Farm drainage
by Henry Flagg French
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The crops on this land were astonishing. Our friends estimated that the wheat then growing and nearly ripe, would yield fifty-six bushels to the acre. Although this was considered a very dry season, the crops on the land of our host were fully equal to the best upon the Fens.

The soil upon that part of the Fens is now a fine black loam of twelve or eighteen inches depth, resting upon clay. Upon other portions, the soil is of various depth and character, resting sometimes upon gravel.

Attention is called to these facts here, to show that the common impression that these lands will not bear deep drainage, is controverted among the occupants themselves, and may prove to be one of those errors which becomes traditional, we hardly know how.

Most peat meadows, in New England, when first relieved of stagnant water, are very light and spongy. The soil is filled with acids which require to be neutralized by an application of lime, or what is cheaper and equally effectual, by exposure to the atmosphere. These soils, when the water is suddenly drawn out of them, retain their bulk for a time, and are too porous and unsubstantial for cultivation. A season or two will cure this evil, in many cases. The soil will become more compact, and will often settle down many inches. It is necessary to bear this in mind in adjusting the drains, because a four-foot drain, when laid, may, by the mere subsidence of the land, become a three-foot drain.

A hasty judgment, in any case, that the land is over-drained, should be suspended until the soil has acquired compactness by its own weight, and by the ameliorating effect of culture and the elements.

Mr. Denton, alluding to the opinion of "many intelligent men, that low meadow-land should be treated differently to upland pasture, and upland pasture differently to arable land," says, "My own observations bring me to the conclusion, that it is not possible to lay pasture-land too dry; for I have invariably remarked, during the recent dry Summer and Autumn particularly, that both in lowland meadows, and upland pastures, those lands which have been most thoroughly drained by deep and frequent drains, are those that have preserved the freshest and most profitable herbage."

While, therefore, we have much doubt whether any land, high or low, can be over-drained for general cultivation, it is probable that a less expensive mode of drainage may be sometimes expedient for grass alone.

While we believe that, in general, even peat soils may be safely drained to the same depth with other soil, there seems to be a well-founded opinion that they may frequently be rendered productive by a less thorough system.

The only safety for us, is in careful experiment with our own lands, which vary so much in character and location, that no precise rules can be prescribed for their treatment.



Tiles will fill up, unless well laid.—Obstruction by Sand or Silt.—Obstructions at the Outlet from Frogs, Moles, Action of Frost, and Cattle.—Obstruction by Roots.—Willow, Ash, &c., Trees capricious.—Roots enter Perennial Streams.—Obstruction by Mangold Wurtzel.—Obstruction by Per-Oxide of Iron.—How Prevented—Obstruction by the Joints Filling.—No Danger with Two-Inch Pipes.—Water through the Pores.—Collars.—How to Detect Obstructions.

But won't these tiles get filled up and stopped? asks almost every inquirer on the subject of tile draining.

Certainly, they will, if not laid with great care, and with all proper precautions against obstructions. It cannot be too often repeated, that tile-drainage requires science, and knowledge, and skill, as well as money; and no man should go into it blindfold, or with faith in his innate perceptions of right. If he does, his education will be expensive.

It is proposed to mention all the various modes by which tiles have been known to be obstructed, and to suggest how the danger of failure, by means of them, may be obviated.

Let not enterprising readers be alarmed at such an array of difficulties, for the more conspicuous they become, the less is the danger from them.

Obstruction by Sand or Silt. Probably, more drains are rendered worthless, by being filled up with earthy matter, which passes with water through the joints of the tiles, than by every other cause.

Fine sand will pass through the smallest aperture, if there is a current of water sufficient to move it, and silt, or the fine deposit of mud or other earth, which is held almost in solution in running water, is even more insinuating in its ways than sand.

Very often, drains are filled up and ruined by these deposits; and, unless the fall be considerable, and the drain be laid with even descent, if earth of any kind find entrance, it must endanger the permanency of the work. To guard against the admission of everything but water, lay drains deep enough to be beyond the danger of water bursting in, in streamlets. Water should enter the drain at the bottom, by rising to the level of the tiles, and not by sinking from the surface directly to them. If the land is sandy, great care must be used. In draining through flowing sand, especially if there be a quick descent, the precaution of sheathing tiles is resorted to. That is done by putting small tiles inside of larger ones, breaking joints inside, and thus laying a double drain. This is only necessary, however, in spots of sand full of spring-water. Next best to this mode, is the use of collars over the joints, but these are not often used, though recommended for sandy land.

At least, in all land not perfectly sound, be careful to secure the joints in some way. An inverted turf, carefully laid over the joint, is oftenest used. Good, clean, fine gravel is, perhaps, best of all. Spent tan bark, when it is to be conveniently procured, is excellent, because it strains out the earth, while it freely admits water; and any particles of tan that find entrance, are floated out upon the water. The same may be said of sawdust.

To secure the exit of earth that may enter at the joints, there should be care that the tiles be smooth inside, that they be laid exactly in line, and that there be a continuous descent. If there be any place where the water rises in the tiles, in that place, every particle of sand, or other matter heavier than water, will be likely to stop, until a barrier is formed, and the drain stopped.

In speaking of the forms of tiles, the superiority of rounded openings over those with flat bottom has been shown. The greater head of water in a round pipe, gives it force to drive before it all obstructions, and so tends to keep the drain clear.

Obstructions at the Outlet. The water from deep drains is usually very clear, and cattle find the outlet a convenient place to drink at, and constantly tread up the soft ground there, and obstruct the flow of water. All earthy matter, and chemical solutions of iron, and the like, tend to accumulate by deposit at the outlet. Frogs and mice, and insects of many kinds, collect about such places, and creep into the drains. The action of frost in cold regions displaces the earth, and even masonry, if not well laid; and back-water, by flowing into the drains, hinders the free passage of water.

All these causes tend to obstruct drains at the outlet. If once stopped there, the whole pipe becomes filled with stagnant water, which deposits all its earthy matter, and soon becomes obstructed at other points, and so becomes useless. The outlet must be rendered secure from all these dangers, at all seasons, by some such means as are suggested in the chapter on the Arrangement of Drains.

Obstruction by roots. On the author's farm in Exeter, a wooden drain, to carry off waste water from a watering place, was laid, with a triangular opening of about four inches. This was found to be obstructed the second year after it was laid; and upon taking it up, it proved to be entirely filled for several feet, with willow roots, which grew like long, fine grass, thickly matted together, so as entirely to close the drain. There was a row of large willows about thirty feet distant, and as the drain was but about two feet deep, they found their way easily to it, and entering between the rough joints of the boards, not very carefully fitted, fattened on the spring water till they outgrew their new house.

A neighbor says, he never wants a tree within ten rods of any land he desires to plow; and it would be unsafe to undertake to set limits to the extent of the roots of trees. "No crevice, however small," says a writer, "is proof against the entrance of the roots of water-loving trees."

The behavior of roots is, however, very capricious in this matter; for, while occasional instances occur of drains being obstructed by them, it is a very common thing for drains to operate perfectly for indefinite periods, where they run through forests and orchards for long distances. They, however, who lay drains near to willows and ashes, and the like cold-water drinkers, must do it at the peril of which they are warned.

Laying the tiles deep and with collars will afford the best security from all danger of this kind.

Thos. Gisborne, Esq., in a note to the edition of his Essay on Drainage published in 1852, says:

My own experience as to roots, in connection with deep pipe draining, is as follows:—I have never known roots to obstruct a pipe through which there was not a perennial stream. The flow of water in Summer and early Autumn appears to furnish the attraction. I have never discovered that the roots of any esculent vegetable have obstructed a pipe. The trees which, by my own personal observation, I have found to be most dangerous, have been red willow, black Italian poplar, alder, ash, and broad-leaved elm. I have many alders in close contiguity with important drains; and, though I have never convicted one, I can not doubt that they are dangerous. Oak, and black and white thorns, I have not detected, nor do I suspect them. The guilty trees have, in every instance, been young and free growing; I have never convicted an adult.

Mangold-wurzel, it is said by several writers, will sometimes grow down into tile drains, even to the depth of four feet, and entirely obstruct them; but those are cases of very rare occurrence. In thousands of instances, mangolds have been cultivated on drained land, even where tiles were but 2-1/2 feet deep, without causing any obstruction of the drains. Any reader who is curious in such matters, may find in the appendix to the 10th Vol. of the Journal of the Royal Ag. Soc., a singular instance of obstruction of drains by the roots of the mangold, as well as instances of obstructions by the roots of trees.

Obstruction by Per-oxide of Iron. In the author's barn-cellar is a watering place, supplied by a half-inch lead pipe, from a spring some eight rods distant. This pipe several times in a year, sometimes once a week, in cold weather, is entirely stopped. The stream of water is never much larger than a lead pencil. We usually start it with a sort of syringe, by forcing into the outlet a quantity of water. It then runs very thick, and of the color of iron rust, sometimes several pails full, and will then run clear for weeks or months, perhaps. In the tub which receives the water, there is always a large deposit of this same colored substance; and along the street near by, where the water oozes out of the bank, there is this same appearance of iron. This deposit is, in common language, called per-oxide of iron, though this term is not, by chemists of the present day, deemed sufficiently accurate, and the word sesqui-oxide is preferred in scientific works.

