Water-sometimes we take it for granted-the way it magically falls from our faucets or appears on store shelves we visit. For most folks living in the USA, water is easily accessible-even during times of drought.
Throughout the world's history people have used different methods of attaining and using water-from the elaborate schemes of the Romans to present day filtration systems which insure we drink only the purest cleanest water.
In Appalachia today, people generally have wells or get their water from local municipalities. In days gone by, most Appalachians used springs to meet their water needs.
Homes were built in the vicinity of a spring as water had to be carried to the house. To aid in the usefulness of springs-troughs were sometimes used to bring the water straight into the house or yard. Pap can recall folks channeling spring water to their yard or even straight into the kitchen. This was fairly easy to facilitate if gravity was on your side. (Gristmills
often used the water chute/trough method to carry water from a nearby creek to turn the millstone to grind corn.)
With the passage of time man invented black rolled pipe. After the pipe became widespread (in our area it was during the mid 1960s), folks begin to use the pipe to carry water from the spring. Since pipe was easier to use and greatly increased the distance water could be carried-the choice of which spring to use could be widened to ensure gravity was indeed on your side.
I was around 3 or 4 years old when Pap built our house-which had gravity water. The spring Pap used was about a half a mile above the house. Pap dug out the spring (a spring used previously by his Grandfather Bird) placed the end of the black pipe in the water, weighted it with rocks, put a screen over the end to keep out trash; ran the pipe along the ground-buried in places-back to our house where it connected with the water system. The fall of gravity along the pipe kept it filled with water-when you turned on the tap viola-water!
Our gravity water was the best tasting water ever-however, there were downsides to it. The biggest aggravation was it's tendency to freeze in the winter. While Pap, buried much of the pipe there was no way he could bury every inch of it-some of it ran along the side of the creek where the ground is literally solid rock. Freezing temps overnight wouldn't freeze the water-but a real cold snap lasting several days was sure to freeze it. Pap would leave water running in one or two sinks at night to prevent freezing. But during harsh winters we often woke to no water-until Pap thawed it out. Pap would uncouple the links of pipe and try to blow out the ice-it often worked shooting solid round icicles from the end-Paul and I liked this part-the pieces seemed liked popsicles to us. If those attempts failed Pap would build fires along the pipe to warm it up-we liked playing in the fires too.
I was a young teenager when Pap had a well drilled. I remember him worrying-would the water taste as sweet as our spring water-would it be as cold and fresh? Pap was ecstatic when the well water tasted just as sweet, cold, and fresh as our gravity water-I suppose he was also pretty happy the days of unfreezing black pipe were over for him.
Many folks have pontificated on Appalachians and their great love for mountain water. Even going so far as to declare "water coming from steep mountain hollers is the only water fit to drink!" A good example of this comes from Horace Kephart's Our Southern Highlanders:
"The mountaineer takes the same pride in his water supply as the rich man in his wine cellar, and is in this respect a connoisseur. None but the purest and coldest of freestone will satisfy him."
Drop back by the Blind Pig
in the following days to see me and the girls search for Pap's spring, go back in time with Pap and Uncle Henry as they reminisce about the spring of their youth, and enjoy an extra special post written by the Blind Pig's first guest writer.
What kind of water system did you grow up with?
To read more about Appalachian Heritage visit the Blind Pig & The Acorn