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The Origin

French drains go by many different names; trench drain, filter drain, blind drain, rock drain, and more. No matter where you are from, there is a likelihood that some form of this drain exists, especially if you are building a home or lawn in an area where it rains heavily and often. French drains are designed to help deal with excess water and prevent it from eroding building foundations as well as other surface structures. They are clever yet simple designs and can create efficient water control while also remaining invisible to the naked eye. So, where did this idea come from?

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They Do Not Come from France

Despite the common name ‘French drain’, these drains actually have no connection to the European country of France at all. They are called French drains after the name of their inventor, Henry French. Mr. French had studied law at Harvard University, and was a Judge by profession. However, he lived his life as a farmer due to his reported love of the land and agriculture.

It was in 1859 that Mr. French first wrote about this style of drain in his book on the various styles of farm draining. Mr. French had suffered from his own natural water problems on his own land, as the natural behavior of water has been something farmers have fought for thousands of years. Water naturally runs downhill and collects in spots that some farmers might deem inconvenient.


It Was Created to Redirect Water Runoff

Rather than work his land around the natural water flow, Mr. French got the idea to create a drain system that would redirect natural water runoff in the direction that he wanted. The concept of a French drain is actually not all that complicated; it is simply a drain made of piping buried in a trench, surrounded by small stones, and covered with topsoil to conceal it all and keep everything contained.


The Creation of This Drain Helps Reduce Damage from Runoff

The initial concept for this drain might seem exceptionally easy to come up with. However, it is still elegantly clever in its overall composition; which is perhaps why almost nothing about the concept has changed since the advent of the drain in the late 1800’s.  Water is moved by gravity, and water that runs down slopes can erode soil and ruin land for crops and damage the foundations of homes if left unchecked. This is why redirecting this water, either for preventative measures or even to use the water elsewhere, is essential to proper farming and preservation of foundations.

Today, modern construction methods and tools are used to construct French drains. However, they are still able to be built and installed by even the most inexperienced laymen in this regards. All you need is the right tools and piping, and you can even build one yourself. There have been several different variations made over the years, but the concept has always rung true. Sometimes the most elegant and clever of designs are perfect just the way they are. In many ways, modern construction and farming has never had to reinvent the French drain; in many ways it would be like trying to reinvent the wheel.

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