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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Update: June 2012