According to the BPC, the casual observer walking up the Bronx River in 1913 would have seen:
All these unsightly features had to be cleared in order to create the parkway. As soon as the BPC received official approval and funds for improvement, it began the work of reclaiming the Bronx River and cleaning up the land. Improvement operations included pollution abatement, debris clearance, building removal, billboard elimination, and forestry work.
Reclaiming the River
The BPC had been monitoring the Bronx River since 1907 and had identified many sources of contamination. After receiving authority in 1913, it concentrated on locating additional points of pollution. This process included inspecting tributary streams for contamination. The commission convinced villages and towns throughout the reservation to connect their sewage systems to the Bronx Valley Sewer rather than dumping effluent directly into the river. Many property owners had stopped polluting, but others refused to cooperate, so the BPC began keeping records of problem parcels. Where the BPC obtained parcels, river pollution was stopped immediately. As early as 1914, the improved water conditions permitted swimming in the river.(111)
The locations of all pollution sources were not fully determined until the prolonged drought of 1914. The BPC took full advantage of low water levels to scrutinize the riverbanks for seepage from blind drains and skillfully concealed outlets. To determine the exact source of much of the pollution, the BPC tested the plumbing systems of entire blocks of houses to discover which were discharging into the stream instead of into the sewer system. By applying color into the plumbing systems, BPC officials were able to determine which buildings were connected to the sewer system and which discharged into the river. The detective work included contributory streams such as Davis Brook in White Plains. The BPC discovered that the chief sources of pollution were emanating from the headwaters of minor tributaries, which were often little more than swamps contaminated by cesspools, stables, and pigpens. The 1914 investigation uncovered 154 violators, each of whom received a formal notice of the BRP’s sanitary regulations with twenty days to correct the situation. The BPC’s sanitary experts conferred with violators and offered suggestions for practical solutions to pollution problems. Those who refused to abate their pollution were threatened with legal action. Through mid 1916, the threat of legal action was enough to force most polluters to comply.(112)