Of Microbes and Men (Part 3): “Death Lurks”

The city of Fort Worth resisted compliance with the 1913 McNealus antipollution law (see Part 2) for five years.

fw gives in 9-18-18 s-tBut finally in 1918 Fort Worth agreed to build a sewage treatment plant. In 1919 Fort Worth voters approved a $750,000 bond package. The city paid $22,000 for land (in this area) on the East Side north of the junction of the Fort Worth-Dallas and Cleburne interurban lines. Clip is from the September 18, 1918 Star-Telegram.

new site sought 3-7-22 s-tBut on March 7, 1922 the Star-Telegram announced a snag. Street Commissioner Gilvin said the site chosen for the plant was too close to the heart of town. Also a factor was NIMBY (not in my back yard): Residents living near that proposed site objected to having a sewage treatment plant nearby. So, the city bought land 1.5 miles farther east for $7,000 and sold the original site. NIMBY redux: Residents living near the second site protested, threatened legal action. But the city said moving the site yet another mile east would cost $150,000. End of discussion.

Contractor H. W. Greenway, who would lay the mains to the treatment plant, agreed to pay the cost of laying the extra distance in exchange for an extension of his deadline.

contract 10-7-22 s-tOn October 7, 1922 the Star-Telegram reported that a contract to build the plant had been awarded to McKenzie Construction Company.

panoThis is a section of a panoramic photo of excavation work at the sewage treatment plant rescued and restored by local historian Barbara Love Logan. Excavation contractor T. A. Griffin (of Dallas) used both mules and steam-driven machinery. (Griffin’s company also cut part of the Bankhead Highway.)

The long-delayed Riverside sewage treatment plant began operation on April 24, 1924 . . . and within a year was deemed inadequate.

Why? In 1925 the Dallas Morning News ran a three-part series on a report by sanitary engineers who had assessed the quality of water in the Trinity.

death lurks 7-12-25 dmnOn July 12 the Morning News said the report concluded that “the river is in a horrible condition at all times and especially in summer from Fort Worth to a point 225 miles below.” The report said the new Riverside plant was “overtaxed by the addition of packing-house waste.”

grave menage 7-13-25 dmnOn July 13 the Morning News quoted sanitary engineer Edgar Whedbee as saying that until early in 1925, when the packing plants began using an improved sewage treatment facility, “the river was a great septic tank from Marine Creek.”

plant inadequate 7-14-25 dmnOn July 14 the Morning News wrapped up the three-part series on the report by sanitary engineers by saying the sewage disposal plants of Dallas, Fort Worth, and the packing plants all were “inadequate.”

annexation 7-23-22 s-tPart of the reason for the inadequacy of the Riverside plant was Fort Worth’s annexation in 1922 of several suburbs that added “between 40,000 and 50,000 people” to the city’s population. In 1923 Fort Worth also annexed Niles City, the small incorporated enclave that had been the home of the Stockyards and packing plants. Clip is from the July 23, 1922 Star-Telegram.

The 1925 Rogers map was one of the first to include the new sewage treatment plant. The eastern city limit was the eastern edge of the plant. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

riverside 52The Riverside plant was soon enlarged. This 1952 aerial photo shows the plant after twenty-eight years of operation.

In 1965 Fort Worth opened the sprawling Village Creek sewage treatment plant at the confluence of Village Creek and the Trinity River. The Riverside plant was shut down in the 1970s.

riverside googleThis Google aerial photo shows that Gateway Park has surrounded the old Riverside plant. Baseball diamonds now cover some of its former footprint.

Update: The remainder of the Riverside sewage treatment plant was removed in 2017 as part of an enlargement of Gateway Park. On the site of the plant will be erected an amphitheater.

pipeToday the Trinity is a much cleaner river than it was a century ago when this pipe made the river run black. People fish and even swim in the Trinity.

mcmanus mug 5-19-21 dmnAnd what of Dallas state Senator McNealus? He died on May 18, 1921, ten years after he began the legal battle to force Fort Worth to stop dumping raw sewage into the Trinity but three years before Fort Worth’s first sewage treatment plant finally opened. At the time of his death James Clayton McNealus was upstream from Dallas: at the Westbrook Hotel in Fort Worth.

This entry was posted in Downtown, All Around, East Side, Life in the Past Lane, North Side, Rollin' on the River, Water Works. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Of Microbes and Men (Part 3): “Death Lurks”

  1. Enjoyed this blog…. and some of the other ones…. Like the way you have pictures/paper clippings and your words.
    This is an awesome source of info for Fort Worth History thanks!!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Teri. I enjoyed that three-parter because it goaded me to research parts of daily life we take for granted now.

  2. Phil Phillips says:

    When I was growing up and forgot to flush the toilet, my parents would tell me to “Flush the toilet and give Dallas a drink”! Great 3-part story.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Mr. Phillips. Great anecdote (at least to us upriver). In researching that post, I learned a lot, and I laughed a lot.

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