Sewage Disposal in Early Provo Was the Same as in Other Frontier Towns.
One of the earliest problems faced by people who founded new settlements was how to dispose of human waste. Life in Provo‘s first two forts was fairly transitory and what to do with “night soil” presented only a temporary problem. After the colonists moved onto their permanent town lots in 1851-1852, however, problems of this sort began to pile up, literally.
We assume that one of the first things colonists did after they received a town lot and constructed a house was to dig a pit and build a privy or outhouse. However, even as late as 1855 and 1856 a significant number of people in Provo had not yet built outhouses.
At a Stake Conference held in Provo during the summer of 1855 and again 1856, church leaders urged members of the congregation to clean up their yards and build outhouses. Dominicus Carter warned husbands that their wives and children were exposing themselves by using the backyard as a bathroom. He urged them to at least use a shovel to cover their night soil. The idea finally caught on and almost every house eventually had its privy.
Residents relied on outhouses until the 1880s and 1890s when growing pretensions led to a yearning for indoor plumbing. The Roberts Hotel appears to have been the first downtown business to install indoor plumbing with its drain running into the mill race on 200 West. The main business district followed the example of the hotel, and wealthy homeowners on the east side of town now clamored for indoor plumbing. Their drains ran into the mill race or the East Drain, a semi-enclosed ditch running south down 500 East.
Residents living along the open mill race complained loudly about the unsanitary conditions as the number of indoor bathrooms increased, and Provo eventually enclosed the mill race. The sewer’s outfall formed a large pond just north of Provo Bay. During wet years the sewage found its way into Utah Lake. Provo finally built its first sewage disposal plant in 1956.
This is plaque #39 in the Series of Events from Provo’s History.