The Manmade Marvel of the Baltimore Sewers

The need for sewers in 19th-century Baltimore was abundantly clear to those who endured the “2,000-horse-power smell” of the city's harbor. There, streams of human waste, trash, and industrial runoff converged and stewed under the summer sun, breeding deadly typhoid fever. City code required indoor toilets, but it was up to individual property owners to build cesspools, cisterns, or gutters. These emptied into an unfortunate stream called the Jones Falls; its polluted course ran from the wealthier to the poorer areas of town and finally into the harbor. An 1890 news story claimed that harbor steamboat passengers “were known actually to faint from the effects of the vile smell.” Baltimore was one of the last major American cities to build a public sewer system.