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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Deep within the earth on the natural south basin of the Erie Canal Gorge flows an ancient stream that has existed since the last Ice Age. As the Lockport landscape was populated in the early 1800s, these natural springs were discovered and eventually utilized by the people who lived there. However, one of those springs in particular, seems to have had its last use somewhere around 1934. With no other mention of it in the media, and as Lockport continued to develop closer to its prehistoric source, the infamous “Spalding Spring” appeared to have been lost.

The land surrounding Lockport was once part of a very large spillway that allowed waters from prehistoric Lake Tonawanda to reach the glacial Lake Iroquois. Over time, as water levels receded further, Lake Iroquois’ shoreline receded from the top of present day Toll Gate Hill all the way down to its present location at Olcott Beach. As the glaciers receded, so did the boundaries of the Great Lakes, but the underground tributaries that were present still remain today, and portions of the Lockport Spillway continue to provide a source for natural spring water.

(LOCKPORT PUBLIC LIBRARY -- Geological History of Niagara County)

Local businessman, Dr. Scott D. Geise, working in collaboration with Dr. James Boles from the Museum of Disability History, in Amherst, have uncovered evidence that the waters that are now flowing through the Lockport Gas & Electric Building, maybe the same waters of the lost Spalding Spring.

In 1840, Lyman Spalding advertised a Bath House at his mill.  Somewhat of a strange place to offer a public bath, but Spalding never really cared for the path most traveled.  The natural springs was believed to have healing properties, and since many of Spalding’s neighbors, like Merchant’s Gargling Oil, were finding their fortunes by advertising health related products, Spalding Bath House soon became a local treasure.  Spalding’s advertisements offered a deal that was hard to refuse – for $1 you could have bathing privileges for a year, or you could pay 12.5 cents per bath, for either canal water or “nice spring water.”


This spring, located on the hill behind the open hydraulic raceway, ran along the south bank of the canal gorge and was difficult to access because of its close proximity to the fast moving water of the Mill Race.

Eventually the spring was claimed as a city water supply that could be used by all:
A railing has been constructed around the spring at that back of the hydraulic race near Spalding Mill, and it is no longer to be dangerous. We doubt that there is another spring of water in the city more constantly frequented that this.  Persons now are not obligated to cross the race, but a platform has been constructed on one side, with a strong and substantial railing on the margin, and the water is conveyed across in an iron tube.

-- September 10, 1870 – The Lockport Daily Journal.
In the early 1900’s, there were concerns about the quality of the spring water, but it was still used by those who lived and worked nearby.  The City and Samuel Outwater, the owner of the spring at that time, continued to have discussions about who was responsible for the springand the stairs leading down from 73 Main Street, directly behind the Outwater Bros business.

The next mention of the spring was in the 1920’s, just after World War I. In the May 19, 1920 Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, a Professor by the name of I.H. Buckminster, filed a report with the city concerning the condition of the Spalding Spring:
The water in this spring was in excellent sanitary condition at the time the examination was made. This spring is located in a very dangerous locality, and it is surrounded by sewer outlets. The locality is offensive to the nose and eyes. A change in the local conditions would be very likely to be dangerous for it might result in sewage getting into the spring.
In 1922, a local roofer by the name of J.B. Storms had a business address of 63 Main Street, and because of his proximity to the spring, made a proposal to the city to construct a concrete reservoir so that he could sell the bottled spring water.  In 1923, the Lockport Business Directory lists J.B. Storms as operating a business called Crystal Springs Water, which he later cleverly changed to the name of “Crystal Radio Active Water.” By 1934, there was no further mention of any use for this water source and the spring was essentially lost.

Spring water continues to flow through the flume of the Mill Race as shown in this photo of the third floor of the Lockport Gas & Electric Building. (DR. SCOTT D. GEISE)
During the construction of the concrete parking garage, and also during its demise, construction workers on site were astonished at the amount of water that was still flowing in the area.  As some of us may already know, when it comes to water nature has its own intentions, and a significant amount of water has cut a new path through the old Spalding Mill.

+Dr. Scott Geise of Newfane has an active interest in Erie Canal history, specifically surrounding the local Mill Race in Lockport. His column, "Historically Relevant," appears on the first and third Saturday of each month. Dr. Jim Boles, president and CEO of People, Inc. contributed to this column.

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