Rural People’s Source of Water During the 1950s

Reader Contribution by Arkansas Girl
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When I was growing up in rural Arkansas in the 1950s, most people did not have running water (water piped into the house). Most houses had a well somewhere on the property – usually right at the back door or not too far away. There was a “caved in” well on our property that had been used by the previous owners, but by the time we moved there, it was not functional. 

Since we didn’t have a well at our back door, we toted water from the school house well, less than a quarter of a mile away. It was not that far away, but still, this was a not a labor of love, but it was a “necessary evil.” We had to go to the well and draw up buckets of water if we wanted to drink, eat, or cook. Sometimes, we’d draw up a frog in the bucket. We’d pour water until we poured him out, then we’d fill our jugs. I don’t remember how often we got water on a daily basis, but since water was laborious to tote, it was used sparingly. Actually, water was like a precious commodity to us. We didn’t waste it or use it carelessly. And while we were bringing the water from the well, we tried not to waste any of it. Toting it was too much of a chore to be casual about useless spills. 

We had our own water reservoir system. My daddy took a long piece of tin, folded it, wired it to the house and extended it into a large, clean barrel. When it rained, the water drained into the container and was used for bathing, washing clothes, washing dishes, cleaning the house, and for watering our chicken and pets.

Then, there were brooks or springs (water that ran or flowed through the woods) or under bridges, or wherever nature took them. Whenever we went hiking or trekking through the woods, it was so much fun to get down on our knees, use our hands as a cup and drink to our heart’s delight. Apparently, our dog enjoyed lapping water from the spring too, but we had to be sure he was lapping on the South side of us, since water flows from north to south. That way, he got the left-over water that dripped from our mouths back into the stream. Surprisingly, there were quite a few springs from which we had the pleasure of sampling water.

Ponds were used mostly for animals’ drinking and bathing. It was a feast for the eyes to see cows wade into the pond and drink, then slowly wade back out.

What I really liked was a pump, but most people didn’t have those. The pump sat on top of the well (with a concrete casing built around it) and the water had to be drawn up (by a handle) to the top (mouth) where it would eventually flow out into a bucket. Very few people had pumps. I’m not sure why. Seems like the ones I remember were on the back porches of houses that sat on large acreages of land. These water devices could have been owned by the more wealthier households. For some reason, though, pumps always intrigued me. If the pump didn’t bring water up, it had to be primed. Small amounts of water was poured down the mouth of the pump while the pump handle was being moved up and down. Finally, the water came gushing out. That was a fun thing for me.

So, there you have it … rural people’s sources of water.

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