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Twin Cities Sanitation History

Sigrid Arnott
January 1996


Studying the history of sanitation systems contributes to an understanding of archaeological features such as privies, cesspools, and garbage pits and identification of those with high archaeological potential. When American cities began to build sanitary and waste disposal facilities in the mid-19th century, miasma rising from stagnant water was still widely blamed for the spread of illness, and early efforts were aimed at eliminating wetlands as well as controlling offensive odors and “bad air.” In Minneapolis the first sewers were built in 1871, but most residences were served by privies and drew their water from wells or cisterns until the early 20th century. City ordinances repeatedly sought to regulate the hauling and disposal of organic wastes, revealing the lag between the building of sewers and abandonment of private privies. St. Paul adopted a comprehensive public health ordinance in 1887 that addressed problems of sanitation and waste disposal, but, as in Minneapolis, sewers and the water supply needed to make them effective did not reach all areas of the city until well into the 20th century.

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Updated 29 Jun 1999