Yesterday's News

City's proactive response to building first sewage treatment plant costly

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff writer
Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dedication of Henderson's first sewage treatment plant in 1956 left a stench in the noses of local officials.

Not that they were unhappy with the facility itself; far from it. They were ecstatic that most of the city's sewage was no longer being dumped untreated into Canoe Creek, which made the south side of town very stinky during the hot summer months.

The problem was that Henderson was too far ahead of the curve. It floated bonds to built a treatment plant with $1.15 million of its own money, only to learn a few days after the dedication that Congress had approved funding up to 30 percent of the cost of municipal treatment plants along the Ohio River - but the law wasn't retroactive.

Mayor Hecht Lackey wrote letters to officials in other cities similarly impacted, as well as to Kentucky's congressional delegation. "I have discovered the existence of this law and find it very interesting as well as disturbing," he said. "I find Henderson in the unhappy situation of having exhausted its credit in building the disposal plant and now we can neither improve nor enlarge our water pumping and storage facilities."

Lackey received a reply from U.S. Sen. Earle C. Clements, who noted "a number of other cities" were in the same predicament, such as Louisville, Paducah, Covington and Newport.

"I regret that the shortness of the hour prevents any action at this time," Clements replied, but held out hope that perhaps legislation could be submitted to the following session of Congress.

Lackey said he would continue to fight for the money, but was unhappy that Henderson was being "excluded from the benefits of a law designed to benefit laggards."

Dedication of the sewage treatment plant came seven months after the plant became operational in mid-December 1955. But the beginnings of the plant date back to 1952. In June of that year state and federal law mandated all cities along the Ohio River to get rid of the straight pipes pumping raw sewage into the river.

A number of Henderson streets ending at the Ohio had straight pipes running into the river. But that accounted for only 20 percent of the city's sewage, according to Dr. Walter O'Nan, head of the Henderson County Medical Society, who gave a presentation about the problem to the Rotary Club in early December of 1952. The vast majority of the city's sewage, he noted, ran into Canoe Creek at Second and Fifth streets.

"Canoe Creek is a menace," O'Nan said. "But even more so is the Ohio River, which ... is an open sewer. Let's do something before the law cracks down on us."

The Foreman's Club quickly called for action, and a Citizens Health Committee was formed at the beginning of 1953. The Gleaner led the public education program, and James W. Armstrong - the spouse of editor Francele Armstrong - was first chairman of the Citizens Health Committee.

"The bond issue, presented after the education campaign had gone along hand-in-hand with the civic action, went through without marked opposition, and Henderson was assured its disposal plant," The Gleaner's editorial page noted after the dedication.

"To the casual observer it might seem strange that sewage and sewage treatment should be accorded the honor of a city-wide observance" but "one could not be casual about Henderson's sewage when it was the problem it was before the treatment plant went into operation.

"If you owned property in the south end of the community, you knew that it couldn't be sold unless it was sold to a person with no sense of smell or no sense of economics."

100 years ago

A 12-year-old boy was crushed to death while playing on the elevator at Ohio Valley Bank, The Gleaner reported in 1906.

Johnny Davis, son of livery man Adolphus Davis, was on top of the elevator car and attempted to jump out the door when he was caught between the elevator and the iron door jamb. The top of his head was cut off.

75 years ago

The A.T. Callender grocery store at Fifth and Green streets was robbed by a horse in 1931, according to The Gleaner.

The store, which still stands, had first been burgled of some loose change, a box of cakes and three pounds of frankfurters. But upon their exit, the human burglars left the door open.

That allowed Callender's gray dappled horse to enter the store, and help himself to watermelon, roasting ears and tomatoes. The horse also broke through the floor in several places, and generally left the interior in a shambles.

25 years ago

Gleaner columnist Judy Jenkins passed along fond memories of Brownie's Lunch Room when the building at 515 Washington St. was auctioned, according to one of her 1981 columns.

Brownie's was an institution that for nearly three decades provided candy bars and hamburgers to students from the old Central Grade School, which was next door, as well as from Barret Manual Training High School, which was across Washington Street. T. Colmesnil Brown operated the lunch room from 1932 through 1961.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS