Friday, June 19, 2015

New Orleans Public Health (1859)

In the summer of 1859, The Daily Picayune suggested improving the City's public health by raising structures above the ground and covering the earth with concrete or brick:

"Much improvement in the health of New Orleans doubtless might be accomplished by greater attention to the condition of the earth beneath the buildings which are erected. For many years, at least, the cheaply constructed tenant houses have been erected without any attempt to prevent the possibility of pools of water standing most of the season beneath the floors. Even in the heart of the city the floors of the most expensive warehouses and stores are laid within a few inches of the soil, preventing the possibility of any ventilation, and establishing immediately the process of decay.

"A soil which constantly is saturated with water, or which is loose and spongy, containing much inorganic matter is much less favorable to health than that which is dry, porous or gravelly. The former, made under the heat of a torrid sun, will constantly emit exhalations of a noxious character, and it should be the subject of architects to neutralize or obviate, by the manner of building, the natural moisture of such localities.

"This is the nature of the soil of New Orleans, and the general flatness of the surface of the ground on which it is built increases the danger and the necessity of measures to remove it. When good drainage cannot be effected, the earth beneath all edifices built here should not only be raised above the general level, but it should be entirely covered with solid concrete. This alone will prevent constant exhalations in the summer time of impure air, and a speedy decay of the wood in the neighborhood of the foundation. How much a change in the old mode of building would improve public health those alone can fully appreciate who have visited habitations whose lower floors rest on the earth beneath even the present level of the streets. The mouldiness of the walls, the damp, sickly odor which pervades them, and the impossibility of cleanliness, will instantly be perceived. Yet whole streets are constructed with this entire disregard of all sanitary ideas.

"We are so glad to see some indication of the recognition of the necessity of elevating the floors of our edifices, and preparing solid impermeable foundations. The splendid commercial temples lately erected on Carondelet Street, and the later structures on Camp, as well as many others in different quarters of the city, are at least two feet above the level of the sidewalk, while the whole area over which they have been built, has been covered with brick and grouted.

"The most cursory examination of these buildings will show how much more attractive, as places of business, they are than those whose floors are embedded in the earth. It is also true that much less damage will result to goods of a perishable nature in our climate in the former than in the latter class of buildings.

"It is the true policy, then, not only as a means of improving public health, but enhancing the value of improved property to adopt the later style of building, of which we have cited several examples.

"This change in the mode of buildings is so important that we cannot but regard it worthy of some legislation on the part of the Council. Certainly it is quite as necessary to regard what concerns the health of the city as that which has reference to the lines of the streets."

Excerpt from:

"Improvement in Building."  The Daily Picayune 20 August 1859. As viewed in ProQuest Civil War Era Database.

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