Seattle routinely dumps garbage into Puget Sound as of 1892.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 4/01/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3159

The 1892 Annual Report of Seattle's Department of Engineering makes it clear that garbage, swill, and "night soil" from Seattle's business district is gathered into horse-drawn wagons and taken down to the waterfront, where it is loaded onto a scow, towed several miles out into Elliott Bay, and dumped. Throughout the city and its neighborhoods, refuse is also dumped in vacant lots, alleys, and into various bodies of water. The bay is "a prime catch-all for all sorts of waste" (Phelps).

The Casual Approach

In residential areas, citizens arranged for their own garbage disposal, which could take place twice a week, twice a year, or not at all. In her history of public works in Seattle, Myra Phelps writes:

"This casual approach to refuse and garbage disposal prevailed in Seattle for several years. It was a sprawling town and there was ample room at not too great distances to get rid of anything that was not taken away in the barge. Early in the [twentieth] century private contractors collected the garbage and transported it to various dumping grounds, the tide flats under the trestles being a favored place. A slow fire was kept burning to destroy combustibles. Pig farms were part of the garbage disposal operations in most cities, including Seattle, but stock disease made it necessary to destroy the animals" (Phelps).

The components of refuse make one interesting index to a community's way of life. Until 1930, horse manure was a major component of garbage in Seattle.


Sources:

Myra L. Phelps, Public Works in Seattle: A Narrative History: the Engineering Department, 1875-1975 (Seattle: Seattle Engineering Department, 1978), 204-205.


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