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Twin Cities Sanitation History

Sigrid Arnott
January 1996

St. Paul


Privy shafts, wells, cisterns, cesspools and garbage pits were common in pre-20th century cities, and because their construction involved the deep cutting of subsurface pits they are often preserved as archaeological features, even where historic soil surfaces have been disturbed or removed (for Minneapolis see Shah 1994, McCarthy and Hagglund 1996(?), Millet 1994 ). Methods of sanitation and garbage disposal have implications for the formation of features and the deposition of archaeological materials-- especially in domestic settings-- so it is helpful to understand the history of sanitation legislation and the introduction of the technologies and infrastructure necessary for sanitation reform in areas of historical archaeological investigation (Ford 1993, Geismar 1993). Actual waste disposal behavior does not always follow the rules outlined in ordinances; both further documentary and archaeological research can locate the contradictions between idealized behavior and real practices (Geismar 1993, Ford 1993, Rathje 1974, 1982 ).


This paper was researched as part of the Central Corridor project conducted in the Twin Cities in 1994-1995.1 An introductory history of sanitation ordinances relating to both sewage and solid waste in the Twin Cities was created to contextualize archaeological sanitation research. In addition, sewer permits and strip maps were consulted to research specific properties and identify lots and blocks with high archaeological potential.2 Ordinances that governed waste disposal and land drainage can inform our understanding of past ideas about the relationship between health and environment, and of the formation of archaeological sites.

Sanitation legislation in the United States began in mid-19th century cities where crowded conditions encouraged the spread of disease (Ford 1993, Geismar 1993). At this time, sickness was explained by the ancient miasmatic theory of disease, which held that disease resulted from physiological interactions of climate and personal constitution. Of particular concern were malarial diseases caused by "bad airs" or marsh miasm (Waring 1887: 211). Inhalation of miasmatic airs that derived from damp areas was seen as a primary cause of disease. The danger was most acute in mid-day when heat dissolved the poisons and at night when the damp airs became cooled and condensed (Jordan 1953: 5, Waring 1887: 209). Sewer and land drainage projects had already been carried out in England with positive health benefits that were directly attributed to the drying out of the miasm-producing environment and the removal of decomposing waste, and American sanitarians sought to follow the English example (Waring 1887: 217-221). "It may. . . be safely asserted as regards England generally, that: the diseases. . . have been steadily decreasing, both in frequency and severity, for several years, and this decrease is attributed, in nearly every case, mainly to one cause,- improved land drainage. . . (Waring 1887: 217). In urban areas swamps, stagnant waters- which were often a destination for local garbage- sluggish drains and ditches, newly excavated cellars and recently graded land were all seen as sources of miasmatic airs and thus, insalubrity (Jordan 1953).

In the 1880s, germ theory began to refute the miasma tradition by explaining disease as a result of transmission of contagious germs (Jordan 1953). Those public health officials who read of and believed in germs began to focus their attention on slowing the spread of disease by stopping contamination of food and water (Ford 1993, Jordan 1953). Disease became conceptually linked to microbes that thrived in poor sanitary and unclean living conditions, and health reform through public works became a social and political concern.

Interestingly, many city ordinances illustrate that the miasma medical theory persisted-- even in the consciousness of public health officers who were often proponents of germ theory. In the 1880s, efforts began to create a comprehensive sanitary infrastructure in St. Paul, and "among the first problems confronting. . . the local boards [of health] was that of the systematic removal and disposal of sewage and general surface waters by sewers" (Jordan 1953: emphasis added). Swamps, small ponds, even small lakes, were seen as sources of disease, and in the way of progressive city development. Thus, "pestilential ponds," "stagnant waters," and " filthy mudholes" were drained and filled in near areas of development (Chancy 1908, Jordan 1953). In St. Paul alone, countless wetlands as well as ponds, small lakes, and even rivers were drained and filled in by the 1890s (Chancy 1908). For city residents of the late nineteenth century, drainage of standing waters was almost as important as the removal of sewage, and ordinances illustrate the concern that city fathers had that putrid odors caused by decaying organic wastes were causing actual danger to city residents.

