Spring provides steady, cool drink for all

BY WILLIAM MOORE wmoore@gulfcoastnewspapers.com
Posted 7/29/13

LATHAM, Ala. – Looking for a cool drink of water but don’t have a lot of time? The Red Hill Spring pumps out a gallon in just 1.5 seconds everyday, rain or shine.

“It never varies on bit,” said Leslie Smith. “We had a drought a few …

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Spring provides steady, cool drink for all


LATHAM, Ala. – Looking for a cool drink of water but don’t have a lot of time? The Red Hill Spring pumps out a gallon in just 1.5 seconds everyday, rain or shine.

“It never varies on bit,” said Leslie Smith. “We had a drought a few years back. Fish ponds dried up but the spring never slowed down.”

Smith was instrumental in several efforts to preserve the spring, especially its present form that includes a paved parking lot along the side of Highway 59. The fresh, clear water flows out of a pipe in grotto lined with native sandstone to prevent the area from getting muddy.

That area of north Baldwin County is dotted with natural springs, many dating back to a time when only Native Americans walked the countryside. But this spring has yet to celebrate its 100th birthday.

“That spring was created when they cut the new road in the early 1920s,” said Smith. “The original stagecoach road is a couple of hundred yards to the west.”

The road crew was straightening out a curve for the increased automobile traffic. When they cut into the hill, it started weeping immediately, draining across the road. Smith’s father ran a sawmill and used a heavy Nash truck to haul lumber to Bay Minette, but the road was often impassable because of the mud.

“In Alabama at the time, all men had to do road duty a certain number of days each year,” said Smith. “When it was his time, my father got his crew from the mill. They cut saplings and laid them crossways across the road.”

The small trees provided grooves for the water to flow while still offering a dry “and really bumpy” road for traffic to pass. But that was just a temporary fix. The state installed a steel culvert in the late 1920s. Residents fought to save their spring, so a concrete basin was installed to collect water before it drained into the culvert, then down the hill to Red Hill Creek.

“It was a popular stopping place,” said Smith. “There was always a tin turpentine cup hanging on a stick. Roads were bumpy and radiators leaked a lot. So folks would stop and get them a drink of water first, then get some to pour in the radiator.”

Increased traffic on the highway caused the culvert to fail in the mid-1950s. The highway department wanted to eliminate the culvert by widening the ditch on the west side of the road to flow the water to the creek, without it crossing the road.

Instead, the community fought to have a new collection basin that would send the water through a pipe, so people didn’t have to bend over and dip it out. Its popularity continued to grow among locals. Others found out about it in the fall of 1979.

Hurricane Frederick hit Alabama Sept. 12, 1979. Power was disrupted for a week or more and the spring was one place where people could get clean, fresh water.

“Cars would be stacked up for a half-mile or more both ways as folks waited their turn,” said Smith. “Everyone was patient. You would meet old friends there or make new ones.”

The spring continued to draw a crowd even after power was restored. The lack of water caused the leathers in many private wells to dry up. With only a few qualified pump repairmen in the area, it was almost a month before some folks got water again, said Smith.

The current incarnation of the spring site came about in the early 1990s. There were concerns over the open collection basin and possible contamination from road kill and road oils. With the help of Davida Hastie, Smith got the county commission on board. The plan was to design an underground collection system and pipe the water to a brick-lined area to keep it from getting muddy. The paved parking area covers the collection basin, preventing surface water or runoff from the road from entering the spring.

The brick idea was vetoed in favor of native sandstone. The water flows out of a pipe and into a drain in the middle of a mini-park. The bulk of the water flows under the sandstone pavers into a ditch and downstream to the creek.

“It flows at a rate of 2,400 gallons an hour,” said Smith. “We took a six-gallon bucket and timed it. It took 9 seconds to fill it.”

People still come from miles around to get water from the spring. Former residents with fond memories will visit family and return home with a trunk full of plastic jugs full of spring water.

“They say it makes better coffee,” said Smith. “The question I get asked most often is, ‘Has it been tested?’ It’s tested dozens of times every day. Nobody has gotten sick yet.”

Red Hill Spring is located on Highway 59, about 7 miles north of Stockton.