Boston Sewers in relation to disease

Created by: Thomas Barnes
Time Period: 18th Century, 19th Century
Topic: Infrastructure

This blog will give a brief overview about the history of Boston, Massachusetts sewer systems. We will began with the first evidence of sewer in the 1700s and quickly move up to Boston’s current systems.

In the 1700s many settlers including some of the first second-generation Americans occupied Boston. Only the elite of the city were able to afford installing sewer systems into their personal properties. However these early sewer systems were not designed to remove waste, they were designed to control rainwater that could damage your house or seller. With lack of plumbing to control the waste, Boston smelled terrible and many Bostonians became sick with disease because of contaminated water.


The Election of Josiah Quincy in 1823 as Boston’s second governor was a major turning point for the future of Bostonians sewer problems. Quincy wanted to make Boston a cleaner and more desirable place to live. Doing so he set the stage for construction of one of the first complex sewer systems ever constructed in America. In 1883 Waste is allowed into the sewer systems. However, because of this more and more people were becoming sick and dying of diseases like cholera and typhoid. The human waster was getting stuck in the new drains causing terrible smells and polluting the environment. To help move the waste, in 1833, rainwater was added into the newly designed waste systems. This also did not work so well for Boston resident because the newly constructed sewers were draining directly into Boston Harbor and destroying the wildlife as well as poisoning the cities occupants. Following the discovery of germ theory Boston city officials began installing treatment plants in order to clean wastewater before adding it back into their local rivers.

Boston’s played a major role in setting an example for other cities in regards to constructing permanent sewer systems. However, the early construction has hindered Boston’s ability to keep up with more modern construction traits. Replacing the old sewers is an ongoing and constant burden in this fine city.


Thomas Barnes

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