Cornwall Borough’s “Cold Springs” Water Supply

 by Bruce Chadbourne January 2023 (similar to that published in

Admit it, these days when you need water you reach for the faucet with very little thought. In the old days when indoor plumbing was still more of a luxury, the supply of water required some planning. In 1879 newly married Robert H. Coleman was building an exquisite mansion in Cornwall center for his new bride. He literally went to great lengths to furnish it with running water. How did he do it?

At Coleman’s request, civil engineer Henry Kendall reported on January 14, 1880 the results of a survey of springs in the wooded hills of Anne Coleman Alden’s property known as Cold Springs [Note: vicinity of Old Mine Road and Route 117 today]. The survey had been conducted two months earlier in November 1879 in a period he described as “great drought.” Even so, per his report the survey of three outlets provided a combined flow of 42,000 gallons per day.

From his Lebanon office at 927 Cumberland Street, Kendall described the vertical drop of 97 to 130 feet from the various springs to Coleman’s mansion, over an estimated distance of 9,000 feet.  He therefore proposed collecting the water in a basin 90 feet above the mansion and provided further details of the sizes of pipe needed. The run from the collection basin to the mansion would be served by a 4-inch pipe, providing 30 gallons per minute of flow.

Robert H. Coleman had married Lillie Clark on January 5, 1879. While they were spending a fair part of the year traveling and honeymooning in Thomasville Georgia, he had his manager Artemus Wilhelm and architect Wm. B. Powell busy designing and building the new mansion. Affluence and luxury were perhaps not the only reason necessitating the project, as Lillie’s frail health had been a growing concern for which reliable water might be considered more of a necessity.

Up until that time the family of Susan Ellen Coleman, with her son Robert and daughter Anne at “The Cottage” in Cornwall Center, had depended on water from Snitz Creek and a small spring house on the adjacent Smith farm.  With the construction a large extension to the Cottage two years earlier, and the construction of Robert H. Coleman’s first mansion for his new bride, the expectation of piped, running water necessitated what became one of Cornwall’s first water supplies.  [Note: The Cornwall Iron Master’s mansion now known as “Buckingham Mansion” at Cornwall Manor, had a similar piped water system from a small reservoir that had been established on the hills near Minersvillage.]


Kendall Bros. "Survey" of Cold Springs, January 1880

Given its surplus capacity, the Cold Springs water system would later expand to supply other houses in Cornwall over a few years’ time. Included was the great Millwood mansion or “Alden Villa” built by Anne Coleman Alden in 1881 for her son Robert Percy Alden; the water main passing near the hill on which it still stands.

The curious part of the Cold Springs water supply is that it still flows today. At the time of its development, the wooded hills were relatively quiet, being used to harvest trees for the charcoal furnace. The Cornwall & Lebanon Railroad, and the extension that would lead to the birth of Mount Gretna did not exist. There were no National Guard encampments, no church Sunday school picnics. All of these have come and gone; the springs still flow.


The springs were tapped at four locations; each capped with a small dome-like stone structure known as a beehive. These remain today, moss-covered and tucked away in the woods of Old Mine Road, continuing to collect spring water. Their approximate locations are indicated in Kendall’s original 1880 pencil sketch.