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September 2016 - School cesspool

In 1896, the city's health officer expressed concerns to City Council about conditions at the Mercer School in lower Queen Anne:


I desire to call your attention to the importance of having a sewer built immediately in order to enable the Mercer School to be connected to [the] public sewer.

The Mercer School building is situated in what is naturally a swamp. Stagnant water surrounds the premises. The wastewater from the sinks and roof runs into an open drain on the SW corner of the lot and there lies stagnant and a menace to the health of the children who approach the school from that direction. Part of the basement of the school house is always damp and the closets and cesspool are unsanitary.

The health of a large number of children is constantly threatened by the unsanitary condition of these premises and I wish therefore to urge the early passage of an ordinance compelling the property owners to build at least the three blocks of sewer necessary in order to permit the premises occupied by the Mercer School to be properly drained.

F.S. Palmer, M.D.
Health Officer

The council's Sanitation Committee investigated, and "found the cess-pool with swampy surroundings in a very unfit condition and dangerous to the health of the 550 children that daily attend school." The committee also noted that a petition was circulated wherein "nearly a majority" of the property owners asked for a sewer. Thus, they recommended that the Board of Public Works immediately investigate the practicality of such a project.

The lack of proper drainage in a school was apparently not an isolated circumstance in early Seattle. The following month, Palmer wrote another letter to City Council asking that the Cascade School also be connected to the city's sewer system.