Quenching The Thirst For Fresh Water

June 20, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

The cool, clear water gushes from an old pipe into the cast-iron bathtub on a shaded corner outside Westminster.

People come from Baltimore, from Pennsylvania, from down the street to fill gallon jugs and even 55-gallon drums. Some stop just for a drink.

Since 1912, when the Beacham family tapped the spring on its farm in Carroll County, the crystal-clear water has been free for the taking.

"Mother Nature put it there," says Philip Beacham. "It just happens to be on our property. We can only use a small percent of it. If anybody else can get any good out of it, fine."

That's an old-fashioned, kindly attitude in an age of self-interest and suspicion. But the Beachams were reared the old-fashioned way, and they haven't changed much.

"We trust everybody till somebody mistreats us," says Mr. Beacham, 73, a one-time dairy farmer and now a lawn-maintenance man.

The corner is at Avondale and Stone Chapel roads southwest of Westminster. Turn onto Stone Chapel Road from Route 31 about two miles south of Route 140. Bear right, drive to the railroad tracks and look into the woods in front of you. Somebody likely will be there already.

Nicholas Allen Jr., 39, stops with his 16-month-old daughter, Kala, and fills two gallon jugs.

"I've been coming down here, well, as long as I can remember," he says. "When I was a kid my grandmother came down here before she had running water and got milk cans of water.

"It has a pure taste. It tastes clean and fresh. . . . I've never known who owns it. I just know it's always been there."

It's been there so long people don't think twice about tramping up the narrow path onto private property. Mr. Beacham says people probably assume the county is the owner.

"Just about somebody is there getting water all the time," Mr. Beacham says. "Ask Bill Freyman. He thinks that water is the only water on earth."

Reached at his home in Westminster, Mr. Freyman, 80, says that when he was a boy he walked along the railroad tracks with his father and grandfather on Sunday afternoons and took a drink.

He still gets water there. He filled six gallon jugs the other day.

"If you can beat it," he says, "you've got to go a long way from this county to beat it."

His wife, Clara, agrees.

"After drinking town water," she says of the water from her tap, "you think you're in heaven (drinking water from the spring)."

Beyond the spewing pipe is a grove of pine trees and beyond that the farmhouse where Mr. Beacham was born -- "as far as I know," he says, laughing -- and where his father was born.

His father, Philip Beacham Sr., 98, lives in a Westminster nursing home. His constitution is strong, his son says, though he's lost the use of his legs and has trouble talking.

Mr. Beacham, the son, doesn't attribute their longevity to the water. But he says it hasn't hurt.

"I've been drinking it for 70 some years, and my father drank it for 90 some years, and we're still here," he says. "I do know it's high in lime content. We've got lime outcroppings all over this area. Lime don't bother me. My bones are strong. My health is good, as far as I know."

The Beachams tapped the spring in 1912 and ran a pipe downhill to their ice cream plant, which stood near the corner next to the railroad tracks. A pump sent the water back up the hill to the farmhouse and dairy barns.

The ice cream plant caught fire twice, Mr. Beacham says, when coals from the old steam engines blew onto its roof. But the flowing water remained; it has never dried up, never frozen, Mr. Beacham says.

"The only restriction I've put on it is: Don't leave any trash," he says.

That's the least a visitor can do in return for water as refreshing as old-fashioned kindness.

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