Preservation Group Pushes For Landmark Status For Pittsburgh’s Forgotten Natural Springs

Aug 2, 2016

Preservation Pittsburgh is asking City Council to designate three natural springs as historic landmarks. Members are advocating for Howe Springs in Shadyside, Snyder (Catahecassa) Spring in Schenley Park and the Spring in Spring Hill (Voegtly Spring).

Natural springs became popular in the late 1800s when typhoid, cholera and disease-causing bacteria plagued Pittsburgh water. According to Preservation Pittsburgh President Matthew Falcone, communities’ conversations about water quality back then mirrored modern discussions.

“They were using the same language that we do today to talk about drinking water, especially with all the concerns about lead in drinking water,” Falcone said. “It was just more concerned about bacteria than mineral deposits.”

Because of its hilly topography, Pittsburgh has many natural springs. Historically, Falcone said the structures often became the centerpiece of a neighborhood.

Spring Hill resident James Rizzo said though many older neighbors are familiar with the springs, young people in his community are starting to take notice and recognize their significance.  

“I’m thrilled by it,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s a really distinctive feature of the neighborhood.”

Of the three springs, the Spring in Spring Hill is the only one still functioning. The city plumbed, or stopped water from flowing to the other two.

Falcone said Spring Hill’s spring is unique because the city constructed it for the neighborhood in the early 1900s, a time when officials sealed off many springs due to health concerns. It wasn’t until the City of Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City and began regrading streets that neighbors vocalized concern for the Spring.

“The neighbors got together and there were almost 200 names on this petition,” Falcone said. “They petitioned city council and said, ‘You’re regrading the street, that’s great. This spring has been here forever, please don’t get rid of it.’ And they acquiesced and they said, ‘Sure.’”

The other two springs, Howe and Snyder, were built to celebrate those who historically contributed to Pittsburgh. Howe Springs on Fifth Avenue near South Highland commemorates Thomas Howe, a Civil War general and philanthropist. Snyder Springs features the bust of a Shawnee Chief who fought during the French and Indian war. It sits near the base of the Neill Log Cabin.

According to the city’s nomination form, a “Historic Site” indicates the “location of a significant event…maintains historic or archeological value regardless of the value of any existing structures.”

Preservation Pittsburgh will meet with Pittsburgh City Council and the City’s Historic Review Commission on Aug. 3 for an evidentiary hearing. Falcone said he thinks the measure is likely to pass.