Popular Science Monthly/Volume 72/June 1908/Springs as a Geographic Influence in Humid Climates

1538276Popular Science Monthly Volume 72 June 1908 — Springs as a Geographic Influence in Humid Climates1908Frank Carney




IN the arid southwest parts of the United States, the crude water signs of the Indians have often pointed the white man to a spring. The government topographic maps covering sections of this region of sparse rainfall give the location of many springs. Throughout the longer-known and more-traveled desert areas of the world, the few oases have fixed the routes taken by caravans. Numerous books are available detailing facts that bear on the geographic influence of springs

A Reconnaissance Contour Map in which the altitudes were ascertained by working aneroids in pairs, a method explained in the Journal of Geology, Vol. XV. (1907), p. 492. In this area there are 203 dwellings, 148 of which are located at springs.

A Primitive Log House nestled among the trees marks the location of a constant spring.

in arid climates. But into whatever land man has gone, humid as well as arid, springs have had a part in his activities. So far as America is concerned, I am not aware that a quantitative study of the influence of springs in humid regions has been undertaken.

While mapping the stratigraphy of an area of approximately 25 square miles in central Ohio, where the annual precipitation is about 40 inches, the influence exercised by springs was given particular attention. In this area the upper formations of the Mississippian, and the lower of the Pennsylvanian periods come to the surface. The vertical series of rocks involves two horizons of coarse clastic sediments, the Black Hand of the earlier period, and the Sharon member of the Pottsville, which is the lowest formation of the later period. The Black Hand overlies the Cuyahoga, which in central Ohio "is composed largely of bluish and grayish shales and buff sandstones."[1] Subjacent to the Sharon is the Logan formation consisting chiefly of "buff arenaceous shales to thin bedded sandstones."[2] The Black Hand is a massive sandstone, locally conglomeratic; the Sharon is less massive, and locally coarser; this characterization of these two formations applies specifically to the area studied. While neither of these sandstone formations overlies impervious beds, yet in themselves they are variable in texture and structure, and the region is so maturely dissected, that conditions are very favorable to the development of springs. Furthermore, the Logan also contains beds that are water-bearing.

The early settler in agricultural lands found a spring, if possible, and then built his log house. Others coming into the region made similar locations. Settlement generally moved along streams, since in the absence of roads valleys are more accessible. If the valley has been developed in water-bearing formations, which are not much tilted, springs border the bottom land on either side. Both topographic convenience and the presence of water tended to confine the earliest habitations to the valleys. Later settlers spread over the intervalley areas, building their houses in proximity to springs.

Primarily the highways lead from house to house; eventually, however, several factors become operative before the roads are permanently fixed. In the case of a valley having a commodious floodplain, but not extensive enough to warrant the maintenance of roads on each side, the slope bearing the better springs was normally the decisive factor; the homes on the opposite side would be approached by fords and lanes, or by only the latter if located near a transverse highway. In the uplands the permanent lines of traffic appear to take courses that will accommodate the greatest number without making too great sacrifice in distance; even then some dwellings are isolated. The isolation may continue but one generation, or until the desire to live on the highway overcomes the convenience of water and the associations of the hearth; the latter factors have prevailed wherever we see an isolated frame house, whereas a deserted log cabin means the dominancy of the former.

Moreover, the intervalley highways sometimes exhibit an economic influence. When the area is heavily timbered, and lumbering rather than agriculture is the initial occupation, the roads made in connection with logging and milling may become permanent. For example: North of Wilkins Corners (see map) the second highway leading west ascends about 100 foot in one half mile; this road parallels a valley a

The Iron Content of this Sharon Rock induces the "honeycomb" effects in weathering, and also makes the springs less desirable.

The Gentle Slopes of the Logan Formation afford good Farms, but few springs for dwellings. Twice as many houses are found along the lower contours of the Black Hand formation where water is plentiful.

few rods to the left, where the same horizontal distance involves only half the grade; the original highway did follow the valley, connecting the two houses. But log-haulers from the wooded upland located their main road where it would command as much of the area as possible, approaching it by spurs along contours. This traffic fixed the road where it is, though it has never led directly to a dwelling; property complications diverted the second house up the valley to it, the original roadway being abandoned. A similar influence in highway-location due to mining operations is seen one and one half miles west of Mary Ann Furnace in the road trending southwest from the one leading to Wilkins Corners. Some fifty years ago a vein of coal on this slope was worked for local use, and was approached from the west, thus opening a highway that has served little use since.