Iron exists in all animal and vegetable matter, and in all soils, to some extent. It exists as protoxide of iron, in which one atom of iron always combines with one atom of oxygen, and it exists as sesqui-oxide of iron, from the Latin sesqui, which means one and a half, in which one and a half atoms of oxygen combine with one atom of iron. The less accurate term, per-oxide, has been adopted here, because it is found in general use by writers on drainage.

The theory is that the iron exists in the soil, and is held in solution in water as a protoxide, and is converted into per-oxide by contact with the air, either in the drains or at their outlets, and is then deposited at the bottom of the water.

In a pipe running full there would be, upon this theory, no exposure to the air, which should form the per-oxide. In the case stated, it is probable that the per-oxide is formed at the exposed surface of a large cask, at the spring, and is carried into the pipe, as it is precipitated. Common drain pipes would be full of air, which might, perhaps, in a feeble current, be sufficient to cause this deposit.

Occasionally, cases have occurred of obstruction from this cause, and whenever the signs of this deposit are visible about the field to be drained, care must be used to guard against it in draining.

To guard against obstruction from per-oxide of iron, tiles should be laid deep, closely jointed or collared, with great care that the fall be continuous, and especially that there be a quick fall at the junctions of minor drains with mains, and a clear outlet.

Mr. Beattie, of Aberdeen, says: Before adopting 4 feet drains, I had much difficulty in dealing with the iron ore which generally appeared at two to three feet from the surface, but by the extra depth the water filters off to the pipes free of ore. Occasionally, iron ore is found at a greater depth, but the floating substance is then in most cases lighter, and does not adhere to the pipes in the same way as that found near the surface. Arrangements should also be made for examining the drains by means of wells, and for flushing them by holding back the water until the drains are filled, and then letting it suddenly off, or, by occasionally admitting a stream of water at the upper end, when practicable, and thus washing out the pipes. Mr. Denton says: "It is found that the use of this contrivance for flushing, will get rid of the per-oxide of iron, about which so much complaint is made."

Obstruction by Filling at the Joints. One would suppose that tiles might frequently be prevented from receiving water, by the filling up of the crevices between them. If water poured on to tiles in a stream, it would be likely to carry into these openings enough earthy matter to fill them; but the whole theory of thorough-drainage rests upon the idea of slow percolation—of the passage of water in the form of fine dew, as it were—through the motionless particles which compose the soil; and, if drains are properly laid, there can be no motion of particles of earth, either into or towards the tiles. The water should soak through the ground precisely as it does through a wet cloth.

In an article in the Journal of the Society of Arts, published in 1855, Mr. Thomas Arkell states that in 1846 he had drained a few acres with 1-1/4 inch pipes, about three feet deep, and 21 to 25 feet apart. The drains acted well, and the land was tolerably dry and healthy for the first few years; but afterwards, in wet seasons, it was very wet, and appeared full of water, like undrained land, although at the time all the drains were running, but very slowly. His conclusion was that mud had entered the crevices, and stopped the water out. He says he has known other persons, who had used small pipes, who had suffered in the same way. There are many persons still in England, who are so apprehensive on this point, that they continue to use horse-shoe tiles, or, as they are sometimes called, "tops and bottoms," which admit water more freely along the joints.

The most skillful engineers, however, decidedly prefer round pipes, but recommend that none smaller than one-and-a-half-inch be used, and prefer two-inch to any smaller size. The circumference of a two-inch pipe is not far from nine inches, while that of a one-inch pipe, of common thickness, is about half that, so that the opening is twice as extensive in the two-inch, pipes as in the one-inch pipe.

The ascertained instances of the obstruction of pipes, by excluding the water from the joints, are very few. No doubt that clay, puddled in upon the tiles when laid, might have this effect; but they who have experience in tile-drainage, will bear witness that there is far more difficulty in excluding sand and mud, than there is in admitting water.

It is thought, by some persons, that sufficient water to drain land may be admitted through the pores of the tiles. We have no such faith. The opinion of Mr. Parkes, that about 500 times as much water enters at the crevices between each pair of tiles, as is absorbed through the tiles themselves, we think to be far nearer the truth.

Collars have a great tendency to prevent the closing up of the crevices between tiles; but injuries to drains laid at proper depths, with two-inch pipes, even without collars, must be very rare. Indeed, no single case of a drain obstructed in this way, when laid four feet deep, has yet come within our reading or observation, and it is rather as a possible, than even a probable, cause of failure, that it has been mentioned.


When a drain is entirely obstructed, if there is a considerable flow of water, and the ground is much descending, the water will at once press through the joints of the pipes, and show itself at the surface. By thrusting down a bar along the course of the drain, the place of the obstruction will be readily determined; for the water will, at the point of greatest pressure, burst up in the hole made by the bar, like a spring, while below the point of obstruction, there will be no upward pressure of the water, and above it, the pressure will be less the farther we go.

The point being determined, it is the work of but few minutes to dig down upon the drain, remove carefully a few pipes, and take out the frog, or mouse, or the broken tile, if such be the cause of the difficulty. If silt or earth has caused the obstruction, it is probably because of a depression in the line of the drain, or a defect in some junction with other drains, and this may require the taking up of more or less of the pipes.

If there be but little fall in the drains, the obstruction will not be so readily found; but the effect of the water will soon be observed at the surface, both in keeping the soil wet, and in chilling the vegetation upon it. If proper peep-holes have been provided, the place of any obstruction may readily be determined, at a glance into them.

Upon our own land, we have had two or three instances of obstruction by sand, very soon after the tiles were laid, and always at the junction of drains imperfectly secured with bricks, before we had procured proper branch-pipes for the purpose.

A little experience will enable the proprietor at once to detect any failure of his drains, and to apply the proper remedy. Obstructions from silt and sand are much more likely to occur during the first season after the drains are laid, than afterwards, because the earth is loose about the pipes, and more liable to be washed into the joints, than after it has become compact.

On the whole, we believe the danger to tile-drains, of obstruction, is very little, provided good tiles are used, and proper care is exercised in laying them.



Clay not impervious, or it could not be wet and dried.—Puddling, what is.—Water will stand over Drains on Puddled Soil.—Cracking of Clays by Drying.—Drained Clays improve by time.—Passage of Water through Clay makes it permeable.—Experiment by Mr. Pettibone, of Vermont.—Pressure of Water in saturated Soil.

It is a common impression that clay is impervious to water, and that, therefore, a clay soil cannot be drained, especially by deep under-drains. A moment's reflection will satisfy any one that such land is not absolutely impervious. We find such land is wet in Spring, at any depth; and, in the latter part of Summer, we find it comparatively dry. How comes it wet, at any time, if water does not go into it? And how comes it dry, at any time, if water does not come out of it?

In treating of the power of the soil to absorb moisture, we have shown that a clay soil will absorb more than half its weight and bulk of water, and that it holds more water than any other soil, with, perhaps, the single exception of peat.

The facts, however, that clay may be wet, and may be dried, and that it readily absorbs large quantities of water, though they prove conclusively that it is not impervious to water, yet do not prove that water will pass through it with sufficient rapidity to answer the practical purposes of drainage for agriculture. This point can only be satisfactorily determined by experiment. It is not necessary, however, that each farmer should try the experiment for himself; because, although we are very apt to think our own case an exception to all general rules, it is not really probable that any new kind of clay will be discovered hereafter, that is so different from all other clay that is known, that established principles will not apply to it. So far as our own observation extends, owners of clay farms always over-estimate the difficulty of draining their land. There are certain notorious facts with regard to clay, which mislead the judgment of men on this point. One of these facts is, that clay is used for stopping water, by the process called puddling. Puddled clay is used for the bottom of ponds, and of canals, and of reservoirs, and, for such purposes, is regarded as nearly, or quite impervious.

We see that, on our clay fields, water stands upon the surface, especially in the ruts of wheels, and on headlands much trodden, late in the season, and when, in other places, it has disappeared. This is due, also, to puddling.

Puddling is merely the working of wet clay, or other soil, by beating, or treading, or stirring, until its particles are so finely divided that water has an exceedingly slow passage between them, with ordinary pressure. We see the effect of this operation on common highways, where water often stands for many days in puddles, because the surface has been ground so fine, and rendered so compact, by wheels and horses, that the water cannot find passage. This, however, is not the natural condition of any clay; nor can any clay be kept in this condition, except by being constantly wet. If once dried, or subjected to the action of frost, the soil resumes its natural condition of porosity, as will be presently explained. They who object to deep drainage, or to the possibility of draining stiff clays, point to the fact that water may be seen standing directly over the drains, on thorough-drained fields. We have seen this on our own fields. In one instance, we had, after laying tiles through a field, at 50 feet intervals, in the same Autumn, when the land was wet, teamed across it a large quantity of soil for compost, with a heavy ox-team. The next Spring, the water stood for many days in that track which passed across tile-drains, after it had disappeared elsewhere in the field. A fine crop of Indian corn grew on the field that year, but the effect of the puddling was visible the whole season. "One inch of wet and worked clay," says a scientific writer, "will prevent water from passing through, so long as it is kept wet, as effectually as a yard will do."

