Pumps and Springs Scattered Throughout City
Used For Many Years
Desires of Petitions Governed the Location of Wells
Some of Best Know Cases
Many Families Reluctant to Give Up Old-Time
Institution for the More Modern Methods

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
Known as the Spa or Market pump far and wide, the water was a supposed specific for many ills besides being clear and cold. People came with buckets, bottles and cans for the liquid, and for half a century the pump was probably the most popular one in Washington. Many years ago a well was dug and a pump was placed on the north side of this street, and the old pump was discontinued. It was said that in filling up the old well it was found that the supposed medical properties came from an adjacent sewer. The many who had been using that water for years, however, deny this and assert that the water they used was not contaminated. The new one was one of the last taken up.

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.

First Pumpmaker
The first known pumpmaker of Washington was one Mathias, who lived near the K or Water street bridge over Rock creek. Amon Woodward, who was living on E street between 12th and 13th in the twenties, was the contractor under Mayors Smallwood, Carbery and Weightman. He afterward served many years in the navy yard as master blockmaker. William Tucker, an apprentice under Mr. Woodward, for many years worked in the navy yard and later was the pumpmaker located at 8th and F streets southwest. His sons, William and John W. Tucker, succeeded him as pumpmakers, holding the contracts under Mayor Wallach, the former remaining in South Washington and the latter having his pump yard at 14th and L streets. R.H. Hazzard, living near 14th and B streets southwest; George Hercus, on Maryland avenue near 9th street southwest, and --- Greenwell, on 10th between B and F streets southwest, were also engaged as pumpmakers and repairers.

Convenience of Petitioners
In the selection of locations for the corporation pumps, the convenience of the petitioner, who bore one-half the expense, governed; but most of them were on or near the street corners. And in some cases a private pump, used by permission of the owner, was regarded as a public one. A tavern usually had a pump of its own or was convenient to a public pump. Of course the government buildings were supplied. Some parts of the city were easily supplied with water, the sources being the springs about 13th and K streets and in Franklin Square, 10th and K streets, about New York avenue, K, 5th and 6th streets, near 9th and F streets, Indiana avenue and 3d street, C street between 4-1/2 and 6th streets and in other places. There were few deep wells in the down-town section, much of which was supplied first by wooden pipes. There was also a spring near the initial point of the city at Rock Creek and P street. This was a few yards east of the bridge and was reached by a short flight of steps and protected by an iron railing and gate. Later a hydrant was put in. It was for fifty years the goal of the Sunday and moonlight walks of young men and ladies. About forty years ago at the excavation for a sewer the water ceased to run and its location has been overgrown by poplars.

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
Some of the old pumps in the central portion of the city that are recalled were those on Pennsylvania avenue at 6th and 7th streets, both fed by the city spring on C street. The latter was known as Bacon's from the grocery nearby.

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
The pump at the northwest corner of 10th and H streets saw over fifty years’ service, having been placed there about 1840, when Michael Sardo, grocer and musician, lived at the southwest corner. It was taken up about ten years since.

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
One of the best known pumps was at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania avenue and 11th street seventy years ago, and also in the days when Green’s cabinet shop and The Star office were there. At Depreux corner, Pennsylvania avenue and 12th street, was another pump, said to have been located there in the beginning of the last century, when Gen. Van Ness regarded as an adjunct of Drew’s Tavern at the corner, and it quenched the thirst of one of the earliest settled sections of the District.

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.