It is evident also that so far as the intervalley roads are concerned, the topographic factor made slight appeal to the locating engineers, an ox-team and its driver. If the most direct line between houses, i. e., between springs, crossed a sharp hill, the highway went directly over rather than follow a contour, or take even a gentler, if slightly longer, grade. I have noted several places where in the past decade these sharp grades have been removed by a detour, but two generations had dragged themselves wearily over the hill.

The convenience of good water, or of rich bottom lands in the valleys, factors that would seem to have much weight with the early settler in choosing a location, is of secondary importance when opposed to an inherited topographic proclivity. A man reared among hills, however barren, has a latent tendency to plant his new home in similar topography. This bias, developed through environment, whether inherited or acquired by the individual, is illustrated in the choice of lands made by Welsh immigrants who came into Licking County, Ohio, early last century; they passed by thousands of acres of lowlands, the richest in the state, and selected farms in a rugged portion of the county, still owned by their descendants, and even now designated "The Welsh Hills."

But in the region to which special study was given, the geographic influence of springs is obvious. There are 203 houses in the township, 148 of which are built at springs; some of the fifty-five using wells formerly depended on springs. Both the horizontal and vertical distribution of these dwellings is largely a matter of stratigraphy of which the springs are a manifestation. It should be noted, however, that the localization of houses near Mary Ann Furnace is due to the fact that over sixty years ago iron ore, found in the neighboring hills, was reduced here; stoves also were manufactured at this place. The furnace was destroyed in 1853, but the houses are still in use.

Over fifty per cent, of the dwellings with springs are in the horizon
The Tiny Rill of a Spring that has already developed a Small Basin.

of the Black Hand formation, which borders the floodplains of all the valleys, a distribution made possible because the formation has an eastern dip of about twenty-five feet per mile. The springs in the Black Hand are numerous and copious, partly because of the thickness

The Black Hand Formation is generally a coarse, irregularly bedded sandstone, yielding a copious supply of spring water.

and texture of the formation, also because of its subjacency to horizons that carry water freely.

In the Logan formation, I have mapped thirty houses with springs. There is doubt concerning a few of these, an indefiniteness occasioned by the absence of contacts. The Logan sediments suffered erosion contemporaneously with Pottsville sedimentation; furthermore, the Logan, in comparison with its contact formations, the Black Hand and the Sharon, weathers easily, producing gentle slopes. These two conditions make it doubtful about the exact horizon of a spring near either the top or the base of the Logan.

Sawed Shingles and a Few Boards are used in lengthening the Years of Service of this Rough-hewn Log Spring house.
Slightly less than seventeen per cent, of the houses with springs are found in the Sharon. The areal extent of all the exposed formations diminishes vertically, hence the number and the volume of the springs decrease; the value of the land for farming also decreases with altitude. A further fact concerning the springs of the Sharon is their content of iron, making them less desirable than springs in either of the lower formations.

A Mature Stage of Erosion is a Condition Favorable to Numerous Springs.

The township contains no extensive areas of outcropping coal measure or Pennsylvanian formations, save in the south central portion; elsewhere disintegration has left only outliers. In the area west of Mary Ann Furnace, covering several square miles, and another along the eastern border of the township, there are eighteen houses, three of which, now occupied, have springs. For the entire township, the average number of houses per square mile is about eight; for the horizon of the coal measures, it is less than two. That springs are rare is not the sole cause for the discrepancy; the bleakness of the upland, and the unproductiveness of the soil are contributory factors.

About ten per cent. of the homes with springs are built on glacial deposits. The drift is localized chiefly in the valleys. The ice-sheet covered approximately two fifths of the township, but left scarcely a veneer of drift on the intervalley areas. While fourteen springs have been mapped as belonging to the drift, it is quite probable that a good fraction of these are fed by water courses from the Black Hand formation. Of the wells noted, fifty-six per cent. are in glacial deposits.

Still another evidence of the influence due to springs is seen in the fact that of the eight deserted houses in the township one is in the Black Hand formation, one in the Logan and six in the coal measures, the horizon practically without springs. It is noted also that twenty-two per cent. of the dwellings are off highways, an isolation due entirely to springs. Furthermore, dairying has always been carried on in this region because in the summer season the springs furnish cool water for handling milk.

  1. Charles S. Prosser, Journal of Geology, Vol. IX. (1901), p. 220.
  2. Ibid., p. 231.