"If," says Gisborne, "you eat off turnips with sheep, if you plow the land, or cart on it, or in any way puddle it, when it is wet, of course the water will lie on the surface, and will not go to your drains. A four-foot drain may go very near a pit, or a water-course, without attracting water from either, because water-courses almost invariably puddle their beds; and the same effect is produced in pits by the treading of cattle, and even by the motion of the water produced by wind. A very thin film of puddle, always wet on one side, is impervious, because it cannot crack."

In those four words, we find an allusion to the whole mystery of the drainage of clays—a key which unlocks the secret by which the toughest of these soils may be converted, as by a fairy charm, to fields of waving grain.


"In drying under the influence of the sun," says Prof. Johnston, "soils shrink in, and thus diminish in bulk, in proportion to the quantity of clay, or of peaty matter, they contain. Sand scarcely diminishes at all in bulk by drying; but peat shrinks one-fifth in bulk, and strong agricultural clay nearly as much." By laying drains in land, we take from it that portion of the water that will run out at the bottom. The sun, by evaporation, then takes out a portion at the top. The soil is thus contracted, and, as the ends of the field cannot approach each other, both soil and subsoil are torn apart, and divided by a network of cracks and fissures. Every one who is familiar with clay land, or who has observed the bottom of a ditch or frog pond by the roadside, must have observed these cracks, thus caused by the contraction of the soil in drying. The same contraction occurs in drier land, by cold, in Winter; by which, in cold regions, deep rents are made in the earth, and reports, like those of cannon, are often heard. The cracking by drying, however, is more quiet in its effects, merely dividing the ground, noiselessly, into smaller and smaller masses, as the process proceeds. Were it not for this process, it may well be doubted whether clay lands could be effectually drained at all. Nature, however, seems to second our efforts here, for we have seen that the stiffer the clay, the greater the contraction, and the more the soil is split up and rendered permeable by this operation.

These cracks are found, by observation, to commence at the drains, and extend further and further, in almost straight lines, into the subsoil, forming so many minor drains, or feeders, all leading to the tiles. These main fissures have numerous smaller ones diverging from them, so that the whole mass is divided and subdivided into the most minute portions. The main fissures gradually enlarge, as the dryness increases, and, at the same time, lengthen out; so that, in a very dry season, they may be traced the whole way between the drains. The following cut will give some idea of these cracks, or fissures, as they exist in a dry time:

Mr. Gisborne says: "Clay lands always shrink and crack with drought; and the stiffer the clay, the greater the shrinking, as brick-makers well know. In the great drought thirty-six years ago, we saw, in a very retentive soil in the Vale of Belvoir, cracks which it was not very pleasant to ride among. This very Summer, on land, which, with reference to this very subject, the owner stated to be impervious, we put a walking-stick three feet into a sun-crack without finding a bottom, and the whole surface was a network of cracks. In the drained soil, the roots follow the threads of vegetable mould which have been washed into the cracks, and get an abiding tenure. Earth-worms follow either the roots or the mould. Permanent schisms are established in the clay, and its whole character is changed."

In the United States, the supply of rain is far less uniform than in England, and much severer droughts are experienced. Thus the contraction, and consequent cracking of the soil, must be greater here than in that country.

In laying drains more than four feet deep, in the stiffest clay which the author has seen, in a neighborhood furnishing abundance of brick and potter's clay, these cracks were seen to extend to the very bottoms of the drains, not in single fissures from top to bottom, but in innumerable seams running in all directions, so that the earth, moved with the pick-axe, came up in little cubes and flakes, and could be separated into pieces of an inch or less diameter. This was on a ridge which received no water except from the clouds, having no springs in or upon it, yet so nearly impervious to water, that it remained soft and muddy till late in June. In Midsummer, however, under our burning sun, it had, by evaporation, been so much dried as to produce the effect described.

In England, we learn, that these cracks extend to the depth of four feet or more. Mr. Hewitt Davis stated in a public discussion, with reference to draining strong soils, that, "he gave four feet as the minimum depth of the drains in these soils, because he had always found that the cracks and fissures formed by the drought and changes of temperature, on the strongest clay, and which made these soils permeable, extended below this depth, and the water from the surface might be made to reach the drains at this distance."

In clay that has never been dried, as for instance, that found under wet meadows from which the water has but recently been drawn, we should not, of course, expect to find these cracks. Accordingly, we find sometimes in clay pits, excavated below the permanent water-line, and in wells, that the clay is in a compact mass, and tears apart without exhibiting anything like these divisions.

We should not expect that, on such a clay, the full effect of drainage would be at once apparent. The water falling on the surface would very slowly find its way downward, at first. But after the heat of Summer, aided by the drains underneath, had contracted and cracked the soil, passages for the water would soon be found, and, after a few years, the whole mass, to the depth of the drains, would become open and permeable. As an old English farmer said of his drains, "They do better year by year; the water gets a habit of coming to them." Although this be not philosophical language, yet the fact is correctly stated. Water tends towards the lowest openings. A deep well often diverts the underground stream from a shallower well, and lays it dry. A single railroad cut sometimes draws off the supply of water from a whole neighborhood. Passages thus formed are enlarged by the pressure of the water, and new ones are opened by the causes already suggested, till the drainage becomes perfect for all practical purposes. So much is this cracking process relied on to facilitate drainage, that skillful drainers frequently leave their ditches partly open, after laying the tiles, that the heat may produce the more effect during the first season.

As to the depth of drains in stiff clays, enough has already been said, under the appropriate title. In England, the weight of authority is in favor of four-foot drains. In this country, a less depth has thus far, in general, been adopted in practice, but it is believed that this has been because a greater depth has not been tried. It is understood, that the most successful drainers in the State of New York, have been satisfied with three-foot drains, not, as it is believed, because there is any instance on record, in this country, of the failure of four-foot drains, but because the effect of more shallow drains has been so satisfactory, that it has been thought a useless expense to go deeper. To Mr. Johnston and to Mr. Delafield, of Seneca County, the country is greatly indebted for their enterprise and leadership in the matter of drainage. Mr. Johnston gives it as his opinion, that "three feet is deep enough, if the bottom is hard enough to lay tiles on; if not, go deeper."

Without intimating that any different mode of drainage than that adopted, would have been better on Mr. Johnston's farm, we should be unwilling to surrender, even to the opinion of Mr. Johnston and his friends, our conviction that, in general, three-foot drains are too shallow. Mr. Johnston expressly disclaims any experience in draining a proper clay soil. In the Country Gentleman, of June 10th, 1848, he says:

"In a subsoil that is impervious to water, either by being a red clay, blue clay, or hard-pan, within a foot of the surface, I would recommend farmers to feel their way very cautiously in draining. If tiles and labor were as low here as in Great Britain, we could afford to make drains sixteen feet apart in such land, and then, by loosening the soil, say twenty inches deep, by the subsoil plow, I think such land might be made perfectly dry; but I don't think the time is yet come, considering the cost of tiles and labor, to undertake such an outlay; but still it might pay in the end. I have found only a little of red clay subsoil in draining my farm. I never had any blue clay on my farm, or hard-pan, to trouble me; but I can readily perceive that it must be equally bad to drain as the tenacious red clay. If I were going to purchase another farm, I would look a great deal more to the subsoil than the surface soil. If the subsoil is right, the surface soil, I think, cannot be wrong."

In the same paper, under date of July 8th, Mr. Johnston says, "The only experience I have had in digging into soils, to judge of draining out of this county (Seneca), was in Niagara." He states the result of his observations thus:

"A few inches below the surface I found a stiff blue clay for about ten inches deep, and as impervious to water as so much iron. Underneath that blue clay, I found a red clay, apparently impervious to water; but, as water could not get through the blue, I could only guess at that; and, after spending the greater part of the day, with five men digging holes from four to five feet deep, I found I knew no more how such land could be drained, than a man who had never seen a drain dug. I advised the gentleman to try a few experiments, by digging a few ditches, as I laid them out, and plowing as deep as possible with a subsoil plow, but to get no tile until he saw if he could get a run of water. He paid my traveling expenses, treated me very kindly and I have heard nothing from him since.

"Now, if your correspondent's soil and subsoil is similar to that soil I would advise him to feel his way cautiously in draining. Certainly, no man would be fool enough to dig ditches and lay tile, if there is no water to carry off."

In the Country Gentleman of Nov. 18th, 1858, we find an interesting statement, by John S. Pettibone, of Manchester, Vermont, partly in reply to the statement of Mr. Johnston.

The experiment by Mr. Pettibone, showing the increased permeability of clay, merely by the passage of water through it, is very interesting. He says, in his letter to the editor:

"When so experienced a drainer as Mr. Johnston expresses an opinion that some soils cannot be drained, it is important we should know what the soil is which cannot be drained. He uses the word stiff blue clay, as descriptive of the soil which cannot be drained. * * *

"I had taken a specimen of what I thought to be stiff blue clay. That clay, when wet, as taken out, would hold water about as well as iron: yet, from experiments I have made, I am confident that such clay soil can be drained, and at much less expense than a hard-pan soil. Water will pass through such clay, and the clay become dry; and after it becomes once dry, water will, I am convinced, readily pass down through such stiff blue clay. The specimen was taken about three feet below the surface, and on a level with a brook which runs through this clay soil. I filled a one hundred-pound nail-keg with clay taken from the same place. It was so wet, that by shaking, it came to a level, and water rose to the top of the clay. I had made holes in the bottom of the keg, and set it up on blocks. After twenty-four hours I came almost to the conclusion Mr. Johnston did, that water would not pass through this clay. This trial was during the hot, dry weather last Summer. After some ten or twelve days the clay appeared to be dry. I then made a basin-like excavation in the top of the clay, and put water in, and the water disappeared rather slowly. I filled the basin with water frequently, and the oftener I filled it, the more readily it passed off. I left it for more than a week, when we had a heavy shower. After the shower I examined the keg, and not a drop of water was to be seen. I then took a chisel and cut a hole six inches down. I took out a piece like the one I dried in the house, and laid that up till it was perfectly dry. There was a plain difference between the appearance of the two pieces. The texture, I should say, was quite different. That through which the water had passed, after it had been dried, was more open and porous. It did not possess so much of the blue cast. In less than one hour after the rain fell, the clay taken six inches from the top of the keg would crumble by rubbing in the hand."

When we observe the effect of heat in opening clays to water by cracking, and the effect of the water itself, aided, as it doubtless is, by the action of the air, in rendering the soil permeable, we hardly need feel discouraged if the question rested entirely on this evidence; but when we consider that thousands upon thousands of acres of the stiffest clays have been, in England and Scotland, rescued from utter barrenness by drainage, and made to yield the largest crops, we should regard the question of practicability as settled. The only question left for decision is whether, under all the circumstances of each particular case, the operation of draining our clay lands will be expedient—whether their increased value will pay the expense. It is often objected to deep drains in clays, that it is so far down to the drains that the water cannot readily pass through so large a mass. If we think merely of a drop of rain falling on the surface, and obliged to find its devious way through the mazes of cracks and particles till it gains an outlet at the bottom of four feet of clay, it does seem a discouraging journey for the poor little solitary thing; but there is a more correct view of the matter, which somewhat relieves the difficulty.

All the water that will run out of the soil has departed; but the soil holds a vast amount still, by attraction. The rain begins to fall; and when the soil is saturated, a portion passes into the drain; but it is, by no means, the water which last fell upon the surface, but that which was next the drain before the rain fell. If you pour water into a tube that is nearly full, the water which will first run from the other end is manifestly not that which you pour in. So the ground is full of little tubes, open at both ends, in which the water is held by attraction. A drop upon the surface drives out a drop at the lower end, into to the drain, and so the process goes on—the drains beginning to run as soon as the rain commences, and ceasing to flow only when the principle of attraction balances the power of gravitation.


In connection with the passage of water through clay soil, it may be appropriate to advert to the question sometimes mooted, whether in a soil filled with water, at four feet depth, there is the same pressure as there would be, at the same depth, in a river or pond. The pressure of fluids on a given area, is, ordinarily, in proportion to their vertical height; and the pressure of a column of water, four feet high, would be sufficient to drive the lower particles into an opening like a drain, with considerable force, and the upper part of such a column would essentially aid the lower part in its downward passage. Does this pressure exist? Mr. Gisborne speaks undoubtingly on this point, thus:

"We will assume the drain to be four feet deep, and the water-table to be at one foot below the surface of the earth. Every particle of water which lies at three feet below the water-table, has on it the pressure of a column of water three feet high. This pressure will drive the particle in any direction in which it finds no resistance, with a rapidity varying inversely to the friction of the medium through which the column acts. The bottom of our drains will offer no resistance, and into it particles of water will be pushed, in conformity with the rule we have stated; rapidly, if the medium opposes little friction; slowly, if it opposes much. The water so pushed in runs off by the drain, the column of pressure being diminished in proportion to the water which runs off."

Mr. Thomas Arkell, in a paper read before the Society of Arts, in 1855, says, on this point:

"The pressure due to a head of water of four or five feet, may be imagined from the force with which water will come through the crevices of a hatch, with that depth of water above it. Now, there is the same pressure of water to enter the vacuum in the pipe-drain, as there is against the hatches, supposing the land to be full to the surface."

We do not find any intimation that there is any error in the view advanced by the learned gentleman quoted; and if there is none, we have an explanation of the faculty which water seems to have, of finding its way into drainpipes. Yet, we feel bound to confess, that, aside from authority, we should have supposed that the pressure due to a column of pure water, would be essentially lessened, by the interposition of solid matter between its particles.



Drainage Hastens the Supply to the Streams, and thus Creates Freshets.—Effect of Drainage on Meadows below; on Water Privileges.—Conflict of Manufacturing and Agricultural Interests.—English Opinions and Facts.—Uses of Drainage Water.—Irrigation.—Drainage Water for Stock.—How used by Mr. Mechi.

The effect of drainage upon streams and rivers, has, perhaps, little to interest merely practical men, in this country, at present; but the time will soon arrive, when mill-owners and land-owners will be compelled to investigate the subject. Men unaccustomed to minute investigation, are slow to appreciate the great effects produced by apparently small causes; and it may seem to many, that the operations of drainage for agriculture, are too insignificant in their details, perceptibly to affect the flow of mill-streams and rivers. A moment's thought will convince the most skeptical, that the thorough-drainage of the wet lands, even of a New England township, must produce sensible effects upon the streams which convey its surplus water toward the sea.

In making investigations to ascertain what quantity of water may be relied upon to supply a reservoir, whether natural or artificial, for the use of a town or city, a survey is first taken of the district of territory which naturally is drained into the reservoir, and thus the number of square miles of surface is ascertained. Then the rain-tables are consulted, and the fall of rain upon the surveyed district is computed. The ascertained proportion of rain-fall, which usually goes off by evaporation, is then deducted, which leaves with sufficient accuracy, the amount of water which flows both upon the surface, and through the soil, to the reservoir. With proper deductions for waste by freshets, when the water will overflow the reservoir, and for other known losses, a reliable estimate is readily made, in advance, of the quantity of water supplied to the reservoir.

Now, these reservoirs Nature has placed in all our valleys, in the form of lakes and ponds, and the drainage into them is by natural springs and streams; and the annual amount of the water thus naturally flowing into them may be readily computed, if the area within their head-waters be known. If the earth's surface were, like iron, impervious to water, the rain-water would come in torrents down the hill-sides, and along the gentle declivities, into the streams, creating freshets and inundations in a few hours. But instead of that, the soft showers fall, often on the open, thirsty soil, and so are gradually absorbed. A part of the rain-water is there held, until it returns by evaporation, to the clouds, while a part slowly percolates downward, finding its way into swamps and springy plains, and finally, after days or weeks of wandering, slowly, but surely, finds its outlet in the stream or pond.

If now, this surplus of water, this part which cannot be evaporated, and must therefore, sooner or later, enter the stream or pond, be, by artificial channels, carried directly to its destination, without the delay of filtration through swamps and clay-banks; the effect of rain to raise the streams and ponds, must be more sudden and immediate. Agricultural drains furnish those artificial channels. The flat and mossy swamp, which before retained the water until the Midsummer drought, and then slowly parted with it, by evaporation or gradual filtration, now, by thorough-drainage, in two or three days at most, sends all its surplus water onward to the natural stream. The stagnant clay-beds, which formerly, by slow degrees, allowed the water to filter through them to the wayside ditch, and then to the river, now, by drainage, contribute their proportion, in a few hours, to swell the stream. Thus, evaporation is lessened, and the amount of water which enters the natural channels largely increased; and, what is of more importance, the water which flows from the land is sent at once, after its fall from the heavens, into the streams. This produces upon the mill-streams a two-fold effect; first, to raise sudden freshets to overflow the dams, and sweep away the mills; and, secondly, to dry up their supply in dry seasons, and to diminish their water-power.

Upon the low meadows which border the streams, the effects of the drainage of lands above them are various, according to their position. In many cases, it must subject them to inundation by Summer freshets, and must require for their protection, catch-waters and embankments, and large facilities for drainage.

The effect of drainage upon "water privileges," must inevitably be, to lessen their value, by giving them a sudden surplus, followed by drought, instead of a regular supply of water. Water-power companies and mill-owners are never careless of their interests. Through the patriotic desire to foster home-manufactures, our State legislatures have granted many peculiar privileges to manufacturing corporations. Indeed, all the streams and rivers of New England are chained to labor at their wheels.

Agriculture has thus far taken care of herself, but is destined soon to come in collision with the chartered privileges of manufactures. Many questions, touching the right of land-owners to change the natural flow of the water, to the injury of mill-owners; many questions touching the right of mill-owners to obstruct the natural course of streams, to the injury of the farmer, will inevitably arise in our Courts. Slowly, and step by step, must the lesser interest of manufactures, recede before the advance of the great fundamental interest of agriculture, until, in process of time, steam, or some yet undiscovered giant power, shall put its hand to the great wheel of the factory and the mill, and the pent-up waters shall subside to their natural banks.

That these are not mere speculations of our own, may be seen from extracts which will be given from answers returned by distinguished observers of these matters in England and Scotland, to a question proposed to them as to the actual effects produced by extensive drainage. Some diversity of opinion is observable in the different replies, which were made, independently in writing, and so are more valuable.

Mr. Smith.—"During dry periods, more particularly in Summer, the water in the streams is greatly lessened by thorough-draining; for there is so great a mass of comparatively dry and absorbent soil to receive the rain, that Summer showers, unless very heavy and continuous, will be entirely absorbed."

Mr. Parkes.—"The intention and effect of a complete and systematic under-drainage is the liberation of the water of rain more quickly from the land than if it were not drained; and therefore the natural vents, or rivers, very generally require enlargement or deepening, in order to pass off the drainage water in sufficiently quick time, and so as to avoid flooding lower lands.

"The sluggish rivers of the midland and southern counties of England especially, oppose great obstacles to land-drainage, being usually full to the banks, or nearly so, and converted into a series of ponds, by mill-dams erected at a few miles distance below each other; so that, frequently, no effectual drainage of the richest alluvial soil composing the meadows, can be made, without forming embankments, or by pumping, or by resort to other artificial and expensive means.

"The greater number of the corn and other water-mills throughout England ought to be demolished, for the advantage of agriculture, and steam-power should to be provided for the millers. I believe that such an arrangement would, in most cases, prove to be economical both to the landholder and the miller.

"Every old authority, and all modern writers on land drainage in England, have condemned water-mills and mill-dams: and if all the rivers of England were surveyed from the sea to their source, the mills upon them valued, the extent of land injured or benefitted by such mill-dams ascertained, and the whole question of advantage or injury done to the land-owner appreciated and appraised, I have little doubt but that the injury done, would be found so greatly to exceed the rental of the mills, deduction being made of the cost of maintaining them, that it would be a measure of national economy, to buy up the mills, and give the millers steam-power."

Mr. Spooner.—"The effect which extensive drainage produces on the main water-courses of districts, is that of increasing the height of their rise at flood times, and rendering the flow and subsidence more rapid than before. I have repeatedly heard the River Tweed adduced as a striking instance of this fact, and that the change has taken place within the observation of the present generation."

Mr. Maccaw.—"It has been observed that, after extensive surface-drainage on the sheepwalks in the higher parts of the country, and when the lower lands were enclosed by ditches, and partially drained for the purposes of cultivation, all rivers flowing therefrom, rise more rapidly after heavy rains or falls of snow, and discharge their surplus waters more quickly, than under former circumstances."

Mr. Beattie.—"It renders them more speedily flooded, and to a greater height, and they fall sooner. Rivers are lower in Summer and higher in Winter."

Mr. Nielson.—"The immediate effect of the drainage of higher lands has often been to inundate the lower levels."

In a prize essay of John Algernon Clarke, speaking of the effect of drainage along the course of the River Nene, in England, he says:

"The upland farms are delivering their drain-water in much larger quantities, and more immediately after the downfall, than formerly, and swelling to the depth of three to six feet over the 20,000 acres of open ground, which form one vast reservoir for it above and below Peterborough. The Nene used to overflow its banks, to the extreme height, about the third day after rain: the floods now reach the same height in about half that time. Twelve hours' rain will generally cause an overflow of the land, which all lies unembanked from the stream; and where it is already saturated, this takes place in six or even in two hours. Such a quick rise will cause one body of flood-water to extend for forty or fifty miles in succession, with a width varying from a quarter of a mile to a mile; but it stays sometimes for six weeks, or even two months, upon the ground. And those floods come down with an alarming power and velocity—bridges which have stood for a century are washed away, and districts where floods were previously unknown have became liable to their sudden periodical inundations. The land being wholly in meadow, suffers very heavily from the destruction of its hay. So sudden are the inundations, that it frequently happens that hay made in the day has, in the night been found swimming and gone. A public-house sign at Wansford commemorates the locally-famed circumstance of a man who, having fallen asleep on a hay-cock, was carried down the stream by a sudden flood: awakening just under the bridge of that town, and being informed where he was, he demanded, in astonishment, if this were 'Wansford in England.'"

The fact that the floods in that neighborhood now reach their height in half their former time, in consequence of the drainage of the "upland farms," is very significant.

Mr. Denton thus speaks upon the same point, though his immediate subject was that of compulsory outfalls.

"Although the quantity of land drained was small, in comparison to that which remained to be drained, the water which was discharged by the drainage already effected found its way so rapidly to the outfalls, that the consequences were becoming more and more injurious every day. The millers were now suffering from two causes. At times of excess, after a considerable fall of rain, and when the miller was injuriously overloaded, the excess was increased by the rapidity with which the under-drains discharged themselves; and as the quantity of water thus discharged, must necessarily lessen the subsequent supply, the period of drought was advanced in a corresponding degree. As the millers already saw this, and were anticipating increasing losses, they would join in finding a substitute for water-power upon fair terms."

It is not supposed, that any considerable practical effects of drainage, upon the streams of this country, have been observed. A treatise, however, upon the general subject of Drainage, which should omit a point like this, which must, before many years, attract serious attention, would be quite incomplete. Whether the effect of a system of thorough-drainage make for or against the interest of mill and meadow owners on the lower parts of streams, should have no influence over those who design only to present the truth, in all its varied aspects.

As some compensation for the evils which may fall upon lands at a lower level, by drainage of uplands, it may be interesting to notice briefly in this place, some of the uses to which drainage-water has been applied, for the advantage of lower lands. In many cases, in Great Britain, the water of drainage has been preserved in reservoirs, or artificial ponds, and applied for the irrigation of water meadows; and as is suggested by Lieut. Maury, in a letter quoted in our introductory chapter, the same may, in many localities, be done in this country, and thus our crops of grass be often tripled, on our low meadows. In many cases, water from deep drains, will furnish the most convenient supply for barn yards and pastures. It is usually sufficiently pure and cool in Summer, and is preferred by cattle to the water of running streams.

On Mr. Mechi's farm at Tiptree Hall, in England, we observed a large cistern, in which all the manure necessary for the highest culture of 170 acres of land, is liquified, and from which it is pumped out by a steam engine, over the farm. All the water, which supplies the cistern, is collected from tile drains on the farm, where there had before been no running water.



England protects her Farmers.—Meadows ruined by Corporation dams.—Old Mills often Nuisances.—Factory Reservoirs.—Flowage extends above level of Dam.—Rye and Derwent Drainage.—Give Steam for Water-Power.—Right to Drain through land of others.—Right to natural flow of Water.—Laws of Mass.—Right to Flow; why not to Drain?—Land-drainage Companies in England.—Lincolnshire Fens.—Government Loans for Drainage.

Nothing more clearly shows the universal interest and confidence of the people of Great Britain, in the operation of land-drainage, than the acts of Parliament in relation to the subject. The conservatism of England, in the view of an American, is striking. She never takes a step till she is sure she is right. Justly proud of her position among the nations, she deems change an unsafe experiment, and what has been, much safer than what might be. Vested rights are sacred in England, and especially rights in lands, which are emphatically real estate there.

Such are the sentiments of the people, and such the sentiments of their representatives and exponents, the Lords and Commons.

Yet England has been so impressed with the importance of improving the condition of the people, of increasing the wealth of the nation, of enriching both tenant and landlord, by draining the land, that the history of her legislation, in aid of such operations, affords a lesson of progress even to fast Young America. Powers have been granted, by which encumbered estates may be charged with the expenses of drainage, so that remainder-men and reversioners, without their consent, shall be compelled to contribute to present improvements; so that careless or obstinate adjacent proprietors shall be compelled to keep open their ditches for outfalls to their neighbor's drains; so that mill-dams, and other obstructions to the natural flow of the water, may be removed for the benefit of agriculture; and, finally, the Government has itself furnished funds, by way of loans, of millions of pounds, in aid of improvements of this character.

In America, where private individual right is usually compelled to yield to the good of the whole, and where selfishness and obstinacy do not long stand in the pathway of progress, obstructing manifest improvement in the condition of the people; we are yet far behind England in legal facilities for promoting the improvement of land culture. This is because the attention of the public has not been particularly called to the subject.

Manufacturing corporations are created by special acts of legislation. In many States, rights to flow, and ruin, by inundation, most valuable lands along the course of rivers, and by the banks of ponds and lakes, to aid the water-power of mills, are granted to companies, and the land-owner is compelled to part with his meadows for such compensation as a committee or jury shall assess.

In almost every town in New England there are hundreds, and often thousands, of acres of lands, that might be most productive to the farmer; overflowed half the year with water, to drive some old saw-mill, or grist-mill, or cotton-mill, which has not made a dividend, or paid expenses, for a quarter of a century. The whole water-power, which, perhaps, ruins for cultivation a thousand acres of fertile land, and divides and breaks up farms, by creating little creeks and swamps throughout all the neighboring valleys, is not worth, and would not be assessed, by impartial men, at one thousand dollars. Yet, though there is power to take the farmer's land for the benefit of manufacturers, there is no power to take down the company's dam for the benefit of agriculture. An old saw-mill, which can only run a few days in a Spring freshet, often swamps a half-township of land, because somebody's great-grandfather had a prescriptive right to flow, when lands were of no value, and saw-mills were a public blessing.

There are numerous cases, within our own knowledge, where the very land overflowed and ruined by some incorporated company, would, if allowed to produce its natural growth of timber and wood, furnish ten times the fuel necessary to supply steam-engines, to propel the machinery carried by the water-power.

Not satisfied with obstructing the streams in their course, the larger companies are, of late, making use of the interior lakes, fifty or a hundred miles inland, as reservoirs, to keep back water for the use of the mills in the summer droughts. Thus are thousands of acres of land drowned, and rendered worse than useless; for the water is kept up till Midsummer, and drawn off when a dog-day climate is just ready to convert the rich and slimy sediment of the pond into pestilential vapors. These waters, too, controlled by the mill-owners, are thus let down in floods, in Midsummer, to overflow the meadows and corn-fields of the farmer, or the intervals and bottom-lands below.

Now, while we would never advocate any attack upon the rights of mill-owners, or ask them to sacrifice their interests to those of agriculture, it surely is proper to call attention to the injury which the productive capacity of the soil is suffering, by the flooding of our best tracts, in sections of country where land is most valuable. Could not mill-owners, in many instances, adopt steam instead of water-power, and becoming land-draining companies, instead of land-drowning companies; at least, let Nature have free course with her gently-flowing rivers, and allow the promise to be fulfilled, that the earth shall be no more cursed with a flood.

We would ask for the land-owner, simply equality of rights with the mill-owner. If a legislature may grant the right to flow lands, against the will of the owner, to promote manufactures, the same legislature may surely grant the right, upon proper occasion, to remove dams, and other obstructions to our streams, to promote agriculture. The rights of mill-owners are no more sacred than those of land-owners; and the interests of manufactures are, surely, no more important than those of agriculture.

We would not advocate much interference with private rights. In some of the States, no special privileges have been conferred upon water-power companies. They have been left to procure their rights of flowage, by private contract with the land-owners; and in such States, probably, the legislatures would be as slow to interfere with rights of flowage, as with other rights. Yet, there are cases where, for the preservation of the health of the community, and for the general convenience, governments have everywhere exercised the power of interfering with private property, and limiting the control of the owners. To preserve the public health, we abate as nuisances, by process of law, slaughter-houses, and other establishments offensive to health and comfort, and we provide, by compulsory assessments upon land-owners, for sewerage, for side-walks, and the like, in our cities.

Everywhere, for the public good, we take private property for highways, upon just compensation, and the property of corporations is thus taken, like that of individuals.

Again, we compel adjacent owners to fence their lands, and maintain their proportion of division fences of the legal height, and we elect fence viewers, with power to adjust equitably, the expenses of such fences. We assess bachelors and maidens, in most States, for the construction of schoolhouses, and the education of the children of others, and, in various ways, compel each member of society to contribute to the common welfare.

How far it may be competent, for a State legislature to provide for, or assist in, the drainage of extensive and unhealthy marshes; or how far individual owners should be compelled to contribute to a common improvement of their lands; or how far, and in what cases, one land-owner should be authorized to enter upon land of another, to secure or maintain the best use of his own land—these are questions which it is unnecessary for us to attempt to determine. It is well that they should be suggested, because they will, at no distant day, engage much attention. It is well, too, that the steps which conservative England has thought it proper to take in this direction, should be understood, that we may the better determine whether any, and if any, what course our States may safely take, to aid the great and leading interest of our country.

The swamps and stagnant meadows along our small streams and our rivers, which are taken from the farmer, by flowage, for the benefit of mills, are often, in New England, the most fertile part of the townships—equal to the bottom lands of the West; and they are right by the doors of young men, who leave their homes with regret, because the rich land of far-off new States offers temptations, which their native soil cannot present.

It is certainly of great importance to the old States, to inquire into these matters, and set proper bounds to the use of streams for water-powers. The associated wealth and influence of manufacturers, is always more powerful than the individual efforts of the land-owners.

Reservoirs are always growing larger, and dams continually grow higher and tighter. The water, by little and little, creeps insidiously on to, and into, the meadows far above the obstruction, and the land-owner must often elect between submission to this aggression, and a tedious law-suit with a powerful adversary. The evil of obstructions to streams and rivers, is by no means limited to the land visibly flowed, nor to land at the level of the dam. Running water is never level, or it could not flow; and in crooked streams, which flow through meadows, obstructed by grass and bushes, the water raised by a dam, often stands many feet higher, at a mile or two back, than at the dam. It is extremely difficult to set limits to the effect of such a flowage. Water is flowed into the subsoil, or rather is prevented from running out; the natural drainage of the country is prevented; and land which might well be drained artificially, were the stream not obstructed, is found to lie so near the level, as to be deprived of the requisite fall by back water, or the sluggish current occasioned by the dam.

These obstructions to drainage have become subjects of much attention, and of legislative intervention in various forms in England, and some of the facts elicited in their investigations are very instructive.

In a discussion before the Society of Arts, in 1855, in which many gentlemen, experienced in drainage, took a part, this subject of obstruction by mill-dams came up.

Mr. G. Donaldson said he had been much engaged in works of land-drainage, and that, in many instances, great difficulties were experienced in obtaining outfalls, owing to the water rights, on the course of rivers for mill-power, &c.

Mr. R. Grantham spoke of the necessity of further legislation, "so as to give power to lower bridges and culverts, under public roads, and straighten and deepen rivers and streams." But, he said, authority was wanting, above all, "for the removal of mills, dams, and other obstructions in rivers, which, in many cases, did incalculable injury, many times exceeding the value of the mills, by keeping up the level of rivers, and rendering it totally impossible to drain the adjoining lands."

Mr. R. F. Davis said, "If they were to go into the midland districts, they would see great injury done, from damming the water for mills."

In Scotland, the same difficulty has arisen. "In many parts of this country," says a Scottish writer, "small lochs (lakes) and dams are kept up, for the sake of mills, under old tenures, which, if drained, the land gained by that operation, would, in many instances, be worth ten times the rent of such mills."

In the case of the Rye and Derwent Drainage, an account of which is found in the 14th Vol. of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, a plan of compensation was adopted, where it became necessary to remove dams and other obstructions, which is worthy of attention. The Commissioners under the Act of 1846, removed the mill-wheels, and substituted steam-engines corresponding to the power actually used by the mills, compensating, also, the proprietors for inconvenience, and the future additional expensiveness of the new power.

"The claims of a short canal navigation, two fisheries, and tenants' damages through derangement of business during the alterations, were disposed of without much outlay; and the pecuniary advantages of the work are apparent from the fact, that a single flood, such as frequently overflowed the land, has been known to do more damage, if fairly valued in money, than the whole sum expended under the act."

Under this act, it became necessary for the Commissioners to estimate the comparative cost of steam and water-power, in order to carry out their idea of giving to the mill-owners a steam-power equivalent to their water-power.

"As the greater part of their water-power was employed on corn and flour-mills, upon these the calculations were chiefly based. It was generally admitted to be very near the truth, that to turn a pair of flour-mill stones properly, requires a power equal to that of two-and-a-half horses, or on an average, twenty horses' power, to turn and work a mill of eight-pairs of stones, and that the total cost of a twenty-horse steam-engine, with all its appliances, would be $5,000, or $250 per horse power."

Calculations for the maintenance of the steam-power are also given; but this depends so much on local circumstances, that English estimates would be of little value to us.

The arrangements in this case with the mill-owners, were made by contract, and not by force of any arbitrary power, and the success of the enterprise, in the drainage of the lands, the prevention of damage by floods, especially in hay and harvest-time, and in the improvement of the health of vegetation, as well as of man and animals, is said to be strikingly manifest.

This act provides for a "water-bailiff," whose duty it is to inspect the rivers, streams, water-courses, &c., and enforce the due maintenance of the banks, and the uninterrupted discharge of the waters at all times.


It often happens, especially in New England, where farms are small, and the country is broken, that an owner of valuable lands overcharged with water, perhaps a swamp or low meadow, or perhaps a field of upland, lying nearly level, desires to drain his tract, but cannot find sufficient fall, without going upon the land of owners below. These adjacent owners may not appreciate the advantages of drainage; or their lands may not require it; or, what is not unusual, they may from various motives, good and evil, refuse to allow their lands to be meddled with.

Now, without desiring to be understood as speaking judicially, we know of no authority of law by which a land-owner may enter upon the territory of his neighbor for the purpose of draining his own land, and perhaps no such power should ever be conferred. All owners upon streams, great and small, have however, the right to the natural flow of the water, both above and below. Their neighbors below cannot obstruct a stream so as to flow back the water upon, or into, the land above; and where artificial water-courses, as ditches and drains have long been opened, the presumption would be that all persons benefitted by them, have the right to have them kept open.

Parliament is held to be omnipotent, and in the act of 1847, known as Lord Lincoln's Act, its power is well illustrated, as is also the determination of the British nation that no trifling impediments shall hinder the progress of the great work of draining lands for agriculture. The act, in effect, authorizes any person interested in draining his lands, to clear a passage through all obstructions, wherever it would be worth the expense of works and compensation.

Its general provisions may be found in the 15th Vol. of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society.

It is not the province of the author, to decide what may properly be done within the authority of different States, in aid of public or private drainage enterprises. The State Legislatures are not, like Parliament, omnipotent. They are limited by their written constitutions. Perhaps no better criterion of power, with respect to compelling contribution, by persons benefitted, to the cost of drainage, and with interfering with individual rights, for public or private advantage, can be found, than the exercise of power in the cases of fences and of flowage.

If we may lawfully compel a person to fence his land, to exclude the cattle of other persons, or, if he neglect to fence, subject him to their depredations, without indemnity, as is done in many States; or if we may compel him to contribute to the erection of division fences, of a given height, though he has no animal in the world to be shut in or out of his field, there would seem to be equal reason, in compelling him to dig half a division ditch for the benefit of himself and neighbor.

If, again, as we have already hinted, the Legislature may authorize a corporation to flow and inundate the land of an unwilling citizen, to raise a water-power for a cotton-mill, it must be a nice discrimination of powers, that prohibits the same Legislature from authorizing the entry into lands of a protesting mill-owner, or of an unknown or cross-grained proprietor, to open an outlet for a valuable, health-giving system of drainage.

In the valuable treatise of Dr. Warder, of Cincinnati, recently published in New York, upon Hedges and Evergreens, an abstract is given of the statutes of most of our States, upon the subject of fences, and we know of no other book, in which so good an idea of the legislation on this subject, can be so readily obtained.

By the statutes of Massachusetts, any person may erect and maintain a water-mill, and dam to raise water for working it, upon and across any stream that is not navigable, provided he does not interfere with existing mills. Any person whose land is overflowed, may, on complaint, have a trial and a verdict of a jury; which may fix the height of the dam, decide whether it shall be left open any part of the year, and fix compensation, either annual or in gross, for the injury. All other remedies for such flowage are taken away, and thus the land of the owner may be converted into a mill-pond against his consent.

We find nothing in the Massachusetts statutes which gives to land-owners, desirous of improving their wet lands, any power to interfere in any way with the rights of mill-owners, for the drainage of lands. The statutes of the Commonwealth, however, make liberal and stringent provisions, for compelling unwilling owners to contribute to the drainage of wet lands.

For the convenience of those who may be desirous of procuring legislation on this subject, we will give a brief abstract of the leading statute of Massachusetts regulating this matter. It may be found in Chapter 115 of the Revised Statutes, of 1836. The first Section explains the general object.

When any meadow, swamp, marsh, beach, or other low land, shall be held by several proprietors, and it shall be necessary or useful to drain or flow the same, or to remove obstructions in rivers or streams leading therefrom, such improvements may be effected, under the direction of Commissioners, in the manner provided in this chapter.

The statute provides that the proprietors, or a greater part of them in interest, may apply, by petition, to the Court of Common Pleas, setting forth the proposed improvements, and for notice to the proprietors who do not join in the petition, and for a hearing. The court may then appoint three, five, or seven commissioners to cause the improvements to be effected. The commissioners are authorized to cause dams or dikes to be erected on the premises, at such places, and in such manner as they shall direct; and may order the land to be flowed thereby, for such periods of each year as they shall think most beneficial, and also cause ditches to be opened on the premises, and obstructions in any rivers or streams leading therefrom to be removed.

Provision is made for assessment of the expenses of the improvements, upon all the proprietors, according to the benefit each will derive from it, and for the collection of the amount assessed.

"When the commissioners shall find it necessary or expedient to reduce or raise the waters, for the purpose of obtaining a view of the premises, or for the more convenient or expeditious removal of obstructions therein, they may open the flood-gates of any mill, or make other needful passages through or round the dam thereof or erect a temporary dam on the land of any person, who is not a party to the proceedings, and may maintain such dam, or such passages for the water, as long as shall be necessary for the purposes aforesaid."

Provision is made for previous notice to persons who are not parties, and for compensation to them for injuries occasioned by the interference, and for appeal to the courts.

This statute gives, by no means, the powers necessary to compel contribution to all necessary drainage, because, first, it is limited in its application to "meadow, swamp, marsh, beach, or other low land." The word meadow, in New England, is used in its original sense of flat and wet land. Secondly, the statute seems to give no authority to open permanent ditches on the land of others than the owners of such low land, although it provides for temporary passages for the purposes of "obtaining a view of the premises, or for the more convenient or expeditious removal of obstructions therein"—the word "therein" referring to the "premises" under improvement, so that there is no provision for outfalls, under this statute, except through natural streams.

By a statute of March 28, 1855, the Legislature of Massachusetts has exercised a power as extensive as is desirable for all purposes of drainage, although the provisions of the act referred to are not, perhaps, so broad as may be found necessary, in order to open outfalls and remove all obstructions to drainage. As this act is believed to be peculiar, we give its substance:

"An Act to authorize the making of Roads and Drains in certain cases.

"SECT. 1. Any town or city, person or persons, company or body corporate, having the ownership of low lands, lakes, swamps, quarries, mines, or mineral deposits, that, by means of adjacent lands belonging to other persons, or occupied as a highway, cannot be approached, worked, drained, or used in the ordinary manner without crossing said lands or highway, may be authorized to establish roads, drains, ditches, tunnels, and railways to said places in the manner herein provided.

"SECT. 2. The party desiring to make such improvements shall file a petition therefor with the commissioners of the county in which the premises are situated, setting forth the names of the persons interested, if known to the petitioner, and also, in detail, the nature of the proposed improvement, and the situation of the adjoining lands."

SECT. 3 provides for notice to owners and town authorities.

SECT. 4 provides for a hearing, and laying out the improvement, and assessment of damages upon the respective parties, "having strict regard to the benefits which they will receive."

SECT. 5 provides for repairs by a majority of those benefitted; and Sect. 6 for appeals, as in the case of highways.

By an act of 1857, this act was so far amended as to authorize the application for the desired improvement, to be made to the Select-men of the town, or the Mayor and Aldermen of the city, in case the lands over which the improvement is desired are all situated in one town or city.

It is manifest certainly, that the State assumes power sufficient to authorize any interference with private property that may be necessary for the most extended and thorough drainage operations. The power which may compel a man to improve his portion of a swamp, may apply as well to his wet hill-sides; and the power which may open temporary passages through lands or dams, without consent of the owner, may keep them open permanently, if expedient.


Besides the charters which have at various times, for many centuries, been granted to companies, for the drainage of fens and marshes, and other lowlands, in modern times, great encouragement has been given by the British Government for the drainage and other improvement of high-lands. Not only have extensive powers been granted to companies, to proceed with their own means, to effect the objects in view, but the Government itself has advanced money, by way of loan, in aid of drainage and like improvements.

By the provisions of two acts of Parliament, no less than $20,000,000 have been loaned in aid of such improvements. These acts are generally known as PUBLIC MONEYS DRAINAGE ACTS. There are already four chartered companies for the same general objects, doing an immense amount of business, on private funds.

It will be sufficient, perhaps, to state, in general terms, the mode of operation under these several acts.

Most lands in England are held under incumbrances of some kind. Many are entailed, as it is termed: that is to say, vested for life in certain persons, and then to go to others, the tenant for life having no power to sell the property. Often, the life estate is owned by one person, and the remainder by a stranger, or remote branch of the family, whom the life-tenant has no desire to benefit. In such cases, the tenant, or occupant, would be unwilling to make expensive improvements at his own cost, which might benefit himself but a few years, and then go into other hands.

On the other hand, the remainder-man would have no right to meddle with the property while the tenant-for-life was in possession; and it would be rare, that all those interested could agree to unite in efforts to increase the general value of the estate, by such improvements.

The great object in view was, then, to devise means, by which such estates, suffering for want of systematic, and often expensive, drainage operations, might be improved, and the cost of improvement be charged on the estate, so as to do no injustice to any party interested.

The plan finally adopted, is, to allow the tenant or occupant to have the improvement made, either by expending his private funds, or by borrowing of the Government or the private companies, and having the amount expended, made a charge on the land, to be paid, in annual payments, by the person who shall be in occupation each year. Under one of these acts, the term of payment is fixed at 22 years, and under a later act, at 50 years.

Thus, if A own a life-estate in lands, and B the remainder, and the estate needs draining, A may take such steps as to have the improvement made, by borrowing the money, and repaying it by yearly payments, in such sums as will pay the whole expenditure, with interest, in twenty-two or fifty years: and if A die before the expiration of the term, the succeeding occupants continue the payments until the whole is paid.

A borrows, for instance, $1,000, and expends it in draining the lands. It is made a charge, like a mortgage, on the land, to be paid in equal annual payments for fifty years. At six per cent., the annual payment will be but about $63.33, to pay the whole amount of debt and the interest, in fifty years. A pays this sum annually as long as he lives, and B then takes possession, and pays the annual installment.

If the tenant expend his own money, and die before the whole term expire, he may leave the unpaid balance as a legacy, or part of his own estate, to his heirs.

