THROUGH THE WOODS: Our water wells

CHILDREN GO THROUGH PHASES of bad dreams and nightmares. Mine were about old water wells and my mother, with good reason, instilled the fear. We had two behind our farmhouse. One was possibly the original 1700’s well dug into the shale hill behind the house. This was a shallow basin only a couple of feet deep and fed by a natural flow of spring water which never went dry.

The other well was many feet deep. She led me into the small concrete house that covered it and we peered down into the dark water surrounded by laid up field stone. I could not see the bottom and it was a damp, terrifying place.

I was taught where more old, uncovered deep wells were located around the area, often near old house foundations. Getting out would be nearly impossible.

Hand-power water pump. Photo contributed

My grandparents had a cover well behind their house with a hand pump. The cold water was great to drink when I was using the push mower on the lawn. A bigger deeper well was up on the hill back of the barn. Water was gravity fed through a pipe down to the barn and house. One summer I went to my grandmother’s kitchen sink, turned on the faucet and there was a horrible smell. Gram smelled it too and she said not to drink it. She sent Gramp (Frank Wambach) and me up to this well to check it out. He was strong for a 70-plus year old man and pulled up on the ring and lifted out the heavy center of the large concrete slab. This allowed entry down into the well. We lay looking into the hole and there was a big, white, dead frog floating on the surface. It was dipped out and the water was run a long time until it was clean again. My grandfather explained there was supposed to be a trout in there to eat up such things. Apparently at some point it too had died.

A few weeks later we took a new live trout up to the well and slid it in. We all drank this water for years without any ill effects.

My mother told me when she was a little girl my Gramp (her father) had made the concrete well cover because one of his beautiful gray horses had fallen through the wooden one and into the well. Neighbors with teams of horses had to pull it out and fortunately it recovered. State milk inspectors eventually required drilled, sealed wells for dairy farms. This made sense but hundreds of family members of many generations had survived drinking from the old spring fed wells. There were no more dead frogs in our drinking water and no more nightmares. I am now my grandfather’s age and wonder if I have a stronger immunity because I drank that spring water. Except for that one frog, it tasted darn good!

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