Traverse City Record-Eagle

Record-Eagle 150th Anniversary

September 28, 2009

150 Years: Bay served as sewer, water supply


Campbell also announced that "sewage could not contaminate the water to a distance greater than 35 feet below the surface and that if the intake pipe were sunk to 50 or 60 feet, the water would be perfectly safe," the Herald reported.

Rafter was astounded.

"New York, Rochester, Syracuse and all the large cities in New York state are putting in reservoirs, and now I come to Michigan only to find that they are all wrong," he said.

"We also learn that there is no sewage contamination beyond 35 feet below the surface of the water. Our friend Mr. Campbell, who has made this valuable discovery, should not hesitate to spread the news all the world over, for it will revolutionize the systems of water works of the world."

Little changed. A 1915 city survey and follow-up reports indicated that 450 toilets in the city were not connected to existing sewers and another 394 were out of the sewer's reach. The city ordered everyone who could to connect to the sewer. Traverse City began chlorinating its water about 1915. Regular city garbage pickup was instituted in the city in 1924.

Typhoid continued to make headlines through the 1920s, as did the crucial need for better sewers and a sewage treatment plant. James Milliken, J.W.'s son and father of former Gov. William G. Milliken, led that three-decade effort.

Traverse City called itself the "Heart of Michigan's Playground," by 1930, but the Boardman River suggested otherwise, Richard Capps, a Harvard medical student wrote in a state report.

"There is, of course, no treatment of sewage at all," he said. "Floating sewage of all kinds can be seen, especially toilet paper and occasionally fecal material. Logs protruding in the river are festooned with the former."

It took several elections from 1914 on before city residents finally passed a municipal bond on Oct. 23, 1931, to build a sewage treatment plant -- after the state sued the city and shut down West Bay beaches "to protect tourist visitors." The sewer treatment plant opened in 1933.

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