Amherst’s Old Spring

Col. Nahorn at the Old Spring - "The Old Spring still flows"
Col. Nahorn at the Old Spring – “The Old Spring still flows”

“The Old Spring” in downtown Amherst, Ohio, in a valley near Beaver Creek is located just behind the Town Hall.  The feature is what is geologically known as a giant seep spring or unconfined aquifer and is as old as Beaver Creek itself.  Its history is long and varied, and it continues through today – its story is just as its flow – continuous.

Josiah Harris, who should be known as the founder of Amherst’s downtown area, settled near this spring site in 1818, and Jacob Shupe, who had already established his early settlement near Cooper Foster Park Road and N. Main Street about 1.5 miles north of what would become the downtown of Amherst, came to visit Mr. Harris because he heard axe blows in the woods – it was July 4, and this is how the first 4th of July was celebrated in town.  Shupe brought drinks from his distillery, and the celebration commenced.  Shupe and Harris were pillars of the early community – Shupe starting the first sawmill, gristmill, and distillery in the area (and who built the first frame house, had the first farm, was the father of the first white born child, and participated in the first funeral) and Harris (first Lorain County Sheriff, tavern owner, brick yard owner, philanthropist – donating land for local schools and town hall, and a representative in government).

And so Amherst was born, with the Old Spring at the heart of the town quenching everyone’s thirst in the young community.

The old spring house is just below the Spring itself (marked by an X). The Braun Brewery stone building is seen to the extreme right. It was located here because of the proximity to high quality spring water.

It would stay that way, and two hundred years later, it is still an important, historic spot downtown.  It was used not only for a secure, clean personal water source for residents and visitors, but it was heavily used in the mid to late 1800s in the brewing operations, especially for the old Braun Brewery which was located in a large stone building just below the Spring.  William Braun built the blue house behind the Town Hall, and operated the brewery from about 1860-1894.  At the time the brewery closed, the railroads were being raised from ground level and Milan Ave. was raised as well.  A portion of the original road may still be seen as the cobblestone pathway that leads down to the Spring area today.  People from all over the county would come to the Old Spring to crisp, clear, cool water.  My grandmother from Lorain remembers her family making the trip to gather water for their family uses.  It was the place to go.

Old cobblestone walkway, a portion of old Milan Ave. before it was filled and raised.
Old cobblestone walkway, a portion of old Milan Ave. before it was filled and raised.

In 1914, for Old Homes Week, a stone wall backdrop of field stone or small to medium-sized glacial erractic stones was constructed to beautify the area.  A pipe had been driven into the side of the wall to better direct the flow of this unconfined aquifer, making it easier to collect the water.

A. Nabakowski, a local businessman in sheet metal and roofing, constructed a stone arch of creek rocks over the Spring area itself, connecting it to the old stone backdrop.  This beautification project was done during the early years of the Depression times.  A second, sister arch was constructed at the “new” Milan Ave. street level atop steps to enter the Spring area.  Nabakowski would employ some of his workers to maintain this area and build the arches and metal bird feeders during these difficult times, so that he would not have to fire or lay off the workers.  He spent much of his own money beautifying the area.  Newspaper articles as far back as 1919 state that the Spring area was in disrepair and in need of fixing.  It seems like a recurring problem over the years, which requires new caretakers every so often.  Col. Nahorn taken the torch and is the most recent caretaker of this important spot.

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Both stone arches built by Nabakowski may be seen here.

Things might change, but history does not.  And the Old Spring is a testament to that.  It is a reminder that there are constants, and it is a fine reminder of that right here in downtown Amherst.  Whatever happens during the day, you can always go down to the Old Spring and see the water still flowing, as it has for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Think about that.

Disrepair has once again plagued the area.  Col. Nahorn, in accordance with the New Indian Ridge Museum’s historic preservation outreach program, is in the process of (in 2013) restoring the Old Spring basin and arch that has since fallen to pieces, which once graced the Spring basin itself.  Within a year we plan to have the arch rebuilt.  In July 2013 the site was designated a Lorain County Historic Landmark by the Lorain County Historical Society and Lorain County Preservation Network, with the help of Col. Nahorn’s efforts to document the site and have it properly recognized.  We would like to thank the Timko family, who own the original Braun House (now 5 Corners Bed & Breakfast) and the Spring basin itself, for allowing us to document, preserve, and restore this very important early Amherst historic site.

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Old Spring & Braun Brewery

–Col. Matthew W. Nahorn, New Indian Ridge Museum, Amherst [revised 3/2014]

Although the large sandstone Braun Brewery building is long gone, its beautiful arched sandstone cellars still remain today.  Most residents had no idea that only a shallow layer of dirt covered these unique structures, but on March 22, 2013 during construction activities for a City storm sewer project, workers uncovered one of the cellars that had been sealed for around 80 years.  I soon learned of this find, and research began.  Only a week before, I was down at the Old Spring, working to unplug the drain and preparing to restore the Spring site once the City project was completed.  My work on the Spring however was abruptly halted, and my research shifted to the Braun family.

