Springhouses remain as reminders of yesteryear
In the days before Bella Vista became a retirement village and then the city it is today, it was a summer resort around Lake Bella Vista surrounded by farms. Those farms had no electricity, so they had to rely on other methods to store and preserve food.
Even when electricity first became available in Northwest Arkansas, most farmers could not afford it. Per the website www. encyclopediaofarkansas. net, the first major effort to provide electricity to rural Arkansas began with the passage of the federal Rural Electrification Act in 1936. However, that was a costly endeavor since rural areas averaged few customers per mile of electric line, so the private utility companies had to charge more than for urban residents, which resulted in farmers using fewer kilowatt hours per month than urban residents.
Farmers continued to depend on other methods, such as wells and springhouses, to store their food that needed to be kept cold. A springhouse, as defined by www.wikipedia. net, was a “small building, usually of a single room, constructed over a spring. While the original purpose of a springhouse was to keep the spring water clean by excluding fallen leaves, animals, etc., the enclosing structure was also used for refrigeration before the advent of ice delivery and, later, electric refrigeration. The water of the spring maintains a constant cool temperature inside the springhouse throughout the year. Food that would otherwise spoil, such as meat, fruit or dairy products, could be kept there, and safe from animal depredations. In settings where no natural spring is available, another source of natural running water, such as a small creek or diverted portion of a larger creek, might be used. In addition, some people put jars of milk in a bucket suspended by a rope in an ‘open-mouth’ well during hot weather.”
Dawna Howard Cawood, now a resident of Springdale, grew up on a farm just west of where the Bella Vista Historical Museum sits now. Her family’s house stood about where the 17th green of the Kingswood Golf Course is now located. Dawna remembers in the summertime when she and her brother would take quarts of milk to store in the springhouse that stands behind what is now the American Legion building. Her mother sold the rest of their milk to Kraft (and its predecessor) in Bentonville, putting the cans of milk in a wash tub to keep them cool until the milk company picked them up every morning.
As soon as Dawna’s family could afford it, they purchased an ice box. Then Dawna and her brother didn’t have to take milk to the springhouse anymore. The Ice House in Bentonville delivered blocks of ice to their farmhouse. They put a card in the window to say how much they wanted to be delivered. Even if no one was home, it didn’t matter since no one locked their doors in those days. The delivery men would bring in the ice and put it right into their ice box. The Ice House also provided lockers for people to store larger quantities of meat since iceboxes were too small to hold very much. In the early 1940s, the Howard farm got electricity so the icebox became unnecessary.
The website www. history-magazine.com/ refrig.html gives an interesting history of refrigeration, crediting Maryland farmer Thomas Moore with first coming up with that term.
Those of us old enough to remember the days of springhouses and iceboxes are very appreciative of the modern-day convenience of refrigeration.
The barn remaining from the Wishing Spring Ranch still stands up on the hill above what is now McDonald’s on Peach Orchard Road. The springhouse up there served the house that was part of that ranch, and the spring provided water that was gravity fed down the hill across the road to the Wishing Spring dairy barn, now the Wishing Spring Art Gallery.
The springhouse behind the American Legion building, which has been incorporated into its attractive landscaping, formerly served several nearby farms.
This springhouse is located behind the POA Golf Maintenance Facility just north of the 100-plus-year-old barn that still stands on the edge of the Berksdale golf course. The springhouse was located behind the old farmhouse that was burned by the Fire Department in a training exercise during September 1988.
The springhouse still stands on Manchester Road, across from Cooper School, that served the old farmhouse with the barn that later became the Bella Vista stables, prior to the construction of the school.