Springs and Wells
How the City Obtained Its Water in the Early Days
What L'Enfant Observed
Noticed Many Natural Sources of Supply
Utilization of Wooden Pipes
By 1820 the Demand for Greater Facilities had Grown so that a Reservoir was Constructed

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, November 21, 1909 [pt. 4, p. 1]

When L'Enfant was laying out the Federal city, under the direction of Washington, the water supply for the prospective thousands who were to make up the population of the capital engaged his attention. He noted that in the area included in the lines of the city there were many springs, which he calculated would furnish a population of 150,000 people; and flowing steams, Rock Creek, Slash Run, Reedy Branch and the Tiber from beyond the city limits, with numerous streams from the city springs, were convenient to the settlements which came into existence. Indeed the convenience of water from spring, run, pump, or hydrant was the chief inducement for settlement in many instances, some discarding more beautiful and convenient building sites for locations on the banks of a stream and near the source of supply in spring, pump, or hydrant. There are incidents where included in the purchase of a lot was the bed of a stream where brewery, dyehouse, or slaughter house was established, the stream furnishing drainage therefor. Early in the last century Hereford's brewery was established on the south side of Pennsylvania avenue between 9th and 10th streets, over Sluice run. This run, by the way, flowed scarcely twenty yards south to Tiber creek, and as far up as F street. In it were caught perch, sunfish, and catfish. The late Peter Force was wont to recall the catches made by him in this stream.

Wells and Pumps
Though springs and streams afforded a plentiful supply for the few settlers in the early years and piping by hollow logs was laid from some springs, a number of wells were sunk and pumps erected in widely separated locations. Near the sites of the Capitol and President's house and other government buildings pumps furnished the water. The spring nearest to the Capitol was that near 4th and C streets southeast, and a stream was no nearer than the Tiber at 2nd street west. North and south of the original Capitol building pumps were put in, but the water was of such quality that it was little used for drinking. The members and employees of Congress, workmen, and others, were supplied from pumps outside the grounds and the spring above noted.

Water for the President
The President's house was the first supplied by a pump near the southeast corner of the building; the war and navy office by one midway the buildings, and the Treasury had a pump north of the original building near the center of the west front of the present structure. These pumps were superseded by supplies piped from springs, those at the Capitol from Smith's spring; and the President's house and the departments from square 249, now Franklin Park, between 13th, 14th, I and K streets northwest. The water from springs there was utilized by residents on 13th street having a wooden pipe laid, which later was extended to E and 14th streets.

A spring near the corner of F and 9th streets, the site of which is now covered by the old Masonic Temple, took about 1794 the name of Caffrey's spring from the first pastor of St. Patrick's church. It was a famous spring, supplying through a wooden pipe a number of residents south on 9th street to the Avenue. It was early covered in with masonry by the corporation. A fine spring on the north side of C street between 4 and 6ths streets was early appreciated, the property holders in 1802, at their own expense, piping the water first to Woodward's Tavern, on the Avenue west of 6th street, and then to 4 street. Another spring was at the northeast corner of Indiana avenue and 3rd street, and in the days of Mayor Blake, 1813-17, it was furnished with steps and inclosed with masonry. In the lower part of the first ward, in the old Funkstown or Hamburg settlement, a spring was the source of Powder run, which supplied the force of the glass house and other settlers. A gum tree spring near the west end of L street led to some settlement thereabouts. A spring near 5th and L streets was the source of one of the Tiber's tributaries, and several other smaller streams united with it. And east of the Capitol were some streams other that that from the spring near 4thand C streets, before noted.

A spring in the present Garfield Park, east of New Jersey avenue and south of F street, sent a stream down 2nd street into the Eastern branch; one run was started in square 878 between G, I, 6th and 7th streets, flowing through the reservation once occupied by the Eastern of Branch market, into St. Thomas' Bay; another from north of I street down 12th street, and one from the junction of Pennsylvania and Georgia avenues east of 14th street, and several smaller ones.

Some Early Sources of Supply
Before the incorporation of the city of Washington some wells and pumps were in use. At the corner of New Jersey and C streets southeast the improvements of Thomas Law and others were enhanced by convenient water. Templeman and others had pumps at the Round Tops, near Washington Circle, as did the Six and Seven buildings on Pennsylvania avenue; Greenleaf had one, for what became Wheat's row on 4 street near O street southwest, and "Twenty Building Hell," about South Capitol and N streets, had pump water. There were some about the lower end of New Jersey avenue, where Law had improved, and on the establishment of the Navy Yard improvements were made thereabouts and pumps were installed.

City Expenditures of Water
Under the city government, incorporated May 8, 1802, Mayor Robert Brent and the councils had jurisdiction of the pumps, at least those not on private property, and few were so situated. The few then in service were not increased in number that year but October 28 an act was approved directing the mayor to contract for the repair of pumps. The following year $600 was appropriated for erecting pumps and the mayor was empowered to receive contributions therefor. In 1804 this sum had been expended and a balance of $73 was due; $472 was the appropriation and this was exceeded by $51. In 1808 $600 was appropriated for the erection of pumps and for conveying water in pipes, one half to be reimbursed by those who benefited, and $200 for repairs. The appropriation of $600 for pumps and $200 for repairs was for three wards, the second ward between 2nd and 14th streets from the boundary to the river being excluded, with exception of the improvement of Caffrey's spring. In 1810, $600 was appropriated, but the following year there was an increase to $1,500.

City Regulations
Under act of August 5, 1812, regulations as to pumps, well, springs, hydrants and aqueducts were made. These provided that when an application was made to the mayor by two-thirds of the residents of any neighborhood for a pump, hydrant or conveyance of water, he should direct the commissioner to cause the object of that application to be executed; that the cost be paid from the funds of the ward and one half the cost be assessed on the real estate benefited and that repairs be paid for out of city ward funds.

In 1815 it was made unlawful to injure any part of the works at the fountain near 9th and F streets, Caffrey's spring, wash clothes or commit any act tending to injure the same. In 1816 the mayor was directed to purchase two sites in the second ward with springs for providing a good supply of water. This act, however, was not executed, for in the junction of K and 13th streets on public ground and abundant supply of water was discovered. And the population numbering over 13,000 in 1820, greater facilities were demanded, larger appropriations were made, new pumps erected, and old ones repaired, hydrants put in and in that year reservoirs were constructed to supply water for the extinguishment of fires.