THE AWFUL OFFAL
Trash, refuse and raw sewage (offal) in the old village of Sulphur Springs, I. T. were some of the primary reasons the Chickasaws agreed for the U.S. Government to take possession of the spring's area and the creeks and create a reserve. It was always a problem and the waters were in imminent danger of being irrevocably polluted.
The Secretary of the Interior suggested that the new town of Sulphur have a terminus for their new sewer line near Coney Island, a large sand bar island in Rock Creek just below where today's Low Water Bridge is located.
Supt. Swords had in the previous years argued that this plan to terminate the sewer line at Coney Island would be disastrous to the tourist at the Bromide Pavilion and the springs in that area. Supt. Greene was equally horrified at the thought of dumping raw sewage into the center of the park.
The raw sewage would be a detriment to the residents of Sulphur as well as the park visitors. It would be good for the East side of town but the West Side was below grade for that location. Superintendents Swords and Greene insisted that the terminus must be one thousand feet below the park boundary.
In April of 1906, the Sulphur Commercial Club sent Supt. Swords a letter requesting that the city be allowed to run a sewer main through the Park. It was desired by the city to run the sewer line far enough down Rock Creek and be dumped at a point where there would be no threat of disease.
The City Council, realizing that quick action is needed, decides to sell bonds to put in the new water system and a new sewer line through the park and provide schools. They decide the best thing to do is issue municipal bonds. However some of the citizens are not too enthused with the idea of burdening the new city and its citizens with heavy debt.
The matter is brought before a U. S. District Court and the judge orders a census taken of the new town of Sulphur. In this manner, it can be determined how much indebtedness the city can bear. The new population count of Sulphur in 1906 is now 3,531 souls.
The Artesian Hotel built a septic tank on the corner of West First and Muskogee Streets. They then laid down drain tiles to the park boundary. The excess water from their artesian well and the excess runoff from the septic tank were mixed and allowed to run into the park, through East Central Park (Central Campground), where it finally flowed into Travertine Creek. The superintendent wrote the owners of the Artesian Hotel and instructed them to find another direction to run their waste water.
Greene agrees with Swords that the only sanitary way to put in a sewer line was to put the terminus south of the park boundary to preserve sanitary conditions along Rock Creek. This route would also allow the West Side to hook up to the new line.
Although Greene has been on the job for only ten days he has already become aware of the bitterness between the two factions of the North Side and the West Side. He quickly realized that any action by the government that showed the slightest favoritism to one side would draw the scorn of the other faction.
Supt. Swords had advised the Secretary the previous year that the idea of terminating the sewer line above Bromide Springs would be disastrous. It would allow raw sewage to flow past the Bromide Springs where thousands of visitors were sampling the healing waters. In addition, West Sulphur would not be able to use the sewer line as the grade to the line would be uphill.
Greene also states emphatically that the fighting between the North Side and the West Side is in their attempt to dominate affairs and the administration of the park.
In March of 1909, Superintendent Greene writes the Secretary a letter indicating that the City of Sulphur is in such financial straights that not only can it not provide for its domestic water, it cannot match the proposed funding share for the new sewer line.
Superintendent Greene asks the Secretary to contact Congressman Scott Farris of Oklahoma and request that he introduce legislation for Congress to appropriate the entire amount of $35,000 for the new sewer line.
As things now stood, raw sewage was being dumped into Rock Creek and allowed to flow through the Park. The topography was such that the current practice was unavoidable. Superintendent Greene felt that Congress should fund the project immediately so as to protect its own valuable assets.
Hotels and homes dumped their sewage into ravines that ran into Travertine Creek. The Deaf Institute near the corner of Davis Avenue and Division Street had 200 students. The offal from this school was allowed to flow down a ravine through East Central Park and dump into Travertine Creek. Superintendent Greene noted that the effluent so fouls the water of Travertine Creek that thirsty animals refuse to drink it.
Rock Creek is equally polluted to the point that visitors are complaining about the foul odor and appearance of the stream. The train depots on either side of Rock Creek near Washington Bridge are also seriously contaminating the water.
Repeated letters to the Mayor and Council begging them to control the sewage run off were largely ignored.
Superintendent Greene notes that the government had paid a civil engineer for the study of a sewer line across the Park more than two years previously and nothing had ever been done about building it.
In October, Superintendent Greene writes to Engineer Hagerty in Muskogee. Superintendent Greene wants to know if they can put a sewer line five feet underground to get the proper grade for the city. He also wants to put the sewer line along the bank of Rock Creek in the sandy soil to speed up the construction process and save time and money.
Superintendent Greene now suggests the building of a dam on Rock Creek near today's Rock Creek Campground. Here, at the dam, he wants to dump the sewage from the town into the lake formed and then use the lake for recreation such as boating.
Superintendent Greene seems oblivious to the health hazards of boating in a sewer lagoon and has apparently not even considered the flood potential of Rock Creek. The drought of the past summer has faded the images of the rampaging waters of Rock Creek after even a small freshet. Engineer Hagerty replies that he feels that a dam would be a terrible solution or even a feasible idea.
The drought of 1909 had nearly dried up Rock Creek but the raw sewage keep flowing into Travertine and Rock Creek. Angry letters from Superintendent Greene to the City have no effect. Letters to the Secretary and Congressmen prove of little value. Superintendent Greene is glad he is about to be relieved of his position and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his replacement Will French.
The survey, profile, blue prints, specifications and cost estimates have been in the Park Superintendent's office for two years now and not a single penny has been appropriated for the construction of the sewer by either Congress or the City of Sulphur.
William French takes command of the Park in October of 1909 and one of his first acts is to write the Secretary about the unsanitary conditions of the City of Sulphur and Platt National Park. French supports Superintendent Greene's views that the sanitary conditions near the Deaf School and Central Park East are deplorable and if something is not done soon there will be a typhoid epidemic that will wipe out the town and destroy its image as a health resort.
In his 1910 annual report French once again raises the problem of the sewer. He submits plans for a series of dams where the sewer line is run across the top of the dam instead of 26 feet deep under the bed of Rock Creek and Travertine Creek. The top of the dam would also serve as a wagon bridge being twenty feet wide. Here again, not too much thought is given the rapid flooding of the two creeks after the slightest downpour.
Things pretty much stalled out on the sewer line until 1912. In October the new sewer line was finally constructed. It was jointly funded by the City and the Park. The initial line ran from the old Artesian Hotel to Flower Park where it crossed Rock Creek. It then ran along the north bank of Rock Creek until it emptied into the creek 1,000 feet downstream of Bromide Springs.
In 1931, a joint City-Park sewage treatment plant was constructed and eliminated the practice of dumping untreated sewage into the creek. This plant was located on the west bank of Rock Creek just west of the future Rock Creek Campground or Chigger Hill.
To get the sewage to the treatment plant, a pumping station was also constructed at the end of today's Lindsey Street.
By 1931, the park's main sewer line had been extended as far east as Cold Springs Campground and as far south as the Veteran's Hospital outside the park.
© by Dennis Muncrief - 2006