In his book Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx (New-York Historical Society, 1938; written in 1916), James Ruel Smith documented several springs in the area near Broadway and 125th Street which were still flowing at the time– between 1890 and 1915.
Become a Harlem insider - Sign-Up for our Weekly Newsletter!
The Tiemann drinking fountain, Smith says:
“was one stop that nearly every driver of the old Broadway stages and trolleys might be counted upon to make several times during the day…” (p. 59).
The source was a large spring; that Manhattanville, Harlem resident Daniel Tiemann, 73rd Mayor of NYC, had lived in the area since 1832 and built D.F. Tiemann & Company Paint & Color Works a color works/dye factory on the site in the mid-19th century, and the water from this spring was used in the factory. The nearby “Indian Spring” (we think this is a Wecksquaesgeek Indians spring who lived in Harlem before it was called renamed Harlem) was noted for its quantity and purity of water, though it was not built into a drinking fountain but remained in a bed of rocks, covered with a wooden grating.
As of 1897, Smith said that the spring:
“…is used only for drinking purposes, and the requirements of the rough shanty accomodations for several truckman’s horses that are grouped about it a few yards to the south.”
As of 1898, the Board of Health condemned the spring as too polluted to be potable (p. 55). Some of Smith’s plates below, with their captions giving locations:
Though it’s hard to be sure which original watercourse from pre-urban times became a specific spring seen in the 19th or 20th century, I believe that the small pond outlined below, on 124th Street just west of Amsterdam Avenue, is the site of Ruel Smith’s Indian Spring.
The (photo above is) the basement river in 2006 at Prentis Hall, a Columbia University building on the south side of 125th Street just west of Broadway, has seen the modern incarnation of one of these springs flowing through its basement for many years. The story I’ve heard is that after the building was constructed, the basement kept flooding, until eventually a tunnel was dug in a basement wall and the water now flows into a channel in the basement and out through a pipe that connects it with a sewer along 125th.
Photo credit: 1) Tiemann’s drinking Fountain, West 125th Street West of Broadway, September 26th, 1897. 2 -3) Left: Broadway and West 125th Street Looking north April 9th, 1898. Right: West 124th Street East of Amsterdam Avenue, September 28th, 1897. 4-5) Top: The “Indian Spring” Wests 124th Street West of Amsterdam Avenue, October 6th, 1897. Bottom: Surrounding of the “Indian Spring” West 124th Street and Amsterdam Avenue Looking southwest, November 16th, 1898. 6-7) Top: Broadway 123rd -124th Streets, looking south, November 16, 1989. Bottom: Broadway, 123rd-124th Streets, Looking North, November 16th, 1898. By Steve Duncan. Via Watercourse.