EARLY WATER SUPPLY
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, November 26, 1909 [p. 17]
That the supply of water of the population of the city before the introduction of Potomac water came from many sources may be inferred from the fact that the public pumps and hydrants had increased in number to 1,332 when Mayor Wallach was the head of the city government in 1865. Included were some which failed to give satisfaction in quality or quantity, but they were comparatively few. There were still a few springs on the outskirts in use and but few of the streams from them had been covered other than at the street crossings. The Potomac water was then coming into use and as, through water mains, it was conducted to buildings the relegation of pumps began, but it was gradual. Many families were reluctant to give up the pump at which their thirst had been quenched for a lifetime and used the Potomac water for other purposes than drinking. Notwithstanding as the iron pipes were laid especially in the western part of the city and the downtown sections the number of pumps decreased.
An old man whose father learned his trade with Amon Woodward, the city pumpmaker over ninety years ago, says that there was little difficulty in finding water in the city limits and seldom was there a failure in securing a copious supply, and particularly was this the case in the old first ward, west of 15th street. Some of the water was regarded as possessing medical properties and was prescribed by physicians. One such pump was located in the center of Louisiana avenue between 9th and 10th streets, once covered by the waters of the Tiber ere they were confined by the stone walls of the Washington city canal, and that locality was filled in prior to 1820.
The Spa Pump
There was little change in the style of the pumps during a hundred years. They were built for use and not show, but some were tipped with a wooden ball. They were made of logs, the top piece of dressed white oak, 12 by 14 inches, and the remainder of undressed pine with 2-1/2 inch bore through which the water was brought by means of a 3/4 inch iron rod and handle. In repairing or replacing some of the very old pumps it was found that the rods were jointed lengths of wood, which had seen service for years. There was no certainty when application was made for a pump as to the cost of the work, for the depth at which water could be found varied from a few feet to nearly a hundred; in the case of two pumps not a square apart the wells were 26 and 80 feet deep.
Convenience of Petitioners
About where Convention Hall stands, 5th street between K and L streets, there was water in abundance and much marsh land. From the square north of L, between 5th and 6th streets, a small run flowed from a spring and near the northeast corner of the square south a sunken hogshead enclosed a spring. Much of the rest of the square was used by Samuel Devaughns, in the thirties and forties, in raising leeches, and these found ready sale, as it was the age when drawing of blood entered largely in the practice of medicine. Just east of the Convention Hall site on the site of the ice plant, from about 1830, was a spring known as Moore's and afterward a pump was inserted. Still further east was the spring afterward known as Savage's. In later years a pipe was driven and water pumped from a lower stream, and the water, under the name of Columbia, had a fair sale.
In the Central Section
Then there were Drew's and Lloyd's at the taverns nearby. Before 1820 the pump at the northwest corner of 7th and H streets furnished the water supply of James Kernan's tavern and the neighbors, and for over seventy years it was famous for its water, ofttimes crowds awaiting opportunity to drink. When Dr. J.R. Major afterward kept his drug store there he kept a quantity of cups near his door for the public, and the pump bore his name until its removal, in 1891. On the west side of 7th street a pump was put in about 1830, and was in service thirty years or more. Opposite the old post office on 7th street what was known as the post office, or Gideon's pump was the source of supply for fifty or more years. When, about 1820, this pump was put in, it was used not only by the employees of the Post office Department building which included the patent and other offices, but by the occupants of McLean's row, the families of Edward DeKraft and others.
On the southwest corner of 8th and F streets a pump was convenient to a school there and the residents thereabouts. From about 1820 to 1890 John Hoover, a pioneer butcher; David Shoemaker, jr., a clerk; John Bailey, letter carrier, and others were patrons of the pump at the northwest corner of 8th and G streets.
On the east side of 6th street between F and G streets for very many years a pump at the northwest corner of 7th Hay’s pump, after Henry Hay, a master painter living near. Some sixty years ago the pump at the northeast corner of 6th and H streets was discontinued for a time, in consequence of a piece of flesh being pumped out. The well was thereupon cleaned, nothing foreign being found, and until it was abandoned, about ten years ago, there was no complaint as to the quality of the water.
At the southeast corner of H and 9th streets the pump gave a fine flow of good water to a large constituency. About 1840 James Towles had his dwelling and carpenter shop on H street. A row of frame dwellings on 9th street and two schools added nearly two hundred to the population. The pump was one of the last to fall in the campaign against the wells.
Over Fifty Years' Service
On 11th street north of G street, near the home of Lewis Johnson, founder of the firm of L. Johnson & Co., bankers, a pump supplied water until a late day. Fine water came from the pump north of Tweedy’s, corner 12th and G streets, supposed to have its source in a spring northeast of it. This, too, was removed a few years ago.
On 11th street, on the east side, a few yards south of G street, a copious supply of excellent water was brought up by pump. It is said that the well was sunk about 1820 and that John McLeod, a famous schoolmaster, who erected two large brick dwellings a little south of the pump, was the leading spirit in having it so placed. Mr. McLeod’s property was about the center of 11th street front, and north, in 1825, the St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum was established, and for years the pump was called the asylum pump. For ffifty years or more it supplied the immediate section, which was a growing one.
At Site of Old Star Office
Directly in front of the present first precinct station, 12th street between C and D streets, in the thirties, what was known as Ridgway's pump accommodated the neighborhood and public, which included boatmen and others from the canal basin and the wood and lumber yards below.