In one site subject to phase I investigations for the Central Corridor Project, the results of documentary and archaeological data create an interesting picture of land use in the late 19th century. Four cores were placed in the back lot area of two blocks facing former Rondo Avenue in an area developed in the late 1880s concurrent with streetcar service. According to secondary sources, this marshy plot had long been owned by a French Canadian, Joseph Rondeau, who had bought the area as part of a farm on the edge of St. Paul in 1848 (Williams 1983 [1876]). A high density of late nineteenth century historic artifacts were retrieved in this area, but more importantly, the coring data helped fill in some of the history of Rondo's swamp. Thick peat deposits derived from a wetland were found beneath the 8' of historic era fill (derived from street grading) that provided the new land surface for residential construction (Arnott 1995:7-90-7-91). Directly on top of the wetland deposits several cores held a thin layer of historic garbage, primarily bones and bottles. Because a core only recovers a tiny sample of the horizontal plane, the fact that this scatter was recovered at all may indicate that the swamp was consistently covered with a sheet of garbage. Interestingly, this illustrates a practice that ordinances were constantly proscribing: the dumping of refuse in wetlands (cf. SPCP 1887: 418, Sec. 31). It also shows how wetlands were seen as wastelands, because they "wasted" valuable real estate-- nearby land polluted by miasm and the wetland itself that could not be built upon-- and because they were considered a destination for waste materials.

As in the country, city residents sunk their wells and privy vaults in their property. But, as city lots were quite small, the risk of water contamination was high and disease, especially Typhoid Fever, spread easily --especially when the water table was high (Jordan 1953). City ordinances that aimed to slow the spread of infectious disease by protecting drinking water from contamination (or by eliminating "unwholesome odors") needed to regulate privies: how and where they could be built, how they could be cleaned, maintained and eventually abandoned, and even what could be put in them (Geismar 1993, Ford 1993). Later, beginning in the 1880s and continuing into the early 20th century, a sanitary infrastructure consisting of municipal water and sewer lines spread beneath city streets, and privies became increasingly obsolete.

Ordinances and some early sewer permits indicate that the first sewers were draining sinks. wet basements, and wet ground, but not water closets. For example, sewer connections were made, and piping installed before buildings were even constructed, or pipes were not connected to the actual building (Saint Paul Department of Public Works [SPDPW] permits #1680, #1014). Although we usually think of sewers as taking away sewage, for city residents of the late 19th century the removal of standing water was almost equally important.


In Minneapolis the first sanitation ordinances, made in 1873, were relative to scavengers and "nuisances" (Minneapolis City Council Indexing [MCCI] 1948:Chapter 23:13). Scavengers were those people hired by privy owners to periodically clean out and remove the contents of their privy vaults. The deposits found in privy vaults were called night soil because they were usually removed at night and scavengers were originally called "nightmen" (Geismar 1993: 60). In order to control the process of night soil removal and disposal, and the means and hours of transportation, the city required that all scavengers be licensed. Amendments to the ordinance made in 1878, 1888, 1889, 1895 and 1933 further controlled licensing (MCCI 1948:Chapter 23:13).

The repeated ordinances regarding scavengers, and the increasingly specific language regarding removal and transportation practices seems to indicate that the profession was in need of constant supervision or that public health opinion became more concerned with the risks associated with local contamination. Although several plans were made for the sanitary disposal or cremation of night soil in Minneapolis most of it, and much of the city's garbage, was dumped into the Mississippi, transferring the health hazards to communities downstream-- like St. Paul (Jordan 1953: 136).

In 1890, an ordinance was passed and published in the Minneapolis Tribune "regulating the disposition of night soil and other refuse" (Minneapolis Council Proceedings [MCP] 1890: 589). This ordinance put the Department of Health in charge of licensing scavengers and garbage carriers who "removed, cleaned or carried. . . the contents of any privy vault or cesspool or offal, butcher's waste, garbage, swill. . ." and required them to "comply with all the requirements . . . of such permit" (Ibid). The ordinance specified that "the contents of any privy, privy box, vault, sink, or cesspool" be removed " by means of some airtight apparatus, pneumatic or other process so as to prevent said contents from being agitated or exposed to the open air" and transported in an airtight and impermeable container approved by the Department of Health (Ibid).

