Onward and Downward for Collicello St. Sewers

Earlier this summer, Old South High wrote about the city’s plans to replace some old clay sewer lines beneath Collicello Street that may date back more than 100 years, to when the street was first built and the neighborhood was developed. Because poking around in big holes tends to be interesting, and because changing and replacing historical things in Harrisonburg has been a big deal lately, and because all this has been going on within earshot of my house, we arranged for a guided tour of the dig from Jamie Fultz, the city’s sewer fund manager.

The guts of Harrisonburg.

So far, so good, as a crew from A.J. Conner – the contractor hired for this job – has worked its way up an alley between Liberty and Collicello Streets and now has a deep trench opened across Collicello at the intersection with First Street. Nearly every bit of Harrisonburg’s sewer system, including this one, is entirely gravity-powered, draining gradually downhill from here (elevation approx. 1,350 feet) to the sewage treatment plant nearly 10 miles away and 200 feet lower (c. 1,150 feet) in Mount Crawford.

Because of this gravity situation, the new sewer pipe has to be laid on a careful grade that achieves the necessary amount of fall while hitting the eventual tie-in spot a few blocks away. Thanks be to laser levels.

To fix a sewer issue at the nearby George’s processing plant, Fultz says, the new sewer line is going in several feet deeper than the old one. Here at the corner of Collicello and First Street, the new 10-inch main will lie about 10 feet beneath the surface. Progress, in this sense, is achieved by digging ourselves even deeper into a hole.

10-inch SDR-26 sewer pipe is replacing much older, 6-inch vitrified clay pipes beneath Collicello Street, one 18-foot section at a time.

On the “interesting things” front, there’s not much to report at the moment.

“All we’re finding is stone and rock and the old sewer line,” says Fultz, who promises to send word if anything notable turns up. Sometimes crews find random household objects – forks, horseshoes, etc. – but nothing like that so far.

Visible in this cross-section is a two-inch gas line (the yellow one on the left), an old steel gas line severed during this project (the small, open tube in the center), a lateral water line supplying a nearby fire hydrant (running across the photo) and below it, the stub of the old clay sewer line. The flexible black hose is a temporary bit, connecting the old line to the new, bigger and deeper sewer main now being installed.

But get this. A couple decades before Collicello Street and its old clay sewer pipes went in, a man by the fantastic, swashbuckling name of Foxhall Daingerfield lived in the neighborhood. Having been shot four times during his service as a Confederate cavalry officer, Foxhall had some swashbuckling street cred to back up that name. Anyhow, after the war, he became a prominent lawyer in Harrisonburg and put his interest in equestrian matters to more peaceable use by building a race track. It sat just to the west of his father-in-law’s estate house, the since-destroyed Collicello mansion and the namesake of the street now getting a sewer upgrade. (Read more about the life and times of Foxhall Daingerfield here.)

The point? Today’s Collicello Street runs just to the west of the old Collicello estate, and Old South High is holding out hope that the sewer excavations might turn up some cool evidence of the horse races that Foxhall Daingerfield (we should really rename the street after him, I think) once conducted here.

From Gray’s New Map of Harrisonburg, 1877, from the David Rumsey Map Collection. Note Foxhall Daingerfield’s place (variant in the spelling of the name) at the corner of Rock Street and modern-day High Street. The Collicello estate once stood on what is now North Liberty, a location now surrounded by poultry plant parking lots and grain towers. Collicello Street was put in about 30 years after this map was published, and now runs from the “d” in Dangerfield up through the word “Collicello” and on north.

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