By Jenny Goldsberry
As you’re counting things you’re grateful for, don’t for get the gross stuff too! This month, Connection Publishing wants to tell the history of something we should all be grateful for: a sewage system.
In the beginning, the Native American way of sewage was much different than today. They dug trenches to do their business in. You might think that it was the smelliest way to get rid of sewage. Luckily, the harsh winters froze the trenches; therefore, the smells went away with them.
Early settlers implemented the same idea, with some innovation for privacy. Instead of an open trench, they built outhouses. A septic tank wouldn’t arrive in the States until 1880. As a result, these settlers were still disposing of sewage directly into the ground.
Others in the Salt Lake Valley had already run out of places to store their sewage. Since there were so many farmlands in Weber County, they dug an open conveyance system to send their sewage up northwest.
Ogden Valley’s very first artesian well appeared in 1889. James Rire of Eden dug 84 feet into the ground to produce water for his home. While a sewer system was still decades away, it was a huge precursor to indoor plumbing.
James was an immigrant from Scotland. As a result of joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he ended up in Eden. He bought 45 acres there from Captain James Brown. At the time, there was no source of water or even a fence. Since it only cost him $100, James closed the deal. Incidentally, he didn’t keep every acre, trading some for livestock. Then, he took it on himself to bring more water to his side of the valley.
It would take James 15 years to redirect water from the Weber River to the rest of West Weber. He constantly dug ditches, occasionally flooding his own crops when the ditch caved in or a dam broke.
So, an artesian well was an easy project for James. His early well produced 40 gallons of water per minute. It was a retirement project of sorts, since he only lived in Eden for the last six years of his life; however, his wife, nine children, and 52 grandchildren would reap the benefits of his well for years to come.
On the other hand, Ogden had sewer lines of its own since World War I. By the beginning of the war, Ogden had about 64 miles of water mains and 38 miles of pipe in the sewer system. While James was digging the first artesian well, Ogden was renovating its system. Still, indoor plumbing wasn’t involved yet.
In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his historic New Deal to employ men to build outhouses for Americans. By this time, they were connected to septic tanks; however, it was still up to each household to empty the tanks every so often. Plus, many tanks broke down and raw sewage often ran into corrals with the barnyard manure. Finally, more and more houses introduced electricity; indoor plumbing soon followed. After all, it was electricity that would pump water into toilet tanks.
Central Weber Sewer Improvement District’s wastewater treatment plant went into operation at its current location in 1960. It served the communities of Farr West, Ogden, South Ogden, Harrisville, Pleasant View, Washington Terrace, Marriott-Slaterville, Riverdale, Weber County, North Ogden, South Weber, West Haven, Hooper, portions of Plain City, Roy, and Uintah.
Do you have a history story or idea to share? We want to hear from you! Call Jenny Goldsberry at 801-624-9652.