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Reasonable UseThe People, the Environment, and the State, New England 1790-1930$
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John T. Cumbler

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195138139

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195138139.001.0001

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Cities and Industry, Sewage and Waste

Cities and Industry, Sewage and Waste

(p.49) 3 Cities and Industry, Sewage and Waste
Reasonable Use

John T. Cumbler

Oxford University Press

In 1886, James Olcott, a farmer, “having been bred in the old anti-slavery reform,” gave a speech before the Agricultural Board of Connecticut. Recalling an earlier age, he encouraged his audience and “the common people” of Connecticut to “agitate, agitate,” in order to “cleanse” the state of the “social evil” of the pollution “by sewage from families and factories, festering in every pool, and mill pond—formerly trout holes.” Olcott reminded the farmers that “our best hold on polluted streams reform lies in the fact that the mischief has brought on us its calamitous consequences in this country with such rapidity that men and women too not very greyhaired and in full bodily and mental vigor can shut their eyes and review the whole matter from its beginning.” The history Olcott conjured up was the transformation of a clean, clear environment from “one of the most salubrious to one of the worst in the world.” The change was intimately linked to the rise of industrial cities like Bellows Falls, Chicopee, Hartford, New Britain, and Holyoke. Although Olcott’s remembrance of the past was partly colored by romantic notions of a purer age, the pollution he pointed to was indeed a problem of growing obviousness and concern. Reflecting the rapid change that had occurred over the last quarter century, the Massachusetts State Board of Health complained that with the growth of densely populated industrial cities, the old habits of disposing of waste contributed to “a large part of the filth in our state,” and that “often the water which is used for domestic purposes [is disposed of] by being thrown upon the surface of the ground, or collected in loosewalled vaults and cesspools,” which might have been acceptable in a rural community but caused concern in the new industrial cities. As the New Hampshire Board of Health noted in 1887, looking back over the last few decades, “when men mass, . . . the conditions at once become aggravated. . . . Man comes in with his artificial constructions and sweeps away much of this economy of nature.”

Keywords:   air pollution, brass industry, coastal cities, deforestation, factories, industrial wastes, leather industry, odors, paper manufacturing, privies

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