William (“Wilhelm”) Braun (1834-1904), the son of Justus and Emilie Braun, emigrated from Bremen, Germany and arrived at port in New York on August 2, 1852, with his parents, three brothers, and one sister.  Genealogical documents reveal his destination was Ohio, and it looks as if the family initially settled in Brownhelm.  He was only 18 at the time, and his occupation was listed as “brewer.” William first appears in Amherst tax records in 1860.

A 1954 newspaper article in the Amherst Historical Society’s files provides some insight, stating that Braun leased water from the Old Spring from Mr. Beesing, who lived directly across the street.  (The Fred Beesing house, built c. 1862, was later moved to near the corner of Cleveland Ave. and Jackson St. and still stands today.)  This was before Milan Avenue was filled and raised (c. early 1890s when the railroads were being raised), when the Spring was at road-level.  (Interestingly, a portion of the original cobblestoned Milan Ave. roadbed can still be walked on today, to enter the Old Spring area.)  It is believed that at this time, the Spring was tapped on the north side of the road, and later, this giant seep spring, or unconfined aquifer, was tapped on the south side, the present location of the “Old Spring.”  But during Braun’s early years, it looks as if the water was piped to the south side of the road for use in his brewery.  In 1914 a backdrop of fieldstones was constructed to beautify the spot for Old Home Week.  During the Great Depression years, August Nabakowski, who operated his Nabakowski Roofing & Sheet Metal business across from the Old Spring, employed workers to construct two stone arches – one at the Milan Ave. entrance and one above the Spring basin.

The Spring itself is as old as Beaver Creek, and its history with the City flows directly from the beginnings of Amherst as a town.  Of course we all recognize the Spring site as one of the most historic spots in town – where Judge Josiah Harris settled (1818) and where our town’s first Fourth of July was celebrated between Harris and Amherst’s founding father Jacob Shupe.  Josiah Harris, whom I would call the founder of the “downtown” Amherst area, a philanthropist and pillar of our early town, donated land for the schools and town hall, was a brick yard owner, a tavern owner, the first sheriff of Lorain County, a state representative, and a mayor of Cleveland.  “Ye Old Spring” as it was known, soon became the “place to go” for many Lorain County families, where they would bring their empty jugs to be filled with the fresh, cool spring water for many years until it was deemed unsafe for human consumption.  My grandmother’s family would travel from Lorain to gather water, and they would make a day trip out of this adventure.  In later years, my mother and her siblings fondly remember stopping at the Spring on their way home from school.

Located in the Beaver Creek valley, behind the Braun House, was a large stone building, which served as Braun’s brewery.  A 1963 newspaper article provides more of the story, as we learn directly from Phillip Braun, William Braun’s son, that there are two arched sandstone cellars parallel to each other and a third located just to the east.  These structures, along with Braun’s house, still exist today.  The house has been restored by the Timko family as Five Corners Bed & Breakfast.  We are still working to determine the age of the house, but it does appear on an 1874 plat map of the downtown area, along with a notation of “Brewery” denoting the large building nearby.  The sandstone brewery was demolished after Braun disbanded his brewery sometime between 1892-94, when the railroad acquired part of Braun’s property, but the cellars were not sealed until the Depression years.

The 1954 newspaper article we found in files at the Amherst Historical Society states, “…the old cellars are still there.  One wonders what people will say years from now if they ever uncover these cellars and try to determine what they were used for.”

The area around the Town Hall, encompassing Beaver Court and Milan Avenue, is steeped in history.  Having begun to delve into the history of the Braun Brewery, it is clear that a small volume could be written just on the history of this little section of our town.  My file folder of information on this topic is now quite large.

Pictures and documents at the Amherst Historical Society and New Indian Ridge Museum served as invaluable sources of information to piece together the shreds of this story.  I have been compiling a document on the history of this important story, which at present is over 60 pages long.  Once the research on this immediate project is completed, I will donate the document to the Society for our records.  Restoration of the arch that was located above the Old Spring continues.  In July, the Lorain County Preservation Network, an arm of the Lorain County Historical Society, voted to designate the Old Spring site and Braun Homestead (today 5 Corners Bed & Breakfast) a Lorain County Historic Landmark.

A very special thanks to Joan Miller Rosenbusch, Erin Holvoet, Charlie Marty, Maxine Miller, Ralph Zilch, Jim Wilhelm, Orville Manes, Fay Van Nuys Ott, and Missy and Paul Timko for their help in numerous ways in the preparation of this article.