Early sanitation ordinances sought to control the malodor of privies but did not offer specific recommendations. The 1873 ordinance, passed just one year after the city was incorporated, stated that residents could not permit to "remain offensive, nauseous, hurtful, dangerous, unhealthy or uncomfortable to or for the neighborhood any outhouse, privy, vault, sewer, drain, sink, pool. . ." (McCarthy 1995: D.1). The ordinances relative to scavengers indicate that some privy owners were hiring nightmen to clean their vaults, but many other privy owners may have just moved the location of their outhouses around the back area at their lots. An 1877 ordinance stated that "the contents of any privy, or other vault or excavation, containing ordure or filth" could not be "covered up with earth or any material," and an amendment stated that no refuse could be disposed of within a privy vault, but it is likely that residents continued to abandon vaults full of a variety of materials without cleaning them (MCCI 1948: chapter 25:7). Archaeological information will help determine how closely early Minneapolis residents followed city ordinances.

Regulations regarding the actual construction of privy vaults were made on August 15, 1877 and specified that privy vaults or "other excavations containing ordure or any other filth" could not be "covered up with earth or any other material" nor used as fill (MCCI 1948). In 1895, an ordinance was passed requiring all utility lines, gas, water and sewer, to be laid in streets with connections made to the front of each lot prior to paving (McCarthy 1995: D.3), but this ordinance did not require actual connection to the residence and relatively few streets outside the downtown may have been paved. In 1901, it was finally prohibited to construct outhouses, privies or cesspools where sewer connections could be made (MCCI 1948:Chap. 23:17). This important ordinance did not prohibit the continued use of previously constructed privies, but did come at a time when much of the inner city was served by sewer lines.

City water works were introduced to Minneapolis in 1867, primarily to aid fire-fighting efforts (Jordan 1953: 112, Minneapolis Board of Trade 1869, U.S. Census 1887). The water works was located just upstream from the Minneapolis Mill Company canal gate house, and used water and waterpower from the river to pump 3,500,000 gallons of water through 22 miles of conduit to 1,600 water-users daily (U.S. Census 1887). Most of this water appears to have been directed to industrial users and 258 municipal fire-plugs for fire-prevention. According to Minneapolis historian H.B. Hudson, another water-works was constructed in 1871 and had a wooden main on Washington Avenue from about Fifth Street to Hennepin Avenue where it turned to Bridge Square near the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. At this time the water was made available to private and commercial water users such as downtown hotels, some of which were notorious for having typhoid-infected well-water (Hudson 1908: 482, Jordan 1953).

From the beginning, there were problems with this source of water for domestic use, and residents had low confidence in its quality. Sewage was emptied into the Mississippi above the intake, some as nearby as Bassett's Creek, which is only about one mile upstream, and domestic animals above stream also contaminated the water and were sometimes trapped by timbers and drowned in the river (Jordan 1953: 107). Because there were doubts about the quality of the water by both citizens and by public health officials, and because the early system of water distribution via wooden pipe did not function well, citizens remained suspicious of the public water source and many preferred to use water from private wells or cisterns.

Toilets that drain into sewers require large amounts of water in order to flush, so connections to plentiful city water usually preceded or were contemporaneous with a sewer hook-up. Thus, residents who remained dependent on private wells and cisterns could not install toilets that adequately flushed. In addition, early water and sewer connections, which were not deeply enough buried or adequately vented, often froze in the winter and emitted gas. In general, the poor quality of the sanitary infrastructure in Minneapolis discouraged residents from abandoning their traditional sources of water and the back house privy until the turn of the century, when the water intake was moved, at the turn of the century, three miles upstream to Camden, and efforts to filter water were begun (Jordan 1953: 112).

City sewers appeared in Minneapolis in 1871, but this sanitary infrastructure was restricted to the downtown core, and privy use-- especially in residential areas-- continued on for many years (Jordan 1953: 136, Rinker 1910:422). The first sewer was built on Washington Avenue next to a former slough, with its outfall into the Mississippi on Eighth Avenue South near mill tailraces (Rinker 1910:422). This original sewer with some additions amounted to two and a half miles of line, was desired to drain water from 300 to 400 acres and served as the sole sewer and drainage system until 1882 (Rinker 1910:423). This particular line was last rebuilt in 1936, but the original outfall may still exist (Minneapolis Public Works Records [MPWR], Figure 1 ). With the building boom of the 1880s the city sought to create new sewer districts to serve more of the city but all areas had to be in drainages below the city water intake near downtown until the intake was moved upstream in the early 20th century (Rinker 1910). Thus, the technology and infrastructure necessary to wage the war against microbes lagged a few years behind the public consciousness of germs.

