Asylums: Fountains of Disease 1870

  Article Tools

Print This Page

E-mail This Page To A Friend

Sanitary condition of Leake & Watts' Orphan Asylum and the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum-visit of the Sanitary Committee of the Board of Health Yesterday.

The terrible scourge of typhoid that has appeared in the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, on Washington Heights, has alarmed all the other public institutions in the vicinity, and, indeed, the only surprise is that there is so little sickness in and around that section of the City. The people are saved from it only by the sparseness of the population, and the circulation of abundant fresh air. But even with these advantages diseases sometimes break out and carry off their victims by scores.

Yesterday the Sanitary Committee of the Board of Health visited Leake & Watts' Orphan Asylum, on One hundred and tenth-street and Tenth-avenue, and the Lunatic Asylum, on One Hundred and Seventeenth-street. Bloomingdale. The former was founded in 1843, when the land on which it stands and all around could be purchased for $1,000 an acre. It would cost ten times that amount now. The Asylum owned about fifty acres, a part of which has recently been sold and an income of about $1,000,000 yielded. Only full orphans are admitted to its benefits and there are at the present time 160 children within its walls, all of them apparently well fed and cared for in every particular, save a sanitary one. The Asylum having stood for twenty-seven years utterly lacks all the modern appliances for ventilation, sewerage, &c., and though it has a magnificent annual income, no effort has been made during these years to improve the sanitary condition of the place. The only mode of ventilation is by the windows.

There are no cellars to the house, and the kitchen, basement and other rooms on the ground smell and feel damp and chilly and in bad condition. The dormitories are on the second and third floors. The first contains fourteen beds and twenty-eight children. The others are not so greatly crowded. One of the rooms, measured by the Committee, 36x25x10 feet, gives each child 321 cubic feet of air. The upper floors and rooms are only 7 feet high, so that the children are not so well provided for. The dining-room is in a wing separated from the main building. There are two water-closets on each end of the building for the use of the little ones, and the urine and all the waste water of the house passes into a sink, or cistern, from which it soaks or escapes through a half-choked sewer to One Hundred and Tenth-street, and thence finds its way along the gutter down to the low ground at Eighth-avenue, where it becomes a stagnant pool, or else is gathered into the numerous shallow wells dug about there by the squatters, and from whence by its use tends to create disease and increase the mortality, especially among children. The night-soil closets are detached from the buildings of the Asylum, but they are also of the rudest description, mere surface pits, half the time choked up, and more or less frequently made inoffensive by the use of disinfectants. They are emptied about every two years, and the excrement made into compost for the adjoining gardens. They were in a pretty bad condition yesterday, and the effluvia from the stream of sewerage on One Hundred and Tenth-street, was anything but pleasant.

The interior appointments of the Lunatic Asylum were found by the Committee to be much superior to the Orphan Asylum, but its system of drainage and sewerage was, if possible, a great deal worse. It is probably known that this Asylum is a branch of the old City Hospital, which, until recently, stood on Broadway, opposite Pearl-street. It is a private institution, none but paying patients being received therein, and the rate for board and medical attendance ranges from $8 to $30 a week for each patient. The involuntary complement of Commodore MEAD therein has given it some notoriety, so that it need hardly he said that Dr. Brown is its Superintendent and his assistant is Dr. Porter. When the Committee called yesterday the former was out, but the latter very courteously received the sanitary gentlemen and their friends, and showed them through the buildings and the grounds.

The Asylum buildings consist of a very neat and substantial brown-stone building erected some fifty years ago, and an extension and wing of brick built about thirteen years ago, and two detached lodges, together with an engine-house, wash-house carpenters' shop and other necessary out-buildings, the whole forming three sides of an irregular square. The Committee found no fault with the ventilation of the place, that being as nearly perfect as can be made without a rebuilding of the whole concern. The drainage, however, gave the Committee abundant cause of complaint. There are eight water-closets in the house, the excrement from six of which pass through a seven-inch iron pipe, which runs from the top to the bottom, and then empties itself into a cistern right under the windows of the female "lodge,"

This cistern has a sort of primitive "trap" arrangement, which must be opened every day or two and the accumulated excrement let off into a sewer, which carries it about 200 feet and deposits it into another cistern. The solid excrement is here deposited, and the fluid is carried off through a drain a further distance of 600 or 800 feet, and then empties itself into an open gully that will one day form the gutter of Tenth-avenue, and so it runs along about half a mile until it finds its level in a stagnant pool in Manhattanville, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth-street, between Tenth-avenue and the Boulevard. The water is muddy enough and the smell sickening enough, when it leaves the Asylum grounds and enters the open street, to have it indicted as a nuisance, and the people who live in shanties along there and in Manhattanville, who use the stream for various household purposes, have a very narrow escape from epidemics. They are sometimes caught, however, and pneumonia, diphtheria and typhoid are not strangers in most of the dwellings.

The flow from two other closets in the old building, together with the wastes from a bath room and kitchen are carried off through another iron pipe, which, strangely enough, is made to run in a nearly horizontal line, twenty feet or so of it through the principal kitchen, and thence under the sink, where it is trapped, and the waste from the kitchen enters it, and is carried off also. The product is received into a small cistern also, close tot he male "lodge," from whence it flows off a short distance through a yard closet, into another cistern beyond. Here again the solid matter is retained, as in the other cistern, and every two or three years it is taken out and composted. The liquid floats off and unites with the other, and finds its outlet and permanent bed in the same stream and pool as before mentioned. There is a sort of indefinite idea, in the minds of some of the people there that this body of fetid water gradually soaks away to the Harlem or East River, but they neither know nor care whether it does so or not.

There are 165 patients in the Asylum at present, including eight dangerous cases, who are kept in the "lodges." Fortunately for them and for the other inmates, the wind does not often blow toward them, for, whenever it does, the stench and the foul gases from the closet cisterns are driven into the rooms and apartments of the buildings. Was this the constant experience nothing could save the inmates from disease and death. The trustees of the hospital and asylum have an income of $5,000,000, more or less, and for the protection of their own inmates as well as for that of the multitudes who reside in the valleys around them, they should maintain a better system of sewerage, and should carry off the deposits through a sewer or pipe, rather than along the gutter of a public street, under the eyes and noses of thousands of people. And if they fail or refuse to do it, the law should be enforced against them. They are at present building an asylum at White Plains, but that should not excuse the present dangerous sanitary condition of the present place and its surroundings. All that neighborhood consists of undrained ground, and the Legislature will probably be asked to give the Board of Health fuller powers to adopt and carry out a uniform system of drainage and sewerage for the whole island, consistent with its topographical conformation.


Website: The History
Article Name: Asylums: Fountains of Disease 1870
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times Dec. 2, 1870. p.5 (1 page)
Time & Date Stamp: