Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Recalling the Berkshire Spring


Is drinking water out of those plastic bottles really harmful to us? Most of us Berkshire baby boomers spent a good deal of our youthful summers drinking tap water out of vinyl garden hoses.

And so it is, many of us are still plugging along and no one has passed laws prohibiting that. What the plastic bottles that end up in dumps do to the environment is a whole other issue.

The interesting thing about bottled water is that at least 25 percent of it is nothing more than city tap water that is run through filters and still has the contaminants. To get real unadulterated spring water, one has to read the labels carefully to be sure.

At as much as $3 a bottle, one shouldn't complain about the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Estimates are also that a bottle of water could cost as much as 10,000 times the equivalent amount of tap water from your sink!

Back in our youthful years (and even a decade ago), we could get all the natural spring water locally that we would want and it was free.

Most everyone growing up in the greater Pittsfield area visited the spring on Summer Street in Lanesborough, not far from the Berkshire Mall. On a typical hot summer weekend day, cars would fill the parking lot with folks taking turns in line to get that fresh cool spring water. It was a popular place for people to fill glass jugs and bottles in the 1940s and 1950s, plastic jugs in the 1960s, and more recently five-gallon plastic bottles to set on coolers or dispensers in the home.

As a kid, I loved going to this popular spot with my folks for that cool fresh water. On one of my earliest childhood visits, I recall someone putting a huge snapping turtle in a concrete basin into which the water flowed. Boy was I scared, but not enough to keep me from coming back over the years.

Historians date the use of the spring to the early 1800s. Geologists estimate its source as an underground river some 28,000 feet deep. The depth explains why it would never dry up or vary in temperature throughout the year.

For over 100 years, local residents had the spring's water pumped to their homes. It started in 1863 when the nearby Berkshire Glassworks developed a cistern and pumping system. In 1941, partners Albert Barnes and Kenneth Atwell set up a new piping system and turbine to replace the aging system. By the 1960s, 40 homes still benefited from the free water.

In 1948, local water expert Arthur Burdick bought 600 jugs and for a short time operated a home delivery service bringing five gallons at a time to customers. At some point, the town of Lanesborough had taken over the spring and surrounding land and introduced piping, parking and water testing, providing a free, safe service for the general public.

However, over the years, declining water quality had become an issue. Lanesborough tried to prevent litter around the spring, but the quality continued to decline.

In 2003, the state's environmental department reported that there were a number of potentially dangerous factors that could contaminate the water, including a nearby photo-processing business, an auto repair shop, homes without public sewers, possible improper use or storage of fuel, pesticides, fertilizer, paints, solvents, and perhaps even PCBs.

It was about five years later that the town found bacteria counts were just too dangerous and shut down the spring for good. Although there were several other natural springs in Berkshire County, none were as popular or pure as the one where I saw that snapping turtle get a bath.

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield."


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