City sewer strip maps can be used to document the entry of sewers down many city streets. These maps generally show the location of the sewer, manholes and individual private connections in plan view as well as the date of construction (ea. Minneapolis Public Works Records [MPWR], Figure 1). Elevation views show the general soil stratigraphy, location of sewer vertically and construction type. Sewer permit numbers associated with specific properties can be used to locate, and thus date, individual connections. Unfortunately, if a sewer is completely rebuilt the methods of map updating in Minneapolis can obscure reference to original sewer construction dates and permits. Strip maps located for blocks southeast of the Mill District in Minneapolis, one of the first areas to be settled, and near the center of industrial activity, show that sewers entered the area from the mid- 1880s to the turn of the century, many remaining in use to the present. Strip maps also show that sewer lines did not reach all streets, even in heavily settled areas, until well into this century.

Ordinances give clues to the general acceptance of sewer connections and privy abandonment at the public level. A 1900 ordinance that remained on the books until at least 1948, for example, still regulated the cost of cleaning "cess-pools, sinks, [and] privy vaults," and regulated where privies could be emptied and how they could be cleaned (MCCI 1948: Chapter 23:9). Both these laws indicate that existing privies continued to be used well into the 20th Century. Strip maps with individual permits for each lot can give specific evidence of dates and patterns of sewer connections at particular residences, and give primary information about behavior at an individual household level.

Early laws relating to the disposal of garbage and night soil in Minneapolis were aimed more at the practices of collectors rather than residential waste generators and were primarily concerned with the disposal of dead animals and their by-products. An 1890 ordinance regarding garbage disposal concerns itself with night soil, and animal waste including "offal, butcher's waste, garbage, swill, rough tallow. . . slaughter house refuse or any dead animal" (MCP September 26, 1890). The first detailed ordinance regarding garbage disposal was made in March 1900 and published in the Minneapolis Tribune (MCP 1900: 72). By this time, garbage was more broadly defined as every accumulation of animal or vegetable matter including all food waste or slops, and the paper sacks used as containers. Manure, ashes, dead animals, and all non-organic rubbish were treated separately. The 1900 ordinance gave the city power to designate where collected garbage and other waste materials could be taken for reduction or cremation, and how much could be charged for collection and transport. Subsequent amendments to this ordinance specified how licenses to haul garbage could be procured, and how, where and when garbage could be stored and transported (MCCI 1948). The 1900 definition of garbage was expanded in 1939 to include burnable refuse (MCP).

Noticeably absent from these ordinances are any regulations regarding non-organic waste. Because the ordinances seem most concerned with waste that could decompose and become "nauseous or unwholesome," there was no regulation on bottles, cans, ceramics or other solid waste (MCCI 1948). Many residents burned as much of their garbage as possible to reduce the quantity of garbage they would have to pay to have removed and the disposal of the resulting ash was not regulated. In fact, as late as 1931 an ordinance was passed specifically allowing a person or corporation to fill in or dump on their own land, or land they had permission to dump on as long as the "ashes or other substances are free from dead animal or vegetable matter and other unwholesome or putrid substances or materials" (MCCI 1948).

In 1939 limits were set on how trash could be burned, and how combustible materials could be stored (MCCI 1948: Chapter 41:13), but individuals were still allowed to burn their own refuse and dispose of the ash in their own property. The archaeological implications of these laws is that urban sites may be littered with trash and covered with ash some of which may post-date building demolition.

St. Paul

St. Paul established a Board of Health in 1854, but the engineering problems related to creating a sewer system were not seriously addressed until the 1870s (Jordan 1953: 127-8). By that time, make-shift unrecorded ditches and drains ran throughout the downtown area and the city was pitted with privy vaults and wells (Jordan 1953: 127-8). In general, most sewers constructed before the 1880s were inadequate: they either did not properly flush or they were subject to cave-ins (Ibid).

The first St. Paul public health ordinance, passed in 1880, was highly detailed with 26 sections of provisions in regard to proper connections to public sewers (SPCP [St. Paul Council Proceedings], Ord. #201). Especially in the building boom of the 1880s, city officials realized that the construction of a sanitary infrastructure could not keep pace with the spread of both city development and disease. As in Minneapolis the early sanitary infrastructure did not encourage use. Sewers remained limited to a small area, running water was not available to flush toilets, and poor connections froze in winter- so most residents had resisted making connections (Jordan 1953: 1323). A plentiful water supply was needed for toilet flushing, but though the waterworks in St. Paul were constructed in 1869, by 188O, the 41,473 inhabitants of the city had only 1,850 hook-ups (U.S. Census 1887). In 1885 the city began keeping records of all sewer building and hook-ups, and a map was made showing the existing sewers, their type of construction and their date of construction: pre or post 1885 (Fig.2 ).

