Old Spring

Present-day Amherst is located within what was once the Western Reserve in the Northwest Territory. This land belonged to the Connecticut Land Company who surveyed the land between 1796 and 1806 and divided Amherst, which was five square miles, into 100 lots. The first known permanent settler who purchased the land from the Connecticut Land Company in 1811 was Jacob Shupe. Shupe settled in northern Amherst on Beaver Creek. Using the area's sandstone and the creek's waters, he developed the first saw mill, grist mill, and whiskey distillery in the area. Many other early settlers to Amherst were veterans of the War of 1812 who had been given tracts of land by Congress for their military service. Each family settled on or near Beaver Creek and used its waters to develop their farms. Josiah Harris of Massachusetts arrived in 1818 and purchased the land where the Old Spring stands today. At the time, the area of Amherst was known as "The Corners," as the five main streets converged near the spring on Beaver Creek.

As the village grew in population through the mid-nineteenth century the spring became the center of economic activity. By the early 1900s the water was pumped into storage tanks, and later the spring was used by a brewery. In 1914, a free running pipe was installed for easier access to the drinking water from the spring.

By the 1930s both local and federal money helped restore the spring. In 1930, August Nabakowski, a local roofer whose business was located across the street from the spring, built an archway at the entrance to the spring with recycled materials, including broken tiles, pebbles, sandstone and cement. In 1936, workers from the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA) built stone tables and a fireplace at the site, and reinforced a guard wall in the area between the Old Spring and Beaver Creek.

Since the rejuvenation of the public space in the 1930s, families have often picnicked or simply spent time down the small steep hill behind Town Hall to enjoy the scenery, the sound of rushing water or a fresh drink. Although most houses had indoor plumbing, some families who lived on the outskirts of town could not drink their running water and still had to rely on the Old Spring for drinking water. By the 1960s the water from the Old Spring was deemed unfit for human consumption because of the high level of bacteria. Some Amherst residents blamed people who put chemicals on their lawns, which became a popular practice in the 1950s. A sign today still warns visitors to the spring not to drink the water.

Audio

Getting Water From Old Spring Norman Miller, a lifelong Amherst resident, remembers his family retrieving water from the Old Spring in the 1950s and 1960s.

Images

Collecting Water, ca. 1930 This family is seen collecting water from the Old Spring after the free-running pipe was installed in 1914. Image Courtesy of Amherst Historical Society
Josiah Harris, ca. 1850 Josiah Harris was the first settler to purchase the land where the Old Spring is situated. After leaving Massachusetts and settling in Amherst in 1818, Harris became a tavern owner, post master, judge, and state senator before he died in 1868. His family donated the land for a town hall to be built just east of the Old Spring. Image courtesy of Amherst Historical Society
1836 Amherst Platt Map The 1836 map illustrates the growing population located in downtown North Amherst. "North" was officially dropped from Amherst's name in 1909. Beaver Creek is located in the Southwest corner of the map and runs through many larger farms. The Old Spring is situated east of where the creek crosses Elyria Street (now known as Milan Avenue). Image courtesy of Amherst Historical Society
Old Spring Archway, ca. 1936 This image shows the archway built by August Nabakowski in 1930 and the sandstone steps reinforced by the WPA in 1936. Image Courtesy of Amherst Historical Society
Old Spring Entrance, 2011 This image shows the archway built in 1930 by August Nabakowski as it looks at present. Its materials include broken tiles, pebbles, sandstone and cement. Image Courtesy of Emily Marty
"Unift for Human Consumption" After the pipe was installed in 1930, access to the water from the Old Spring became easier, but by the 1960s the water was deemed unfit to drink because of toxic runoff. Image Courtesy of Emily Marty

Location

Metadata

“Old Spring,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 13, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/257.