Of Microbes and Men (Part 2): Noses and Neighbors

On October 10, 1901 the Fort Worth Register waxed ecstatic as it announced the biggest economic development since the coming of the railroad:

both packing 10-8-01 regBoth Swift and Armour packing companies would build adjacent plants at the Stockyards just north of Fort Worth.

purification sewerage packing 5-1-4 dmnThe packing plants began operation in March 1903. The next year they installed a shared “purification sewerage system” south of the Swift plant. Clip is from the May 1, 1904 Dallas Morning News.

google swift aerialGoogle aerial photo shows the location of the “purification sewerage system” and the big iron discharge pipe on Marine Creek that is aimed at downtown Fort Worth like a cannon (see Part 1).

This detail from a 1937 map of the Stockyards-packing plant complex shows the sewer plant and seems to label a “pipe” running to Marine Creek. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

bleat 1-27-05 telegramThe packing plants claimed to be highly efficient in disposing of their by-products: The plants converted manure into fertilizer and sold it; they marketed hides, rendered fats, ground bones into meal. Indeed, Swift and Armour claimed that everything “except the squeal of the porker, the bellow of the steer or the bleat of the lamb” was marketed.

Nevertheless, some people claimed that too much packing plant refuse was entering the Trinity River from that pipe on Marine Creek. Lawsuits alleging water pollution were filed. Clip is from the January 27, 1905 Telegram.

drown 3-16-11 s-tThe packing plants’ “purification sewerage system” was still in operation in 1911 when one poor soul fell into a cesspool and drowned. Clip is from the March 16 Star-Telegram.

That “purification sewerage system” notwithstanding, the advent of the packing plants taxed the Trinity River’s capacity to carry away sewage in two ways: The packing plants themselves created a lot of sewage. And the packing plants created a local economic boom, increasing the human population, which created more human sewage. In 1907 the Telegram reported that the population of the city of North Fort Worth had exploded from two hundred in 1902 to ten thousand.

Technically the packing plants and Stockyards were in the city of North Fort Worth when it incorporated in 1902 and later in Niles City when it incorporated in 1911. But the sewage of the packing plants eventually ended up in the Trinity River, and that was Fort Worth property.

By 1911 Swift and Armour had expanded their packing plants and were dumping even more sewage into the Trinity River. And by 1911 Dallas had had enough. Pollution of the Trinity in Dallas was bad enough year around by 1911, but it was worse during the summer when temperatures rose and the river level dropped (but sewage output from Fort Worth didn’t). That scenario may have brought a smile to the lips of Fort Worth booster B. B. Paddock and his spiritual descendant, Amon Carter, but it brought a clothespin to the noses of people in Dallas.

So, Dallas state Senator James Clayton McNealus introduced Texas Senate Bill No. 281, “An Act to prevent the pollution of the water courses of the State of Texas, providing a penalty therefore, and providing means of abatement thereof.” The bill sounds generic, but the Dallas senator had a specific goal: to stop Fort Worth from dumping raw sewage—especially packing plant sewage—into the Trinity and shipping it downstream to Dallas.

dallas bid 9-25-01 regIronically, as this September 25, 1901 Register article shows, Dallas had tried to lure Swift and Armour away from Fort Worth in 1901.

bill alarms 3-12-11 s-tIn 1909 Fort Worth annexed North Fort Worth. And even though the annexation intentionally excluded the Stockyards-packing plant complex, Fort Worth also annexed a greater responsibility for pollution of the Trinity River from that complex. The McNealus bill alarmed Fort Worth. The March 12, 1911 Star-Telegram reported that city officials opposed the bill, not wanting to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a sewage treatment plant to treat sewage. As of March 12 Fort Worth was reassured that the bill was dead.

It was not.

mcnealus speaks 3-13-11 dmnBut the bill did have opposition in the Senate. In discussing that opposition, McNealus said Fort Worth state Senator Offa Shivers Lattimore opposed the bill because it would “ruin our Fort Worth packing houses.” McNealus was not sympathetic. His bill was finally passed in 1913 despite resistance from affected cities. Clip is from the March 13, 1911 Dallas Morning News.

typhoid 4-7-14 stAs if to bolster McNealus’s argument, in 1914 Fort Worth suffered an outbreak of typhoid fever caused by contaminated drinking water. Some of that water came from the Trinity River, which was polluted by untreated sewage. The city waterworks filtered water it drew from the river, but that filtration was sometimes inadequate. On April 7 the Star-Telegram urged the city to stop pollution of the river at least upstream of the waterworks.

first steps 11-7-14 s-tLater that year, as this November 7, 1914 Star-Telegram clip shows, Fort Worth began talking—just talking, mind you—about building a sewage treatment plant. Notice how tentative that talk was: “preliminary steps,” “preparations,” “propositions,” “plans.” Hardly the aggressive talk of a city with a heretofore “get ’er done” energy.

McNealus’s law was amended in 1915, and Fort Worth was given until 1916 to build a sewage treatment plant. But Fort Worth continued to lobby against the law, seeking exemptions, seeking delays, clinging to the claim that the city and packing plants were not unduly polluting the Trinity River. Fort Worth was granted a deadline extension to 1917.

When it came to building a municipal sewage treatment plant, Cowtown was in no hurry. The town dug in the heels of its boots and planned to do some foot-draggin’.

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

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