THE ARTESIAN SPRINGS OF SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP

The water in the shallow spring was so good and so fresh that they drove from Chicago to fill their jars and bottles.  The drivers pulled over on the north side of Golf Road between Plum Grove and Meacham–closer to Meacham–and took advantage of the water that was bubbling up out of the ground.  Once out of the car, it was just a jump across the ditch that bordered the road.  In early years the drivers had to place their container close to the spring in order to fill it.  Later, someone placed a pipe in the spring to channel the flow into the containers.

This small artesian spring bordered a farm that Paul Engler and his wife, Nellie, managed for Frank Rathje, a well-known attorney.  Paul and Nellie’s son, Bill, remembers the spring and how crystal clear and cold the water was.  It was in a low area and, even if the summer was a dry one, the spring continued to flow.  It only stopped for good when the Hoffman Estates water tower was built. The tower and subsequent demand lowered the water table that fed the spring.

I would imagine it looked something like this:

The geography of our township was impacted thousands of years ago by extensive glacier activity that distributed a great amount of rocky till (sand and debris) and left us a high water table. The artesian springs littered throughout Schaumburg Township were a direct result of water finding its way above ground because the pressure underground was greater than the pressure at the surface.  These springs had a bubble or flow that was visible to the naked eye.  There were also low areas where water continually seeped to the surface, forcing farmers to either get creative trying to contain the water or to tile their fields with drainage tile.

Below are some of the mentions of artesian springs in Schaumburg Township:

The area with the greatest number of artesian springs was appropriately named Spring Valley by Eleonore Redeker Ackerman and her Grandpa Boeger in the 1920s.   Their Boeger ancestors were original land grant purchasers in the 1840s.  The first mention we see in print of this grouping of springs  is on the cover of this 1900 farm ledger donated to us by LaVonne Thies Presley.


The Wilkening Creamery was built around 1898 on the small branch of Salt Creek that flows under Schaumburg Road through Spring Valley and is seen below.  It was located on the north side of Schaumburg Road and one of the draws had to be the springs that were nearby.  The springs provided unlimited cool water for this bustling creamery.

In a 1974 account of his time on the property, Eleonore’s brother, Herman Redeker, makes mention of the springs:  “…in 1881, the barn and wind mill…were built, also the grain and tool sheds adjoining. Smaller buildings were built, including one which housed a water wheel for power, used to run the butter churn.  The water wheel was fed by water from an adjoining pond fed by 3 or 4 running springs…There was never a well or water pump on the homestead until 1904, when my grandfather, Herman Boeger, built his retirement home on the place… The well was a shallow spring well, 24 feet deep.  It supplied all the home needs plus running over and feeding a rock garden and the overflow running to water livestock (sheep.)  There were also 5 other running springs on the old Boeger homestead, therefore the area was named Spring Valley.”

Later, a portion of the Redeker property, which included the log cabin and the peony fields, was sold to Frank and Leona Merkle of Kenilworth.  They used the property as a retreat.  Their son William Merkle wrote about the farm in his book, Frank and Leona.  The springs on the property clearly made an impact on him because he devoted a fair amount of space to them.

“The artesian well flowed constantly and was full of iron and sulphur.  It smelled and tasted strongly, and there was always a rust colored scum developing in the bucket.  The well was made from a six inch pipe [that] Dad estimated was probably one hundred feet deep and which rose six feet above the surface.  It had a horizontal half inch pipe connected about two feet up from the ground and that is where the ice cold water poured constantly.  Dad placed a large wooden bucket under the spout and kept bottles of beer ice cold in there, along with jars of butter and things for the kitchen.  The runoff came down the side of the bucket and into a little rivulet which ran into the pond immediately to the west.  I was faced with the choice between that water and a beer and it wasn’t an easy decision:  stinky versus bitter.  I was ambivalent, taking beer about half the time.  This well and the artesian springs supplying the lakes functioned beautifully for years, and then suddenly stopped flowing.  Dad felt it was the result of a huge gravel pit that was dug a mile or so south of the property, and which somehow [affected] the dynamics of the aquifer.  It was a great loss, not only because of the absence of fresh water for drinking, cooking and washing, but because then the ponds pretty well dried up.”

In an article called “The Gravelmeisters of Schaumburg” that ran in Spring Valley’s Natural Enquirer in the July/August 2012 issue, Walter Plinske confirms Mr. Merkle’s supposition about the gravel quarries.  He makes reference to the pit that was actively quarried in the 1950s and is the pond that today borders Martingale Road on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property.  “It was at this stage [during the gravel mining process] that the impermeable shale layer was removed that had prevented further downward flow of the groundwater.  It has since been asserted that this was the cause of the extinction of the artesian waters of Spring Valley.”