Because of the lag in the introduction of a working sanitation infrastructure to the residential neighborhoods of St. Paul, the city-- unable to require sewer hook-up and faced with the spread of infectious diseases-- began passing ordinances detailing the legal requirements of privy construction, and the collection and disposal of night soil by scavengers three years after the optimistically comprehensive ordinance regarding sewer connections. Much of the content of the ordinances, as can be seen below, sought to eliminate "nuisances": those features of the urban landscape that were "emitting smells and odors prejudicial to the public health."

The first of these ordinances, passed in 1887, is a comprehensive public health document "Prescribing Rules and Regulations for the Health Department of the City of Saint Paul" (SPCP 1887: 415- 422). This ordinance had sections regarding physicians, the reporting of diseases, interment of bodies, quarantine, vaccinations and "nuisances." The bulk of the ordinance was written in regard to these nuisances, privies, garbage piles, stables and such, that were seen as agents in the spread of disease. For example, section 33 forbids city residents to,

permit or suffer on his, her or their premises. . . any nuisance, either by exercising any unwholesome or offensive trade, calling or business, or by having or suffering or permitting any building, outhouse, sewer, sink, or any putrid or unsound beef, pork, fish, hides, skins or any putrid carcass, or any unwholesome substance or thing whatever. . . until by offensive and ill stenches or otherwise, they or any of them shall become offensive, hurtful or dangerous to the neighborhood. . . (SPCP 1887: 418)

Sections 42 and 43 of the ordinance specifically treated the placement and construction of privies, cesspools and other features of the urban landscape that were "emitting smells and odors prejudicial to the public health"(SPCP 1887: 419). It is interesting that odors in the air, and not polluted water, continued to be perceived as a primary problem to be solved. The ordinance required that "every water closet, privy vault or cesspool shall be properly connected to a public sewer when practicable" (STEP Ord No. 809, 809 49). But it was apparently not practicable in most cases as the majority of the ordinance's sections relating to sanitation described requirements for privy construction. New privy construction was allowed in lots adjoining sewer lines as long as the privies were water-tight or connected to a sewer (STCP Ord No. 809, sec 42). The 1887 health ordinance stated that a privy would be declared a nuisance if it was within 20' of a "street, dwelling, shop, or well unless the same shall be furnished with a substantial vault six feet deep and made water tight, so that the contents cannot escape therefrom, and sufficiently secured and enclosed." In addition, the contents of privies were required to be at least two feet below ground surface, and those privies "emitting smells or odor prejudicial to the public health" or not conforming to the building provisions were declared nuisances to be abated by the Department of Health (SPCP, Ord No. 809, Sec 43).

Section 50 of Ordinance 809 states:

When not connected to any sewer, all water closets, privy vaults or cesspools shall be walled up or cemented on sides and bottom in such a way that they will be impervious to water. Said bottom shall be at least six feet below the level and they shall be provided with proper ventilating pipes and covers subject to the approval of the Building Inspector; and no water closet, privy vault or cesspool shall be so constructed within twenty feet of any house residence or building without a permit from the owner. . . or within twenty feet of the line of any public street. . . water closets, privy vaults, cesspools or private drains already built or constructed that do not conform with [these] provisions. . . are hereby declared a nuisance.
This ordinance also required privy vaults to be kept clean by removing contents according to Health Department requirements or with a license. In the search of sewer permits within the Central Corridor project area, no permits for privy connections to sewers were found, and it is unlikely that many would have been made as it would have been difficult to flush them. A permit was found to connect a cesspool within 20' of the street to the sewer (Fig.3, SPDPW permit). No provisions were made in this ordinance for the abandonment of privy vaults.

The 1887 ordinance also briefly noted that scavengers employed to remove "substances, which for any cause has become offensive, or has to be removed, [shall] convey the same in close, tight covered boxes, so as to prevent the scattering or dropping therefrom any such substances while in motion, or passing along any streets. . . or permit the emision of smells therefrom" (Ordinance 809, sec 71). No mention was made as to what was done with night soil in the ordinances but at one point the city adopted the New Orleans method of sanitation which involved the emptying of the contents of privy vaults and cesspools into the Mississippi or converting it to fertilizer in an outlying area (Jordan l 951: 131, cf. Robert and Barrett 1984).

As people were used to creating their own individual sanitation systems as they saw fit and without the interference of the city government, it is unclear whether this flurry of requirements had much influence on the lives of most residents. Many did resist making expensive hook-ups to a suspect system, and sanitation ordinances were frequently broken (Jordon 1953). Non-conforming privies were declared nuisances to be abated by the Department of Health, but except in severe cases it is unlikely that many were actually condemned. Newspapers did record problems as in this 1886 notice: "The attention of the health officer has been called to a noisome nuisance in the rear of the Syndicate block, but that official hasn't discovered the foul hole yet" (St. Paul Mirror Pioneer Press, August l, 1886: 6).

Gradually, dependable sewers and water mains were expanded throughout the city and connector confidence increased. Permits searched for the Central Corridor project indicate that most homes were connected by 1910. But, regulations regarding the removal of night soil continued into 1949, indicating that privies may have stayed in active use well into the 20th century (SPCP: Ord. 9256). (? Photo of Swede's Hollow in 1930s.)

As in Minneapolis, most Saint Paul ordinances regarding garbage disposal were concerned with materials that could decay. Several sections of the 1887 public health ordinance dealt with industrial wastes from any "distiller, tanner, brewer, soap boiler, tallow chandler, meat packer, livery stablekeeper" that may permit "any foul or nauseous liquors, slops or substance whatever" to escape their establishment (SPCP 1887: 418). Homeowners were prohibited from throwing dead animals "or any vegetables or decayed animal matter or any slops or filth whatever, solid or fluid, into any pool of water in said city," nor could such substances, "which by the process of decomposition may become offensive" be thrown upon the ground (SPCP 1887: 418, Sec. 31, Sec 35). It was explained that such unwholesome substances could, "by offensive and ill stenches. . .become offensive, hurtful or dangerous to the neighborhood" (SPCP 1887: 418, Sec. 33). Although the word miasma is not used, we again see an emphasis on "nauseous odors" that through inhalation could prove dangerous; ordinances were aimed as much at sanitizing the smells of the city as the drinking water.

Few changes were made to the laws regarding waste disposal until 1917 when ordinance No. 3861 "regulating the handling and disposition of garbage" was passed (SPCP 1917, March 26). This ordinance defined garbage as "all vegetable or animal matter which is the refuse or offal of the food of human beings," and required all homeowners to deposit the same in cans with tight-fitting lids. The ordinance further required that "no dirt ashes, sticks, stones, cans, broken dishes, bottles, paper or like substances unsuitable for animal food shall be deposited in said garbage receptacles" (SPCP 1917, March 26). Until this time residents had arranged for the separate removal of the three classes of household waste: garbage, refuse and ash by scavengers and ash haulers. The 1917 changes were made when the city poor farm began arranging for the collection of city garbage to feed to their pigs (St. Paul Planning Board 1946).

Even with municipally ordered garbage collection, however, residents were still responsible for arranging for the disposal of their refuse, rubbish and ash. As ash haulers charged by the cubic yard, many people incinerated their trash to reduce its bulk, and then paid to have it hauled away or found a place to dump it. As in Minneapolis, this means that the disposal of non-organic refuse was largely unregulated and garbage generators generally determined how and where trash was deposited based on their personal sensibilities. Because disposal was individually determined, archaeological materials from home disposal appears to be highly irregular, varying greatly from household to household even in the same economic level,. Areas that lay vacant for any length of time may be covered with post-abandonment middens totally unrelated to the lot's occupants.

State law created the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in 1968 at which time burning of household garbage was banned and regular garbage pick-up of all materials was required. By this time most of the smells of the city had been transferred to the sanitary landfill. Now, too, odors of incineration and leaf burning became smells of the past.


Studying city ordinances and sewer permits for the Central Corridor Project provided information helpful for predicting how garbage may have been deposited in historic archaeological sites, helped identify lots with high archaeological potential, and created an explanatory context for further archaeological studies. But these documents are perhaps most important not for their information regarding privy construction nor illustration of the persistence of ancient medical conceptions in public consciousness, but for their unintentional evocation of a landscape of powerful odors which early city residents traversed.


Thanks to Lisel Goetze and Anne Moberry for help collecting primary materials for this project and to John McCarthy for organizing a forum for regional historical archaeology papers.


1. BRW Inc. conducted phase I-II cultural resource investigations under the auspices of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority.

