When Sewers Were New, Clean, and Amazing

Archival Photographs Reveal an Engineered Labyrinth of Civic Optimism

Below our city streets lies an ad-hoc world of subterranean tunnels and pipes. The oldest are brick and concrete sewers that once carried waste streams in one direction, rainfall overflow in another. Today, these waterways must contend with newer sewers, subway tunnels, power lines, and fiber-optic cables. But in the 19th century, these labyrinths were the only man-made things that existed below ground.

Archival photos reproduced in Stephen Halliday’s An Underground Guide to Sewers give us a rare view of these sewers of the past, as they looked to the people …

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