The whole proceeding is based upon the idea, that the rent or income of the property is sufficiently increased, to make the operation advantageous to all parties. It is assumed, that the operation of drainage, under one of these statutes, will be effectual to increase the rent of the land, to the amount of this annual payment, for at least fifty years. The fact, that the British Government, after the most thorough investigation, has thus pronounced the opinion, that drainage works, properly conducted, will thus increase the rent of land, and remain in full operation a half century at least, affords the best evidence possible, both of the utility and the durability of tile drainage.



Wet Cellars Unhealthful.—Importance of Cellars in New England.—A Glance at the Garret, by way of Contrast.—Necessity of Drains.—Sketch of an Inundated Cellar.—Tiles best for Drains.—Best Plan of Cellar Drain; Illustration.—Cementing will not do.—Drainage of Barn Cellars.—Uses of them.—Actual Drainage of a very Bad Cellar described.—Drains Outside and Inside; Illustration.

No person needs to be informed that it is unhealthful, as well as inconvenient, to have water, at any time of the year, in the cellar. In New England, the cellar is an essential part of the house. All sorts of vegetables, roots, and fruit, that can be injured by frost, are stored in cellars; and milk, and wine, and cider, and a thousand "vessels of honor," like tubs and buckets, churns and washing-machines, that are liable to injury from heat or cold, or other vicissitude of climate, find a safe retreat in the cellar. Excepting the garret, which is, as Ariosto represents the moon to be, the receptacle of all things useless on earth, the cellar is the greatest "curiosity shop" of the establishment.

The poet finds in the moon,

"Whate'er was wasted in our earthly state, Here safely treasured—each neglected good, Time squandered, and occasion ill-bestowed; There sparkling chains he found, and knots of gold, The specious ties that ill-paired lovers hold; Each toil, each loss, each chance that men sustain, Save Folly, which alone pervades them all, For Folly never quits this earthly ball."

In the garret, are the old spinning wheel, the clock reel, the linen wheel with its distaff, your grandfather's knapsack and cartridge-box and Continental coat, your great-aunt's Leghorn bonnet and side-saddle, or pillion, great files of the village newspapers—the "Morning Cry" and "Midnight Yell," besides worn out trunks and boxes without number. In the cellar, are the substantiate—barrels of beef, and pork, and apples, "taters" and turnips; in short, the Winter stores of the family.

Many, perhaps most, of the cellars in New England are in some way drained, usually by a stone culvert, laid a little lower than the bottom of the cellar, into which the water is conducted, in the Spring, when it bursts through the walls, or rises at the bottom, by means of little ditches scooped out in the surface.

In some districts, people seem to have little idea of drains, even for cellars; and on flat land, endeavor to set their houses high enough to have their cellars above ground. This, besides being extremely inconvenient for passage out of, and into the house, often fails to make a dry cellar, for the water from the roof runs in, and causes a flood. And such accidents, as they are mildly termed by the improvident builders, often occur by the failure of drains imperfectly laid.

No child, who ever saw a cellar afloat, during one of these inundations, will ever outgrow the impression. You stand on the cellar stairs, and below is a dark waste of waters, of illimitable extent. By the dim glimmer of the dip-candle, a scene is presented which furnishes a tolerable picture of "chaos and old night," but defies all description. Empty dry casks, with cider barrels, wash-tubs, and boxes, ride triumphantly on the surface, while half filled vinegar and molasses kegs, like water-logged ships, roll heavily below. Broken boards and planks, old hoops, and staves, and barrel-heads innumerable, are buoyant with this change of the elements; while floating turnips and apples, with, here and there, a brilliant cabbage head, gleam in this subterranean firmament, like twinkling stars, dimmed by the effulgence of the moon at her full. Magnificent among the lesser vessels of the fleet, "like some tall admiral," rides the enormous "mash-tub," while the astonished rats and mice are splashing about at its base in the dark waters, like sailors just washed, at midnight, from the deck, by a heavy sea.

The lookers-on are filled with various emotions. The farmer sees his thousand bushels of potatoes submerged, and devoted to speedy decay; the good wife mourns for her diluted pickles, and apple sauce, and her drowned firkins of butter; while the boys are anxious to embark on a raft or in the tubs, on an excursion of pleasure and discovery.

To avoid such scenes as the above, every cellar which is not upon a dry sandbank, should be provided with a drain of some kind, which will be at all times, secure.

For a main drain from the cellar, four or six-inch tiles are abundantly sufficient, and where they can be reasonably obtained, much cheaper than stone. The expense of excavation, of hauling stone, and of laying them, will make the expense of a stone drain far exceed that of a tile drain, with tiles at fair prices. The tiles, if well secured at the inlet and outlet of the drain, will entirely exclude rats and mice, which always infest stone drains to cellars. Care must be taken, if the water is conducted on the surface of the cellar into the drain, that nothing but pure water be admitted. This may be effected by a fine strainer of wire or plate; or by a cess-pool, which is better, because it will also prevent any draft of air through the drain.

The very best method of draining a cellar is that adopted by the writer, on his own premises. It is, in fact, a mere application of the ordinary principles of field drainage. The cellar was dug in sand, which rests on clay, a foot or two below the usual water-line in winter, and a drain of chestnut plank laid from the cellar to low land, some 20 rods off. Tiles were not then in use in the neighborhood, and were not thought of, when the house was built.

In the Spring, water came up in the bottom of the cellar, and ran out in little hollows made for the purpose, on the surface.

Not liking this inconvenient wetness, we next dug trenches a few inches deep, put boards at the sides to exclude the sand, and packed the trenches with small stones. This operated better, but the mice found pleasant accommodations among the stones, and sand got in and choked the passage. Lastly, tiles came to our relief, and a perfect preventive of all inconvenient moisture was found, by adopting the following plan:

The drain from the cellar was taken up, and relaid 18 inches below the cellar-bottom, at the outlet. Then a trench was cut in the cellar-bottom, two feet from the wall, a foot deep at the farthest corner from the outlet, and deepening towards it, round the whole cellar, following the course of the walls. In this trench, two-inch pipe tiles were laid, and carefully covered with tan-bark, and the trenches filled with the earth. This tile drain was connected with the outlet drain 18 inches under ground, and the earth levelled over the whole. This was done two years ago, and no drop of water has ever been visible in the cellar since it was completed. The water is caught by the drain before it rises to the surface, and conducted away.

Vegetables of all kinds are now laid in heaps on the cellar-bottom, which is just damp enough to pack solid, and preserves vegetables better, in a dry cellar, than casks, or bins with floors.

A little sketch of this mode of draining cellars, representing the cellar referred to, will, perhaps, present the matter more clearly.

Many persons have attempted to exclude water from their cellars by cementing them on the bottom, and part way up on the sides. This might succeed, if the cellar wall were laid very close, and in cement, and a heavy coating of cement applied to the bottom. A moment's attention to the subject will show that it is not likely to succeed, as experience shows that it seldom, if ever, does.

The water which enters cellars, frequently runs from the surface behind the cellar wall, where rats always keep open passages, and fills the ground and these passages; especially when the earth is frozen, to the surface, thus giving a column of water behind the wall six or eight feet in height. The pressure of water is always in proportion to its height or head, without reference to the extent of surface. The pressure, then, of the water against the cemented wall, would be equal to the pressure of a full mill-pond against its perpendicular dam of six or eight feet height! No sane man would think of tightening a dam, with seven feet head of water, by plastering a little cement on the down-stream side of it, which might as well be done, as to exclude water from a cellar by the process, and under the conditions, stated.


Most barns in New England are constructed with good substantial cellars, from six to nine feet deep, with solid walls of stone. They serve a three-fold purpose; of keeping manure, thrown down from the cattle and horse stalls above; of preserving turnips, mangolds, and other vegetables for the stock; and of storing carts, wagons, and other farm implements. Usually, the cellar is divided by stone, brick, or wood partitions, into apartments, devoted to each of the purposes named. The cellar for manure should not be wet enough to have water flow away from it, nor dry enough to have it leach. For the other purposes, a dry cellar is desirable.

Perhaps the details of the drainage of a barn cellar on our own premises, may give our views of the best mode of drainage, both for a manure cellar, and for a root and implement cellar. The barn was built in 1849, on a site sloping slightly to the south. In excavating for the wall, at about seven feet below the height fixed for the sills, we came upon a soft, blue clay, so nearly fluid that a ten-foot pole was easily thrust down out of sight, perpendicularly, into it! Here was a dilemma! How could a heavy wall and building stand on that foundation? A skillful engineer was consulted, who had seen heavy brick blocks built in just such places, and who pronounced this a very simple case to manage. "If," said he, "the mud cannot get up, the wall resting on it cannot settle down." Upon this idea, by his advice, we laid our wall, on thick plank, on the clay, so as to get an even bearing, and drove down, against the face of the wall, edge to edge, two-inch plank to the depth of about three feet, leaving them a foot above the bottom of the wall. Against this, we rammed coarse gravel very hard, and left the bottom of the cellar one foot above the bottom of the wall, so that the weight might counterbalance the pressure of the wall and building. The building has been in constant use, and appears not to have settled a single inch.

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