Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 618   November 19, 1960
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Daniel Ryan, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

Springs -- cold, clear springs bubbling from hillsides or welling up from secret depths -- played an important part in the settlement of these United States from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and the Great Smokies in Tennessee to the Ozarks of Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Always more plentiful in mountainous and hilly country, they were much more numerous and vigorous in those days before the great forests were cut over or destroyed. Then, most of the rainfall was retained and sank into the ground. Springs are fed by ground water.

An early settler, penetrating a frontier wilderness with his family and their meager possessions, traveled and searched until he found a suitable home-site. That was determined not only by the quality of the land and what brew on it but also by the availability of water and timber. Although some preferred to dig a well, fearful that the dreaded milk sickness and "the shakes" or ague might lurk in spring water, a favorite location was near some good "strong" spring.

Usually, on such a homestead, after completing a cabin and a make- shift barn, a small shelter was built over the spring. That was the "springhouse". In time it became a masonry structure with basins through which the water flowed. Here the milk cooled, cream was skimmed, and butter, cheese, eggs, meat and other perishables were stored They had no refrigerators then. In a way, the family life was centered around it.

Those gifts of pure water from the earth were so important that many frontier towns were platted and built around or near "a large spring of excellent water. " In 1833, after the capital of Indiana had been transferred from Corydon to a new site named Indianapolis, a town ordinance declared it "unlawful for any person to wash himself, or any other thing, to water stock, or to commit any act of indecency in or near the public spring. " Brookville, Indiana, built a pipeline of hollowed-out sycamore saplings to Amos Butler's spring in 1820. Today, although most of their springs are long gone, on the maps of several states you will find many towns named "something-or-other Springs".

Here in Cook County the village of Willow Springs got its name from the fact that there used to be a fine spring, with a huge willow beside it, downhill from Archer Ave. and near the old I&M Canal. What used to be the largest spring in the Chicago region -- Mammoth Springs -- is on Spring Road just west of Salt Creek and south of Roosevelt Road. Its flow is now a mere trickle but Elmhurst, three miles north, secured its entire water supply from this spring, through a wooden pipeline, until the population exceeded 5,000.

Most of the springs in Chicagoland are, or were, in stream valleys: generally in outcrops of gravel, sand, or very sandy clay; although some issue at the base of limestone cliffs and quarry walls. Those at Carlson Springs Woods, Potawatomi Woods and Black Partridge Woods are still flowing although three of six in the latter preserve become mere seeps during droughts. There is a fine one along the Bluff Road leading to it. Those at McClaughry Springs Woods and Swallow Cliff Woods have ceased to flow, possibly due to the heavy use of explosives when the Calumet-Sag canal was widened. Springs may flow and springs may go but hope springs eternal in the human breast.

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