A Cool Drink of Water: Roslyn’s Freshwater Springs
A phone call several months ago from Marshall Johnson, whose grandparents, Edward and Katherine Ramsauer resided at 44 East Broadway from 1905 through the late 1950s, spurred our curiosity about the various springs that once flowed throughout the village.
Mr. Johnson recalled how much he and his siblings enjoyed the refreshing cold water from the spring in his grandparents' backyard on hot summer afternoons, and wondered if the spring still flowed. While we couldn’t answer definitively, his question led me to the handwritten notes of amateur local historian John J. Radigan (1869-1949), preserved in the Local History Collection. In the excerpt below, Mr. Radigan recalls some of the freshwater springs that once flowed in Roslyn, providing a cool drink to passers-by on hot summer days:
"Roslyn in all portions of its lowlands lying at the foot of surrounding hills had many active springs, a number of them visible with a location easy to approach. Others, which included the greater number, were in the swamps or marshes where they were inaccessible. And in later years to be the water supply for ponds that were flooded over them. Springs were found along the east side of the harbor around the head and through the whole valley. To have known all the springs in the 1870’s or 1880’s was to know the same springs the first white men had seen. There was, however, in the most conveniently located springs some slight changes made for the convenience of the public. This was accomplished by making a slight change in leading the stream a short distance underground through tile to a more suitable outlet.
All springs used as private or public were always boxed up. This raised the water level to cause the water to pour out making it possible to take water into a household or drinking vessel. The most popular springs were close to the street where a drinking vessel was sure to be found. This was made possible because the vessel you found was always a food container and no person forgot to leave it for the next thirsty traveler. Children thirsty or not could never pass by one without a lingering stop. It is of these springs their story will be written.
The most active spring in this category with the greatest volume of flowing water had at its source in the door yard of Miss Jessie Smith, 106 Main Street. In time when Main Street was laid out, a waist high outlet was made at the entrance to the older paper mill dam, a few steps in from Main Street. From here it flowed through a small gully to the paper mill pond. This I think was the only hard water spring around Roslyn.
The next spring in the quantity of flowing water but greater in importance to the public was the St. Mary’s Church spring, the source of which is under the church altar. When the basement was excavated the spring was welled up and the water carried through tile to an outlet which at that time had a very convenient height on Summit Street.
Under the administration of Rev. Nicholas Doran 1886-1898 a chained ladle was kept there for drinking purposes. When Bryant Avenue was improved in 1898 the grade was raised also on Summit Street. This placed the spring in a hole. In a very dry season when some families dependent on cisterns for water supply, a cistern would sometimes run dry. St. Mary’s spring water for the hauling away in cans or barrel they would be safe until rain.
The East Broadway spring was located on Jonathan Conklin’s property [208 East Broadway] about one hundred fifty feet north of his residence, recently owned by James McGee. It was inside and below the edge of the foot path (sidewalk) with another side path leading around it up or down. The flow was small but ample without trying your patience. Along the edge of the walk above the spring protecting the public were about sixty foot of fencing all covered with honeysuckle.
The Willet Titus spring [was] an outlet for a spring on the Skillman property [now the Harbourview Shopping Center] formerly a swamp. It was placed in the driveway a few feet in from the sidewalk between the tinshop and residence [1441 Old Northern Blvd.] Here a bright tin cup would be found. It was always held in high favor by the children from the old public school diagonally across the street. The flow from it was good. ...
About 1884 the Titus spring was discontinued and the water diverted to a fountain erected by Mrs. Ellen Ward in the triangle of Skillman Street and Northern Boulevard in memory of her husband General Elijah Ward. This was in the days of horses, even oxen would not cause you to turn your head. The fountain had two water levels. The upper bowl was used by horses to drink from should they be checked. Mrs. Ward thought of the horses some drivers would permit to travel thirsty rather than to leave their seats and uncheck the horse to drink. The lower bowl found general use with all animals not under restraint. Man was also served at the fountain. ..."
The Horse Trough on Old Northern Blvd in 1900, 1962 & 1990
With the introduction of street water in Roslyn and the installation of pumps, many springs have been dried up and those free-flowing with a large volume have been considerably reduced. The ponds, it would seem, still have springs enough left to maintain their level. However, it is doubtful that they could power or turn the cumbersome old mill wheels with the same constancy as in the past.
Do you have memories of Long Island's natural springs? Leave a comment or drop us a line!