It’s hard to drive down Main Street in Schaefferstown and not feel transported through time, with its many stone building façades unchanged through centuries. The scene above is also easy to imagine, kids and horses gathered around a water trough, long before water was readily available in homes. While the homes of Schaefferstown are now supplied with water through a typical water supply network, the trough above still fills with water as it has for over 250 years.
Schaefferstown, originally named Heidelberg by the town’s founder, Alexander Schaeffer, is one of Lebanon county’s oldest towns. While the date of the first German settlers is around 1700, the town was officially founded in June of 1758 by Schaeffer. Located on a prominent route between Lancaster and Lebanon, and with close proximity to notable iron sites, such as Cornwall, it became a hub of activity with hotels, taverns and stores for travelers and residents.
One of those buildings, still functioning to this day as the Franklin House Tavern, was a hotel built by Alexander Schaeffer. The hotel, built in 1746 was first known as “The King George” and is one of the oldest still functioning taverns in the country. To provide water for the hotel and for residents of the town, according to the Historic Schaefferstown website, “Schaeffer installed underground wooden pipes connecting a spring at the south end of Market Street to the square.” The location of the spring’s reservoir or “fountain lot” can be seen in this map from Frederick Beer’s collection of Lebanon County maps from 1875, in the lower right green square of this image.
Alexander Schaeffer began construction with the laying of 1,300 feet of wooden pipe and the watershed sometime between 1744-1750. These first pipes were “made of wood sections of oak with holes bored through the center” and were functional for over a century when they were then replaced with cast iron metal pipes in 1845, the same year the system was officially chartered. The gravitational “flow from the spring was so strong that the water flowed uphill to fill troughs or springs” without use of pumps. This use of gravity to force water into the springs is the first documented use in the country.
The wooden troughs were located in the town square at the time but have since been moved and replicated, one to what came to be known as Fountain Park and the second is still located near the town square, but the original was replaced with an ornate granite trough, given as a gift in 1910 by Matilda Zimmerman in memory of Mary Tex Zimmerman, a descendant of Alexander Schaeffer.
Fountain Park is found south of the town, down Market Street. It’s a two and a half acre park that’s been maintained by residents of Market Street since Alexander Schaeffer built the water system. There are pavilions, a playground for kids and large old trees with benches found throughout. Over the years, the park has served as a meeting place for all sorts of special events and picnics for town residents.
Across from the path ascending the hill, there is a trough that was originally located in town, later moved and reconstructed as well as a historical marker describing the water company. The historical marker was unveiled on April 22, 1995 during a celebration.
The pipe at the trough at the bottom of the hill had a stream of clear spring water flowing out of it, ready for anyone with a bottle or two to fill. It should be noted that an article from The Daily News dated September 27, 1994 stated “recently, the Department of Environmental Resources tested the water and determined it unsafe to drink because of contaminants it contains.” In a different article, from an earlier date; however, it said the two springs still in use were fitted with UV filters to help destroy any harmful particles in the water.
From the same 1994 news article was mention of one passionate Schaefferstown resident and later president of the Water Company from 1973-1980, Ruth Mock, who moved to Market Street with her husband in 1940. Several years before the article Ruth exclaimed “over my dead body will you stop the water flowing free from the fountains” when a government environmental official came to town and threatened to shut off the water in the late 1980s. It just took that one threat from Mock, because the water still flows to this day.
At the top of the hill from the trough, seen in the photo above, was the spring house, feeding the beginning of the system. It was from here that Alexander Schaeffer ran a wooden pipe from the spring to the troughs in the village.
The door is padlocked and the hole in the door too small to look in, but an image of the interior of the arched stone reservoir from a book published by the Mock’s in 1986 can be seen here:
On July 16, 1763, Alexander Schaeffer with his wife, Anna, conveyed ownership of the spring to a trust, with the residents of Market Street designated as the overseers of the trust. This group became known as the Schaefferstown Water Company. A Lebanon Daily News article from June 4, 1979 tells us that at that time, “residents were subjected to a yearly ground rent of 16 shillings, one penny and a half penny (approximately $3.90) to be paid the heirs forever.” The residents and members of the Water Company were and still are in charge of maintaining the park and two fountains. They’ve thrown picnics and held many community gatherings over the years.
Another granite trough resides just North of the park off Market Street. This granite fountain replaced a wooden trough in 1936 and was fitted with a UV light to “ensure purity” of the drinking water in 1985.
It is amazing to think that these troughs have been filling for over 270 years and will continue to do so with no end in sight. It’s evident through the amount of time, effort and money documented over the past two centuries the deep and proud heritage running through the residents of Market Street and Schaefferstown as a whole.
The next time you happen to be driving through Schaefferstown on a hot summer day, be sure to swing by the park and cool off from a spring older than the country itself.
In 1983, Ruth Mock and her husband Charles published a booklet about the Water System with a vast amount of information regarding the Schaefferstown Water Company and all its happenings over the years. To see that booklet, click here.
Also, in an article from October 27, 2020, LebTown featured “The Wandering Woodsman” and his YouTube channel. One of his many stops was at this park, click here to view that video.
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