2. For the Central Corridor project building code and sewer permits searches were done for all targeted properties. In this way we were able to find those blocks, and even particular residences, where the introduction of sewers and other sanitary infrastructure lagged behind initial building construction. These parcels, it was assumed, may have had a longer period of both privy use, and thus higher potential for extant privy vaults. Future archaeological work will be able to determine whether this documentary means of predicting the probability of archaeological features is helpful, and perhaps more importantly, to point out those areas where actual behavior disagrees with documents.

Once particular lots had been chosen for investigation in the Central Corridor project, we researched both the building date and the dates of water and sewer connection. Although no permits are available for either city prior to 1885, it is possible to determine when buildings were built using tax assessment records. In addition, some sewer permits indicate that buildings are new, thus it can be assumed that the building date is roughly the same as sewer hook-up. Sewer strip maps were copied for the targeted areas and permits within the area collected. In two areas we were also able to locate vacated streets by comparing existing historic sewer manholes with strip maps showing the sewer in relation to the historic streets. Then the building dates were compared to permits for sewer hook-up.

In some areas, such as the suburb of Merriam Park, buildings pre-dated the introduction of the sewer line by several years. After hook-up became possible, individual residents made their connections sporadically over the next 10 to 20 years. A similar pattern was observed at the Capitol area; when households were already well-established before the introduction of a sewer line, hook-up seemed to occur slowly or not at all. Permit information indicated which residences remained privy dependent for the longest time.


Arnott, S.
1995 Historical Archaeology. 1995 Phase I and II Cultural Resources Investigations of the Central Corridor Minneapolis Hennepin County and St. Paul, Ramsey County Minnesota, Report prepared by BRW. Inc. Submitted to Minnesota Department of Transportation, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority

Chaney, J. B
1908 Early Bridges and Changes of the Land and Water Surface in the City of Saint Paul. Minnesota Historical Society, Vol 12.. St. Paul Department of Inspection, City of Minneapolis n.d. City of Minneapolis Building Permits

Ford B.
1993 Health and Sanitation in Nineteenth-Century Harper's Ferry. In Interdisciplinary In investigations of Domestic Life In Government Block B. Perspectives on Harper's Ferry Armory and Commercial District. edited by Paul A Shackel, pp. 21.1-12.38. U.S. Dept. Of the Interior National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

Giesmar, J.
1993 Where is the Night Soil? Thoughts on an Urban Privy. Historical Archaeology 27(2): pp 57-70

McCarthy, J.
1995 A Brief History of Sanitation in the City of Minneapolis Phase IB/II Historic Archeological Evaluation of Selected Parcels. Interstate 35W Improvement Program (MNDOT S.P. 1981-78/2782-226) Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota.

John McCarthy, Clark Dobbs, Karl Hagglund and Antone Mathys,
Institute for Minnesota Archaeology Reports of Investigations Number 318:Appendix D, Minneapolis, MN, Submitted to Minnesota Department of Transportation

Millet, L.
1994 Researchers want to be privy to the knowledge building site may hold. Saint Paul Pioneer Press 21 June: 1A

Minneapolis City Council
1873- Minneapolis City Council Proceedings

Minneapolis City Council Indexing
1948 Minneapolis City Charter and Ordinances, Municipal Court Acts and Rules of Practice Park Ordinances, Rules of City Council. Compiled by Laress Ackman and Norman Newhall, Jr., Syndicate Printing Co.Minneapolis, MN

Rathje, W.
1974 The Garbage Project: a new way of looking at the problems of archaeology. Archaeology 27: 236-41 Rinker, A.

1910 The development of the Minneapolis Sewer System. Bulletin of the Minnesota Academy of Science. 4 (3): 422-427

Shah, A.
1994 Dig yields clues to urban domestic life in mid-1800s. Star Tribune 21 June: 1Be

St. Paul City Council
1880-1949 St. Paul Council Proceedings (SPCP).St. Paul, MN

St. Paul Mirror, Pioneer Press
1886 Untitled. Aug 1., p.6 St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul Planning Board
1946 Report of Special Committee on City Garbage and Refuse Disposal, June 14, on file at Minnesota Historical Society

Waring, G.
1887 Draining for Profit and Draining for Health. O. Judd Co.,New York, New York

Williams, J.F.
1983 [1876] A History of the City of Saint Paul to 1875. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul

U.S. Census Bureau
1887 Water Supply of Cities Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. Vol. 17,pp. 119-276



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