Local Historic Water Sources: Smith Springs

The brick turret in the McMillan Reservoir marks the location of the Smith Springs

Have you ever wondered about the brick structures located in the McMillan Reservoir? I have.

When I was doing research on Tiber Creek I came across a passage in Garnett Williams’ Washington, D.C.’s Vanishing Springs and Waterways that helps explain the circular brick turret in the middle of the reservoir. According to Williams it marks the location of Smith Springs.

Williams writes that “of the many springs that formerly were so popular in the area, probably the best known were the Smith or Congressional Springs, the Franklin Park Springs, Gibson’s Spring, Caffrey’s Spring, and the City Spring. …

The Smith (Congressional or Effingham) Springs were on the farm of J. A. Smith, near the middle of what is now the McMillan Reservoir, immediately southwest of the grounds of the U.S. Soldier’s Home. These three springs produced 7, 4 1/2, and 3 gallons per minute, respectively and were probably the most copious and important of the area’s springs.

From about 1832, the waters were piped for a distance of about 2 1/2 miles down North Capitol Street to the Capitol, Treasury, and Post Office buildings. Additional routes supplied as many as 12 fire plugs along Pennsylvania Avenue and other fire hydrants as far as 14th Street, [NW]. At the Capitol, the waters were contained in two reservoirs one just west of the building (capacity 78,827 gallons; this reservoir is now buried under the steps of the Capitol), and another, with a capacity of 111,241 gallons, just to the east. (The eastern reservoir was covered over in the late 1850’s and is now under a parking lot.) The Smith springs were in use from 1832 to 1905.

The map detail below (from the Boschke map) shows the location of the J.A. Smith farm. I’ve also circled a structure that appears to mark the location of the springs.

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6 Comments on “Local Historic Water Sources: Smith Springs”

  1. M Says:

    Is the brick structure a shaft that somehow fills the McMillan Reservoir? Do you know if any of the tributaries of the TIber Creek still feed the reservoir. Thanks for the research.

  2. ~~~mh Says:

    I have wondered what that brick structure was. Now I know. Thx.


  3. […] structure located over Smith Springs, an important early source of water for the city.  You can read more about Smith Springs at this earlier […]

  4. Frank Says:

    interesting research; thanks for sharing

  5. swift110 Says:

    Nice. I have come across the same source document and I am in the process of even more research. Hopefully I can learn even more about what remains of the natural history of washington dc

  6. swift110 Says:

    Reblogged this on swift110 and commented:
    simply wonderful


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