previous next
[p. 41]

A rill from the town pump.

(With apologies to Hawthorne.)

Because of recent inquiry, though it seems like ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’ to even try to improve upon ‘The Pump in the Market-place,’ so excellently presented before the Historical Society by Miss Gill,1 we call attention to our frontispiece, and quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne's ‘Rill,’ a favorite selection, always read with interest in our school days.

In far antiquity, beneath a darksome shadow of venerable boughs, a spring bubbled out of the leaf-strewn earth, in the very spot where you now behold me on the sunny pavement. The water was as bright and clear, and deemed as precious, as liquid diamonds. The Indian Sagamores drank of it from time immemorial, till the fearful deluge of fire-water burst upon the red men, and swept their whole race away from the cold fountains. . . . Governor Winthrop on his journey afoot from Boston drank here from the hollow of his hand.

And we may claim a similar genesis for the Medford town pump, in an ‘ancient spring’ whose existence may have been the deciding factor in the location of the original ‘ferme-house’ built by Matthew Cradock's ‘servants’ near the old Indian trail, through what is Medford Square today to the river's fording place. And it is just as certain that the governor refreshed himself with its cool water after crossing the Mistick on his long tramp to Salem.

But we may not follow Hawthorne's pump rill into the baptismal water placed on the communion table, for alas! Medford had no meetinghouse then, nor yet for sixty years, and when she did, the clear water of Marrabel's brook was nearer by.

But as at Salem, in the lapse of years Medford men

vanished from the earth as if mortal life were but a flitting image in a fountain. Finally the fountain vanished also. Cellars were dug on all sides, and cart-loads of gravel flung upon its source, whence oozed a turbid stream, forming a mud-puddle at the corner [p. 42] of two streets. . . . But in course of time, a Town Pump was sunk into the ancient spring; and when the first decayed, another took its place, and then another, and still another, till here stand I, to serve you with my iron goblet.

The early history of the Medford town pump cannot be better told than was its contemporary's of Salem; yet we wonder just a little if Salem ever had a pump like that of Medford, shown in our illustration. Had such been the case, it might under the pen of the romancer have given forth a double ‘stream of eloquence.’ Also we query, ‘Was there ever one like it anywhere?’ We deem it fortunate that the late Francis Wait, himself a mechanic of ability, made a description of its operation and peculiar features, which our local artist and younger Medford boy has preserved for us in our illustration.

It was probably installed soon after 1812, and after serving the thirsty public for an average human lifetime, was replaced by another of ordinary style in 1848. Our worthy townsman Hooper tells us of the boyish pride he felt when he first was able to operate its pendulum handle, which alternately lifted the water in the two pumps enclosed in the box-like structure, and delivered through a single spout as shown It was a man's job to operate it and fill the big trough from which the horses and cattle drank. We of present day Medford never see an ox in our streets; horses are becoming rare.

What do the generality of Medford children know of pumping water? They would be helpless if set down thirsty in Medford square as it was a century ago. The useful fixture known as the town pump disappeared nearly fifty years ago, soon after the introduction of water from Spot pond. A great iron vase, by courtesy styled a ‘drinking fountain,’ took its place. Though it never drank nor become drunk and upheld a lantern to illuminate the way for those who did, it proved too fragile for its purpose, and soon gave way for one of granite. That, after years of use, has disappeared at the suggestion of the State Board of Health—for sanitary reasons. [p. 43]

At time of present writing, and for several weeks, Medford square has been in a state of upheaval by the relaying of railway tracks and street paving. Repeatedly of late, as we have passed down High street, we have walked cautiously in or around a stream of water pumped by an electric pump from the basement of the new building which stands on the sites of the old neighbors of the old town pump.

We think it to have been a rill from ‘the ancient spring’ of three centuries ago.

1 See register, Vol. XIII, p. 1.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Salem (Massachusetts, United States) (4)
Spot Pond (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
New Castle, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Market (New York, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (3)
Winthrop (1)
Medford (1)
J. H. Hooper (1)
Gill (1)
Matthew Cradock (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1848 AD (1)
1812 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: