Hometown History: Garbage And Pigs

A packet of garbage bags that at one time was sold by the city of Jamestown.

Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) is a phrase that has been used since the beginning of the computer age to describe a situation where bad inputs produce equally bad results. This week we will see that that motto can also apply to the type of garbage that has plagued Jamestown for over a century. While reading through some historical records for the city of Jamestown, two of the most frequent topics I kept seeing in the city council minutes and associated materials were garbage and parking. An inquiry to the Research Center about garbage and the City of Jamestown also brought the subject up. I wanted to write an article about it here, but this Hometown History column is usually about an item that is part of the collection of the Fenton History Center. Then I found my excuse–I remembered that a year or so ago, we received a packet of Jamestown garbage bags that the city had at one time sold. These bags were a special color and had “Jamestown” printed on them. They were the ones that the garbage collectors would pick up knowing that the fee had been paid with their purchase. As with other methods tried earlier, this scheme apparently did not work satisfactorily, as it has since been discontinued.

During the first half of the 20th century, garbage pick-up was contracted out to private businesses. There were strict rules that residents were to follow. For example, garbage and trash (or rubbish) were different. Today, it all goes together, except for the encouragement to recycle as much as possible. Garbage was considered to be “animal and vegetable waste from the kitchen, or as resulting from or growing out of the preparation of food.” The other refuse, such as tin cans and glass, was not to be mixed with the garbage. People were to wrap their garbage in paper and tie up the package with string, before placing it in a container such as a can or box. This could then be picked up and emptied by the collector. There were usually rules as to where that container was to be kept or placed for collection–some years the collector could go to the back of the dwelling to retrieve it and some years it had to be by the curb.

In the first half of the 1900s, most of the garbage was picked up by horse and wagon, then hauled out of the city to be food for pig farms. This solution worked decently well for a while, and might be celebrated by environmentalists today, but it was not without its share of issues. Many discussions were had about the problem of glass and cans that were found with the garbage, put there because people did not follow the rules. Of course the glass and cans were hazards to the pigs, but they could potentially affect people, too, after the pigs were sold as pork. The pig farms could be problematic in and of themselves, as well. There were complaints about the odor from the pig farms, especially the one at the outskirts of the city on North Main Street. One source claimed that the pigs were kept there only in the winter when the weather was cold to help reduce the garbage and pig smell. In the warmer weather the pigs were moved farther out of the city area and the garbage transported to them.

Eventually, the pig farm solution was phased out to allow in other methods that attempted to regulate garbage and garbage pickup in what were thought to be better ways. For a while during World War II, the city either sold or issued garbage cans with covers to residents. After a couple of years, however, there were problems with the bottoms of the containers disintegrating. Cans also disappeared, either because people moved away and took the cans with them, or new residents moved in and did not have one of the cans. This method was clearly not the solution that was needed.

Many ways of collecting and disposing of garbage have been tried and many more will be tried over time since garbage and other refuse inevitably will be with us in the future. Parking is another issue that recurs in the records, whether it was where to park your horse and wagon or your car, and how much it may cost. Look to future Hometown History articles to see that story get addressed.