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The Typhoid Epidemic of 1890-91
| Sedgwick's report concluded with the following
remarks, "...we shall look in vain for any adequate explanation
of the constant excess of typhoid fever in Lowell and still more in Lawrence
except to the fact that both these cities have constantly distributed to
their citizens water, unpurified, drawn from a stream originally pure but
now grossly polluted with the crude sewage of several large cities and
After Sedgwick's report, people gave up the idea that running water purified itself and began to understand that typhoid was from microbes in the sewage, not from the sewage itself. The microbes were not killed by traveling downstream. Lowell had always had sewage in its drinking water but only had typhoid fever when there was typhoid in a community above the city on the river's route.
LOWELL: A FRIEND OF THE PEOPLE
A year later, the Annual Report of the Board of Health of the City of Lowell for the year 1891, noted that deaths from typhoid fever had dropped from 123 in 1890 to 77 in 1891.
The Report for 1891 ended with an impassioned plea: "Danger is as present with us in the daily routine of our peaceful lives as on the battlefield, only that the embodiment of danger is an invisible and intangible germ instead of a fast-flying bullet. It flows beside us in the river, in our mains, from the taps in our houses; the germ of disease may not be in this pitcherful or in that, but it will find us some day if we continue to use the water which contains it. About one victim in Lowell is taken daily, and as the average duration of this fever is about a month, there are always 30 persons in this city whose lives are trembling in the balance."
Within several months of Sedgwick's report, the Lowell Water Board voted to give City Engineer George Bowers authority to see what could be done to effect a system of deep driven wells for the city's drinking water supply. The City appropriated $100,000 for the seven well system and within two years of Sedgwick's report, it was in place.
Professor N. S. Shaler, a geologist at Harvard University, surveyed the land and recommended a location near River Meadow Brook. Charles Pierce, owner of the Pierce Artesian Well Company of New York, volunteered to find the water. When one of the pipes reached 35 feet, a pump was attached which began to give out clear, fresh water. William Andrews, the man who gave Brooklyn, N.Y. its famed deep driven well system, sank the additional wells.
The wells, varying in depth from 47 to 67 feet, provided an inexhaustible supply of fresh, clean water for the people of Lowell for many years to come.
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