When we were growing up on Carbondale’s East Side we frequently hiked to the “New Dam.” The adventure always included a stop at the “artesian well” for a drink of what we thought was the best tasting water that can be found almost anywhere.
The well is along a path through the Brownell Ravine leading from the former D&H Honesdale Branch roadbed to the dam. It has always been popular with Upvalley residents who filled jugs with the water and took them home because they didn’t like the taste of the water supplied by the water company.
While most people knew where the artesian well was, nobody seemed to know the story behind it.
Somebody told Chris Cornell, the Advantage editor, about it. It piqued his interest and I volunteered to look into the well’s history. The task has proven to be rather difficult.
Dr. Robert Powell, president of the Carbondale Historical Society, said he was aware of the well, but his files contained no information about it.
The D&H gravity railroad climbed 700 feet from Carbondale to the summit of Farview Mountain through the use of five inclined planes. Plane No. 3 went through the ravine and its engine house was near where the artesian well is located, Dr. Powell confirmed.
Mary Ann Savakinas, executive director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, joined in the search at my request.
She found newspaper articles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that show that after the gravity line stopped running in January 1899, the Reynshanhurst Water Co. began drilling wells in the area to supply its reservoir a short distance east of the one we were interested in.
One of the early wells didn’t provide sufficient flow to meet its projected needs so it moved to another location and hit a bonanza. It seems probable that the earlier well is the fabled “artesian well” we’ve been investigating.
The Racket Brook Creek, the largest tributary of the Lackawanna River, flows through the ravine and figures prominently in the area’s history. It seems that everybody wanted to dam it up either to supply Carbondale with drinking water or to generate electric power.
Carbondale No. 7 Dam was built around 1860 near the creek’s headwaters in Canaan Township close to the Wayne-Lackawanna line. Thirty-two years later, the Crystal Lake Water Co. built No. 4 Dam a half mile downstream.
In 1903 the Reynshanhurst people were building a dam in the gully to turn a water wheel which was supposed to generate electric power to pump water from its wells to its nearby reservoir. In the dead of the night someone planted an explosive charge and destroyed the structure. The Scranton Republican said the blast was part of a “water war” that had been raging in the area.
The last structure to impound the Racket Brook was the Brownell dam built between 1905 and 1908 by the Scranton Gas & Water Co. It is generally called the “new dam” because the nearby No. 4 Dam was only 13 years old when construction began.
Reynshanhurst is a name derived from the surnames of two of Carbondale’s prominent entrepreneurs of the day, John F. Reynolds and J.B. Shannon and “hurst” meaning a wood or grove. The name was selected from 800 entries in a contest they conducted.
It was first given to a large tract just over the eastern border of Carbondale the pair had purchased and were carving into building lots.
The water company was chartered early in 1900 by Reynolds, Shannon and three other men with plans to serve their Reynshanhurst development and a large part of Carbondale’s east side with water from drilled wells. By June it had piped most of the section bounded by Church Street, Seventh Avenue, the Racket Brook and the tracks of the D&H Honesdale branch.
I don’t know when service was started, but when our family moved into the house at 26 Wyoming St. in the early 1930s Mom and Dad were thrilled to learn that it was supplied with Reynshanhurst water. It probably didn’t hurt that J.B. Shannon lived across the street and the man we knew as “Lawyer” Reynolds’ house was just three doors away on our side.
When we moved to another rented house just a block away, we lost the Reynshanhurst perk. The water that came out of the faucets was from No. 4 and the “new” dam. You could tell the difference. Is it any wonder we always stopped at the artesian well for a drink?
Ed Rogers retired after more than 60 years writing and editing news of northeastern Pennsylvania. Since he can’t stay away from the keyboard, he is now sharing his remembrances of the Carbondale area with Advantage readers.