The Future Sewerage Requirements of the City of Philadelphia.” Proceedings of the Engineers Club of Philadelphia, Vol. II, No. 1., 1880, pp. 5-6.) George Waring made the following observation of the city’s sewers in 1880: “[Most of] the sewers of Philadelphia are built now precisely as they were built forty years ago, with the exception of some slight improvement in the arrangement of the masonry.....The adoption of the diameter of 3 feet has no apparent reference to the service the sewer is expected to perform. The size is usually so much too great for any demand that can come upon it that deposits may accumulate to an almost unlimited extent before they form an absolute obstruction to the flow of the water and cause inconvenience by back flow. In the mean time the perishable parts of the deposit putrefy and [the resulting gases] escape through the outlet-basins for house-connections into the atmosphere of the streets or of the houses. These branch sewers are channels for removal mainly with reference to the surplus water of heavy storms. So far as the wastes of houses are concerned, [the branch sewers] are horizontal cesspools underlying the city in every, direction, producing objectionable gases at every point.” (Social Statistics of Cities, p. 821)
. My discussion of the justifications for the conversion of natural streams into city sewers can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/creek.htm . Maps showing the historic streams of the city, the modern streams, and the sewers that replaced those streams, can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/maps.htm .
. Strickland Kneass’s comments can be found in Annual Report of the Chief Engineer and Surveyor of the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: E.C. Markley & Son, Printers, 1867. The text of this and other annual reports of the Surveys Department, which was responsible for designing and building most of the city’s 19th century infrastructure, can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/backpages/bsar_reports.htm .
. Rosenberg, Charles, The Cholera Years. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. A map showing the city’s sewer outfalls can be found in Ledoux, J. W., Chairman, et al, Report to the Hon. J. Hampton Moore, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, on extensions and improvements of the present water works system. September 15, 1920, opposite page 52. In 1897 W. P. Mason, a professor at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, estimated the economic “tax” levied on Philadelphia by typhoid fever, based on 523 deaths per year, and 9 times that number sickened but not killed:
523 deaths, at $2,000 each............................$1,046,000
Total annual tax levied by typhoid fever upon the
(Mason, W. P., "Sanitary problems connected with municipal water supply.” Journal of the Franklin Institute, Vol. 143, May 1897, pp. 337-357.)
. Report on the collection and treatment of the sewage of the City of Philadelphia. Department of Public Works Bureau of Surveys, 1914, p. 118. The most comprehensive history of the Fairmount Water Works is by Jane Mork Gibson: “The Fairmount Water Works,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 84, Nos. 360 and 361, Summer 1988.
. Gibson, “The Fairmount Water Works,” pp. 17-21. When the Schuylkill Canal was completed in 1825, it measured 108 miles from Fairmount to Port Carbon above Reading, and had 58 miles of canals, 50 miles of pools, 129 locks, 34 dams, one tunnel 385 feet long, and a rise of 610 feet. This canal was one of several that “began to transform Philadelphia from a seaport to a manufacturing city looking inland and living by mine and mill.” (Weigley, Russell, ed., Philadelphia: A 300-year History. W.W. Norton & Co., 1982, p. 239)
. Shelton, Cynthia, The Mills of Manayunk. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1986, pp. 54-55.
. The 1828 ordinance is cited in Laws, ordinances and regulations relating to Fairmount Park and other parks under the control of the Fairmount Park Commission. (Philadelphia: Printed for the Commission, 1917, pp. 5-7). In 1868 a revised anti-pollution law, which would have extended the area of the Schuylkill to be kept free of pollution upstream to Norristown and increased fines to $1000, made its way to the Pennsylvania legislature. This amended list of pollution types reflected the tremendous expansion in industry along the river by this time: "Any carrion or carcass of any dead horse or animal, or any excrement or filth from any slaughterhouse, vault, well, sink, culvert, privy or necessary, any offal or putrid or noxious matter from any dye house, still house, tan yard, or manufactory or mill; any refuse from any coal oil refinery, gas works; or any other noxious matter or liquid whatever calculated to render the water of said river impure." Manufacturers opposed this law, asking in a petition that the legislature "protect us in the pursuit of our avocations and forbid any interference therewith, on any doubtful experiments to purify the Schuylkill River." The petition included statistics on the number of factories, the families who derived income from working therein, and the total value of goods manufactured: "We have ascertained and shown from actual statistics that the vast sum of 36 millions of dollars, is directly invested in Manufacturing, in the first sixteen miles of the Schuylkill valley, and that a population of Forty thousand depend for their means of livelihood, upon its pursuit. We leave you [the Legislators] to judge of the vast extent of collateral interests, both in the country and city, which are to be affected most fatally by the proposed legislation." The petition considered the pollution of the Schuylkill an unavoidable cost of doing business, which manufacturers thought the larger society should be willing to absorb, considering the economic benefits their factories provided. Unfortunately, the legislators agreed, and the law was not approved. (Memorial to the Senate and House of Representatives of Pennsylvania. J. B. Chandler, 306 & 308 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, February 10, 1868. The full text of the manufacturers’ petition, along with a rebutting newspaper editorial and a plan the manufacturers put forth for an alternative water supply for Philadelphia, can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/backpages/Petition_1868.htm .
. Annual report of the Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Department for the year 1884. Philadelphia: Dunlap & Clark, Printers, 1885, pp. 62-63. [More excerpts from this report’s section on “The Present Water Supply” can be found at www.phillyh2o.org/archives.htm .
. The ultimate plan was to continue the interceptor sewer all the way to the mouth of the Schuylkill, the efficacy of which was mentioned in a Board of Health report as early as 1875, but this was not accomplished until 1956. In the meantime, the lower Schuylkill river, below the dam, became grossly polluted with the sewage of up to half a million people.
. Fourth Annual Message of Edwin S. Stuart...with annual report of...the Department of Public Works, and of the Bureau of Surveys for the year ending December 31, 1894. Philadelphia: Dunlap Printing Co., 1895, pp. xvi-xviii. Information on the Leverington Street sewers was drawn from the Philadelphia Water Department digital plans database. Of particular use was No. 199235, a construction drawing from 1893 which shows the proposed sewer and the stream that crosses Leverington Street at Silverwood Street.
. Building sewers (and other infrastructure, including streets, water pipes and gas lines) was one way the city encouraged new development, which in turn, would lead to increased tax revenues that might repay these infrastructure costs in just a few years. This stream near Leverington Street was one of several that flowed down the steep hills of Manayunk, all of which have been captured and piped underground. It was one of literally scores of similar streams across the city which were treated in this fashion. The Leverington stream cut diagonally across several city blocks, and with its small valley it would have greatly decreased the property values in that vicinity. Once the stream was captured in the sewer, property owners could then fill in the old channel, level out the valley, divide their property into the small rectangular house lots and thus maximize their profits.