"In the year 1811, you granted me the ordinance, which enabled me to proceed to measures necessary to supply your City with Water. I received it in July 1811, but the very site on which the works were to be erected, was dependant on an Act of Congress relinquishing any possible right of the United States to the ground. However, I relied on the liberality of Congress, and applied by your permission to that honorable body. The ground was not granted, and this delay, as well as the change of the location of the Engine House was greatly injurious to me. But I proceeded with my works and had already sent to New Orleans men, parts of the machinery when war was declared in 1812."

[B. Henry B. Latrobe to the Mayor and City Council,
13 October 1817, quoted in Samuel Wilson, Jr.,
ed. Impressions Respecting New Orleans (1951), p. xix]

Design of a pier to cover the suction pipe of the pump for supplying water to the City of New Orleans, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, January 29, 1819. The site of the City's first water works is now a French Market pocket park named in honor of the great architect who lost his life in service to the Crescent City.
[City Surveyor's Office Records]
The tragic saga of the attempt by Benjamin Henry Latrobe to supply New Orleans with a water works system continued for almost another three years before it ended with Latrobe's own death from yellow fever in 1820. Noted as the architect for the capitol building in Washington, Latrobe came to the Crescent City to complete the work started by his son Henry, also a victim of the fever. Although the plan shown above indicates that the water works was in place by early 1819, the plant was not completed and operational until later in the 1820s.

It still amazes some visitors that our primary source of drinking water is the Mississippi. But much happens to the brown muddy liquid that flows into the city limits before so much as a drop reaches our glasses. In the "good old days," drinking water from the river was a bit sandy, to say the least (who knows what invisible creatures were swimming around in it as well). Today, the Sewerage and Water Board's modern purification plants use a variety of mechanical and chemical treatments to confect a clean, clear product that even manages to win taste tests!

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iw/we 5/1998