Baltimore's concern for its system of sewerage dates back to its earliest days. The first attempt to provide for a system of sewerage was an ordinance in 1797, shortly after the incorporation of the municipal government, which established the Baltimore City Commissioners. These commissioners, in addition to their other duties, had the power to enter upon lots and construct and repair sewers. They held this responsibility until 1859 when a Sewer Commission was appointed because the existing system of sewerage for underground drainage was inadequate and "property was in constant danger of injury, and life had actually been lost by the overflow of water into cellars, basements and first story rooms during and after heavy rains."
The 1859 commission, composed of three competent citizens, was appointed to examine and report upon the development of a sewerage system as well as upon how the existing sytem of underground drainage could be altered or adapted to a new system. In completing this study the commissioners were to consult eminent medical men and engineers concerning the sanitary advantages of the proposed alterations. The commission published its first report in 1862. No action was taken on these proposals until after the Civil War; in 1868, an ordinance was passed to empower the commission to deal with the regulation and construction of sewers in Baltimore. This ordinance stated that there would be a special joint committee formed combining the Commission for Opening Streets and Sewers with the City Commissioners. The combined committees would then constitute a board that would make inquiries toward establishing a more equitable mode of building sewers. This sewerage system would be a source of economy for the city and a means of satisfaction for taxpayers.
Real progress on the proposed system was not visible until twenty-five years later, when in 1893 public interest was aroused due to the adoption of National Quarantine Regulations in response to epidemics in other countries. This interest led Mayor Ferdinand C. Latrobe to appoint a new commission whose members were Mendes Cohen, chairman, F.H. Hambleton, and E.L. Barlett. These commission members served from 1893 to 1899.
In January 1904 by Act of General Assembly of Maryland ten million dollars was issued for the projection, construction and establishment of a new sewerage system. Mayor E. Clay Timanus appointed a new commission consisting of Chairmen, Retired Brig. Gen'1. Peter Learey, Jr., Dr. Ira Remsen and himself. Between 1905 and 1914 the commission membership expanded to include Morris Whitridge, William R. Kines, Gustav Siegmund, Thomas J. Shryock, engineer, Charles Hendrick, secretary, Harry W. Rodgers and ex-officio member James M. Preston and in 1914 a new chairman, Charles England was appointed.
The work of the Sewerage Commission reached a state of practical completion in the early part of 1916 and ended with the transferral of the sewage works to the Highway Engineers Department.
For additional information about the Sewerage Commission see the Sewerage Enabling Act Chap. 349, sec. 1-10; Ordinance 14 (1797); Resolution 248 (1859); Resolution 395 (1860); Resolutions 189 and 212 (1893); Ordinance 25 (1895) and Resolution 2 (1900). Related records may be found in RG30 S14, Electrical Commission, Sewerage Commission Records; RG 16 SI, Baltimore City Council, Administrative files; RG3 SI and 2, Baltimore City Commissioners, Administrative files and City Commissioners Reports; RG 9 S13, 14 and 35, Mayor's Office, Timanus, Mahool and General Mayoral Records 1860-1919 respectively; RG47 SI and 3,Department of Public Works, Directors Correspondence and City Engineers Records; and RG54 S2 Bureau of Accounting Operations, Water Records. A set of published reports is available for 1862, 1893-1899, and 1905-1914. See also Theodore C. Schaetzle, Nine Years Operation of the Baltimore Sewage Works (Baltimore: July 14 and 21, 1921); Jacob H. Hollander, The Financial History of Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1899) and Sherry H. Olson, Baltimore: The Building of an American City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).