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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Early Sewers

Since the organization of the Board of Public Works in 1873, the amount that had been expended on sewers near the end of the 19th century $678,893.  The total length of sewers in the system was 93.6 miles.

Early records of the sewers built during the first thirty years of the city’s life are meager. The engineers who planned the building of streets out over the waterways of the Grand River, particularly around the Island No. 1, left no records in the city engineer’s office. Either they preserved no minutes of the work or lost or destroyed whatever they had.

Not only that, there were no records of the big trunk sewers in Lyon and Pearl nor for other big sewers built in those early days, which were part of the main trunk sewer system of the city in the early 20th century.

They formed a subterranean system of waterways, many of which were high enough for a man to run through, which the city knows little or nothing about. Their exact location was only made known when a break led to the undermining of pavements or buildings. Property owners had great difficulty in finding where the sewers were located and had to go at it blindly. There were no maps and the city engineer’s office was not certain where they lay.

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