Allison-Antrim Museum

Greencastle's Original Water Supply.

(Commonly called, "The Dipping Box".)


Far back in the early 1700's a small cluster of houses, an inn, and a black-smith shop were already established at the cross-roads where Greencastle now stands, but it was not until 1782 that John Allison, who owned much of the ground in the vicinity, laid out a town of right-angled streets and allies, offered lots for sale, and christened his new town, "Greencastle".


Naturally, the new town's first need was a supply of pure water for domestic purposes and for fire protection, and accordingly on March 8, 1785 Mr. Allison, the Proprietor entered into a perpetual agreement with a Mr. William Rankin, who owned a fine spring known as Moss Spring just east of the borough, to divert water from this spring by means of an artificial watercourse thru the town.


This watercourse was laid out in an irregular or zig-zag course across the town so that it might reach as many of the inhabitants as possible. Originally the water was conveyed in a heavy wooden trough, or trunk, about 15 inches square, and for the most part covered on top to keep out contamination. Where the course crossed public streets or allies it was lead thru iron pipes or brick culverts. At each street and alley, and on most of the private lots, a large wooden box was sunk into the ground and kept filled with water from the wooden trunking. This box was deep enough so that the citizens could dip up water with a bucket and carry it to their homes. It was for this reason that the whole system came to be called, "The Dipping Box".


Later, the more ambitious persons tapped the wooden trunking with hollow logs and conveyed the water to other premises not along the direct route of the watercourse; and it is said that at one time about Civil War times this system was quite elaborately developed with hollow wooden logs running here and there on trestles, some as high as six feet. At a later date. a number of wells were dug to supplement the water supply and to serve persons who lived at some distance from the main route.


In the early days, when fire protection was provided by "bucket brigades" or the old fashioned hand pump fire-engines, water was carried from the dipping boxes and poured into the fire engine, but later when the town acquired a steam fire-engine a system of large brick fire cisterns were built along the water-course and connected to it so that they were always kept filled. It was into these cisterns that the old steam fire engine thrust it's suction hose and no doubt prevented many a serious conflagration.


It was naturally important that such a watercourse should be kept clean and free from leaks, and the early borough policemen and constables had quite a job on their bands making weekly inspections; and many were the citizens who were haled before the magistrate for failure to keep their trunking clean or in good repair.


Such was Greencastle's main water supply until about 1895 when the first gravity water system with a reservoir and underground iron pipes were put into operation. From that date on, the old water course rapidly deteriorated, the wooden trunking was allowed to rot without replacement, and no longer was any great attempt made to keep it clean. It is true that for some years afterwards many persons used the water to irrigate their gardens, or for other purposes when purity was not necessary, but by 1922 the whole system bad become so neglected that it was finally abandoned by order of the Board of Health.


A few of the old fire cisterns still remain in serviceable condition and here and there may be found rotted pieces of the old wooden trunking, but in a few more years it is likely that all trace of a water system that served the town for more than 110 years will be completely obliterated.


And yet, John Allison's fore-sight in obtaining a water-right so many years ago still serves the town in good stead, for at the present day the water of Moss Spring is now being pumped into the borough reservoir and is again being distributed to the people of Greencastle thru the piping of a modern water system.


Allison-Antrim Museum, Inc

365 South Ridge Avenue                                    Copyright © Allison-Antrim Museum | All rights reserved.

Greencastle, PA 17225