Greencastle's old watering hole gets cleanup

October 14, 2000

Greencastle's old watering hole gets cleanup

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Local memory has it that the first steam shovel ever seen in this area was used to build the Greencastle reservoir.

That was in 1911 when horses, not engines, powered the equipment that scraped away enough dirt to make a hole in the ground that would hold 13 million gallons. Horse-drawn wagons hauled away the dirt.

Laborers who built the reservoir earned about 5 cents an hour.

This summer, the reservoir was drained dry for the first time. The dropping water level gradually uncovered a giant, 18-foot deep, cement-lined bowl that looked more like a Roman coliseum than a storage facility large enough to hold a 15-day water supply for more than 1,675 Greencastle area customers representing about 4,000 residents and businesses. It stretches across enough ground to cover an entire football field and then some.


It's located on the aptly named Reservoir Road, about a mile-and-a-half east of Greencastle.

The reservoir was drained so the tons of dirt and silt that had accumulated along its sloping sides and bottom over nine decades could be scraped off and hauled to a nearby farm field, said Borough Manager Ken Myers.

"It was a foot thick on the sides and even deeper on the bottom," Myers said.

It was also an opportunity to reseal the joints between the cement slabs.

Annual maintenance requires the repair or replacement of some of the topmost 8- by 12-foot cement slabs that are joined together to make the reservoir.

"Sometimes they freeze up and crack in the winter and we have to fix them," Myers said.

He said when workers dropped the water level to replace a few of the slabs this summer they noticed silt could be seen high up on the sides of the reservoir.

"We dropped the level even more and saw that the lower we went, the more silt we saw," he said.

Myers said this summer's extra rains provided the borough with an opportunity to drain the entire reservoir without danger of running short of water like the system did during last year's drought.

Water from the three springs that supply the reservoir was diverted directly into borough's water treatment plant on Grant Street extended. It took nearly a month to drain the reservoir, Myers said.

The borough hired a contractor to clean the reservoir. Workers first hosed down the sides of the reservoir to send the silt to the bottom, where it was scraped off with front-end loaders and hauled out in trucks.

On Friday, they were cleaning off what was left on the bottom with street-sweeping equipment.

Myers estimates it will take two to three weeks to refill the reservoir.

He said no one today knows how long it took to build the reservoir 89 years ago.

"We could never afford to build it today. The cost would be astronomical," he said.

He said the reservoir is unique to Greencastle, a community that has no other water supply except its springs.

"Other communities have streams or rivers they can dam up," he said.

He said the reservoir was built so the borough would have storage capacity.

Ebberts Spring, about two miles from the treatment plant on Grant Street extended, is the fourth spring on the system. It was cut off when the plant was built and left unused until last year's drought.

The borough had to get special permission from the state to treat the water at the spring and pipe it into the system. Plans now call for reconnecting Ebberts Spring to the system permanently as a back-up source, Myers said.

He said the system started out in the 1870s as a private entity. The borough bought it in the 1890s.

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