Indoor Plumbing: How Most Americans Got Access to Running Water

By 1900 running water became more accessible but most couldn't afford indoor plumbing until 1930s when Ruth Wise founded nonprofit affordable housing organization which eventually led way for indoor plumbing plan.

Indoor Plumbing: How Most Americans Got Access to Running Water

By the turn of the century and the beginning of the 20th century, running water became more accessible to the average household. Still, most couldn't afford indoor plumbing and depended on outbuildings and well pumps. In the 1930s, both running water and indoor plumbing were widely available. Kimberly Collins (left) gives sister Tiara Collins a sponge bath at her home in Bayview, VA.There are no indoor plumbing or running water in your home, as is the case in most Bayview, so family members often help each other with sponge baths using water drawn from a nearby well with a hand pump.

For just over 10 years, Zenobia Washington owned a house with a bathroom and hot and cold running water. Before that, she lived in a rental house. And growing up, Washington, who grew up in Exmore, Virginia, lived in a house with no bathroom and only cold water.Washington said his family heated water on the stove. While much of New Road had no sewers or septic systems, other parts of Exmore did, according to a case study by New York University's Wagner Research Center for Leadership in Action.

This standard began to change when longtime resident Ruth Wise founded New Road Community Development Group of Exmore, a nonprofit affordable housing organization.For years, Washington served as Wise's assistant during the early stages of the New Road organization. Ava Gabrielle-Wise, Ruth's daughter who also grew up on New Road, recalled that many of the people who own homes on the New Road today have Washington to thank, as she did much of the organization's operations work. In 1992, the New Road Community Development Group began advocating for indoor plumbing. Then, in 1995, the organization purchased properties and land, on which the Washington house is now located.Roughly two decades later, in 1992, the City of Exmore was debating the installation of interior plumbing to cover the southern part of Exmore.

The New Road area is in the north and residents of the community wanted to be included in the plans. The local government was trying to secure the funds to put that system in place, but in the end the plan was defeated. Still, New Road Residents Wanted Indoor Plumbing.In 1992, most of the homes on New Road were owned by absentee landlords, so the Wies and other members of the community decided that they would become landowners. For them, it was the only way to get the infrastructure they needed.

The group had a set of approaches to its work, according to the NYU Wagner case study. The objectives were to be ambitious and maintain them, to present a truly united front, to preserve autonomy and to gain allies.The McAuley Institute's mission was to help low-income communities help themselves. The New Road Group's approach to solving community issues made it an attractive partner. Kane said the loans to the New Road Community Development Group allowed McAuley to take his mission to a deeper level.

And it did have that impact.After tenants for generations, New Road residents were well on their way to being landlords who had greater influence on city policy and control over decisions in the New Road area of the city. After the New Road Community Development Group purchased the properties, it designated the lots for residential and commercial use, with the intention of creating jobs and addressing economic disparities in Exmore. Housing infrastructure and public services were top priorities. Community organizers researched several communal ownership models to determine what would work best for them.For example, they considered a community land trust, but ultimately decided that they wanted each household to have its respective “piece of land”, Gabrielle-Wise said.

The group formed an organization that would function as a collective when it came to negotiations and communication, but the properties would be divided and owned by each individual family, Gabrielle-Wise recalled. Each homeowner purchased a lot, and the New Road Community Development Group worked with local and state government to structure housing finances so that all homeowners could build on their respective lots. The nonprofit New Road partnered with another local organization called Northampton Housing Trust where Gabrielle-Wise was a community organizer to form Virginia Eastern Shore Housing and Economic Empowerment Corporation to serve entire East Coast.Together these organizations applied for federal housing grant. Community members and organizers committed to change and worked to raise money for their projects with small-scale fundraiser which included sales of dinners car washes and dances.

In 1998 community finally had indoor plumbing plan that was same year Ruth Wise left her position as instructor at local community college serve full time as executive director of nonprofit organization. In 1999 community sewage system was built Ruth Wise was last resident get her new home her daughter said due her mother's disinterest.New Road community was important Wise while she seen community leader she always took others with her meetings and events if that weren't possible she acknowledged her colleagues those spaces “because it's important that community's message always conveyed even if she person leading charge” Gabrielle-Wise said now daughter plays similar role works continue her mother's legacy most houses on New Road already paid for community group has now developed rental properties next chapter for New Road Community Development Group developing commercial property across US Route 13 Creating Better Jobs Residents over years organization tried recruit retailers occupy commercial property but attracting industry major retailers remote community has been difficult Gabrielle-Wise said Gabrielle-Wise said she will continue work mother Washington other New Road residents did decades although could...

Angelia Padmanabhan
Angelia Padmanabhan

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