Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 25, 2006

As the Hutchinson River Grew More Fetid, James F. Secor Jr. of Pelham Manor Raised a Stink in 1901

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hutchinson River that borders parts of Pelham had grown fetid from the discharge of raw sewage by Mount Vernon, the Village of Pelham (now known as the Heights), and the Village of Pelham Manor. In about early 1901, the representative of the estate of one large landowner in Pelham Manor joined with others to submit a formal complaint to the Secretary of the State Board of Health in Albany. The petition of complaint as well as the report of the health inspector who investigated the situation appear immediately below.




The Honorable State Board of Health, Albany, N. Y.:

Gentlemen -- The undersigned, residents and property holders on and near the Hutchinson river and canal, partly in the city of New York and partly in the city of Mount Vernon and town of Pelham, Westchester county, New York, protest most urgently against the emptying of sewage into said river and canal by the city of Mount Vernon, the villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor, as the current is so sluggish that the sewage never reaches the sound, but remains in said river and canal, and has become a terrible nuisance and a great danger to the health of the inhabitants of the valley in which said river and canal are located, and your petitioners request that your Board take prompt action, in having pollution of said river and canal stopped at once.

John Scharff
John Ebling, Sr.
George B. Heitzman
George Ploner
Edward Maloy
Chas. Dempster
Andrew Mortz
Cassimir Ploner
Tije Ploner
Thomas H. Hodge
Wm. F. Johnston
W. V. Thompson
Joseph Merkel
John Welsh
John Ruser
Jacob Sohl
Wm. H. Holley
Samuel G. Brundge
Richard J. McGowan
P. Garvey
David Foley
John Hanson
Thomas Beattie
Paul Kohn
John Burke
Willard Clendenin
Frank Waker
C. Langenstein
Lea Raynor
W. J. Elliott
H. Doyle
E P. Miller
Charles H. Zorn
Fritz Rumpf
A. S. Wildey
John Corrigan
Joseph E. Nosworthy
Stephen D. Hunt
Stephen P. Hunt
John W. Maloy
J. H. Bryant
R. Willims
J. McMullen
Thomas Manning
William Kenney
Thomas Matthews
Anton Kammerer
James F. Secor, Jr., for estate of Anna M. Secor

SCHENECTADY, N. Y., January 17, 1901

BAXTER T. SMELZER, Secretary State Board of Health, Albany, N. Y.:

Dear Sir -- I have to submit the following report on the examination into the matter of the alleged discharge of sewage into the Hutchinson river by the municipalities of Mount Vernon, Pelham and Pelham Manor, made in accordance with your instructions of January 4th, transmitting the complaint signed by John Scharff and numerous other residents of Mount Vernon, Pelham and Pelham Manor.

I visited the locality on January 8th and called on James F. Secor Jr. one of the gentlemen who had submitted the complaint referred to, and with him inspected the Hutchinson river and canal from the river to the sound. I found the facts to be as stated, viz., that the sewage from the city of Mount Vernon and the villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor is being discharged directly, and without purification, into the river and upper end of the U. S. government canal recently opened to the sound. Although at the time of my visit the weather was quite cold and the ground frozen solidly, there was a decidedly perceptible odor from the stream, which was reeking with sewage in all stages of decomposition. The natural flow of Hutchinson river, or East Chester creek as it has been called in the past, has been nearly all appropriated for the water supplies of New Rochelle and Mount Vernon leaving only the slight amount of drainage occurring below the intake of the Mount Vernon water supplies above mentioned as the present flow in the stream. On the day of my visit the flow of the stream was about 30 cubic feet of water per minute, and this was stated to me to be considerably above the summer flow and not far from the ordinary flow.

The present work of the U. S. government canal has been extended to a point just above the principal sewer outlet of the Mount Vernon system, but below the outlets of the Pelham and the Pelham Manor systems.

Although the volume of standing water into which the Mount Vernon sewage discharges is much greater than before the excavation of the canal, the amount of water flowing out to the sound is no greater and, in fact, the linear velocity of movement toward the sound is very much less than when the stream occupied its natural bed, so that less sewage actually reaches the sound and more is deposited in the reach of the canal near the sewer outlet than before the canal improvement was made. The flow and ebb of the tide in the canal from the sound simply causes the sewage-laden water to swing back and forth above and below the sewer outlet, and but little if it gets out to the sound.

From the conditions which I found to exist in the water of the canal both above and below the main sewer outlet of the Mount Vernon sewer system and in the natural stream itself below the sewer outlets from both Pelham and Pelham Manor, I do not see how it could be otherwise than as the complainants in their petition describe it during the summer season. One of the citizens residing near the stream above the end of the canal has brought an action against the city of Mount Vernon asking an injunction against the continuation of the discharge of sewage into the stream on the ground that it has been the cause of sickness in his family. I endeavored to see the health officer of Pelham Manor to ascertain the condition of the health of citizens along the stream, from an official source, but found him away from home for the day, and have written him for this information, but have received no reply.

An examination of the reports of the State Board of Health shows that plans for a sewer system for the city, then village, of Mount Vernon were approved by the State Board on December 16, 1887, and that plans for a system of chemical precipitation disposal works were approved by the State Board of Health on November 17, 1893. Subsequently a number of changes in the sewer lines, particularly in the location of the outlet sewers, have been approved by the State Board without reference to the plans for sewage disposal.

Plans for a system of sewers and chemical precipitation disposal works for the village of Pelham Manor were approved by the State Board of Health on June 29, 1894, and plans for a change in the location of the disposal works were approved by the State Board on September 17, 1896, and on November 12, 1896. Neither of these disposal works for Mount Vernon nor Pelham Manor have been constructed, nor any steps taken toward their construction, and the present complaint is but one of a series of similar ones that have been before the State Board on previous occasions.

In view of this fact and the fact that plans for the disposal of the sewage from both these municipalities have been approved for several years, and no steps have yet been taken to build the works, it would appear clearly within the province of the State Board to direct the two municipalities to carry out the execution of the plans for the disposal system or, as an alternative, to procure and execute without further delay an efficient system or means of disposal by some other plan. This alternative is suggested in view of the fact that the plans for chemical disposal works would not be considered antiquated, and no engineer of standing would now recommend chemical treatment in this situation, and in view of the further fact that effects have been made during the past year or two to procure construction of a trunk sewer through the valley of the Hutchinson river to and through the Borough of the Bronx, at the partial expense of the city of New York.

I am, dear sir, very truly yours


Consulting engineer"

Source: State of New York In Assembly No. 65, Twenty-First Annual Report of the State Board of Health - State of New York, pp. 305 - 08 (Albany, NY: State of New York 1901).

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