A picture of the log cabin and the pond during Mr. Merkle’s time that is part of the Spring Valley collection can be seen below. 

Another account of an open flowing spring was on Jones Road at its intersection with Highland Blvd in Schaumburg.  Not only did the Jahn family who lived on the east side of Jones Road mention it, but the Hassels, who bought the property on the west side in the 1930s, also made reference to the spring.  A 1953 topographical map shows this area with an active stream flowing through it and lowlands nearby.  Pat Barch, Hoffman Estates Historian, recalls both family members telling her that the spring was very close to the northern most pond in Ray Kessell Park.

Even today, in October 2017, that pond is full…

While the south pond is not…

Curious, isn’t it?

In LaVonne Thies Presley’s book Schaumburg Of My Ancestors, she discusses the low areas and natural springs that occurred on the Thies family’s farm on Meacham Road.  (Their farm was south of the Fasse farm which is where the gravel quarry was located that inevitably altered the flow of the springs of Spring Valley.)   The springs on the Thies farm became “more of a nuisance than a source of good water” because they kept the fields so wet.

She said, “As the Thies brothers depended on the crops more and more [as both] a source of revenue and for feeding the animals, they decided on a plan of action.  William went into town to one of the taverns.  He arranged to buy several ‘oak whiskey barrels’ which had been emptied of their contents by customers at the tavern.  Henry and William went out to the fields where the springs were located.  The water at these springs was emerging slowly to form a large wet area in the field.  At each spring the brothers dug down six or seven feet.  After removing one end of the oak barrel, it was turned upside-down over the spring.  the dirt was carefully shoveled around and on top of the barrel.  The area was allowed to settle and dry out.  by the next growing season, William and Henry were able to plant over the area where the spring had once surfaced.  During a wet season this area would take a little longer to dry out so that the land could be prepared for planting, but the oak whiskey barrels did the job of keeping the water from the springs far below the surface.”

In his oral history, Norman Freise was asked if he had any springs on their family property. Norm said, “Oh yeah, we had one on the 40 acres on the north side.  (This property is where the Jane Addams Tollway and Meacham Road intersect today.)   That’s why we could keep the cows there.  See, my dad was drilling a well and we went down 100 feet and all of a sudden it’s just like an oil well.  It just gushed out and we finally capped it and put a pipe out and it kept running all the time.  We had a big tank there for the cows.”

Coincidentally–and maybe not–this is not too far from the Schaumburg water tower that is on the portion of Wiley Road that parallels Meacham.

In addition, a book called The Stolen Years by Roger Touhy, who was a bootlegger during Prohibition, recently came to my attention through Tom Holmberg, one of our reference librarians.  When Touhy got his start in the practice of bootlegging beer he sought out a chemist who worked for the City of Chicago.  “I asked him how to make good beer and, after giving me a lot of long words about enzymes and such, he said: “Good water, you want first of all.  Fine pure water.  Water is the big thing in all good beverages, from soda pop on up.’ I told him to go find the right kind of water, and he did.  He tested water all over northern Illinois.  Samples from my home town of Des Plaines were pretty good.  There was better stuff in a creek out at St. Charles.  But the elixir of all beer-base water was from an artesian well near Roselle, he said.  I built a wort [the liquid portion of mashed or malted grain used in the production of beer] plant out there…”  Was this wort plant in Schaumburg Township?  Were the Touhy brothers taking advantage of the artesian wells in the area or was there a wealth of them in Bloomingdale Township, closer to Roselle?  You have to wonder.

Water, water was everywhere in Schaumburg Township in the early days.  Whether it bubbled, flowed or seeped, the farmers could count on fairly shallow wells that provided good, clear, water for them, their livestock and their fields.  If you make a visit to Spring Valley you get a fairly good idea of how bountiful the water was before the building boom.  It would be a pleasure to actually see those springs flowing at Spring Valley today, wouldn’t it?

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
jrozek@stdl.org

The photo of the spring is used courtesy of the American Sojourn blog.
The photo of the water tower is used courtesy of Google Maps.

 

3 Responses to “THE ARTESIAN SPRINGS OF SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP”

  1. John Porcellino Says:

    When I was a boy in the early eighties, there was a spring, or, more properly, a seep along the path of the abandoned segment of Old Higgins Road east of Moon Lake Blvd. It was a low area of constantly seeping water that covered the area in the orange colored slime mentioned in the article. We played in that field for years until it was bulldozed for a parking lot.

    • jrozek Says:

      Hi John,

      Thank you for your contribution. I figured there had to be more spots in the township that were wet year round. That area is very close to Poplar Creek so it’s not surprising.

      Jane Rozek
      Local History Librarian
      Schaumburg Township District Library
      jrozek@stdl.org

  2. Fred Luft Says:

    Thanks for this great info about the water in Schaumburg Township.

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