Route 1’s Historic Spring House: Circa 1683

One of the oldest structures still standing in Maryland sits just off Route 1.

Located inside the Fort Lincoln Cemetery, the Old Spring House was built by English colonists who lived in the area in 1683 on the spot of a natural spring. (The land was later granted to George Conn by Lord Baltimore, and an alternate theory is that he built it closer to 1765.)

A spring house (sometimes spelled springhouse) served two purposes: keeping leaves and dirt away from the spring water, which was sometimes thought to have healing powers, and to keep milk, butter and other dairy products cool.

With no refrigeration, colonists used ice houses, like the one at Riverdale Park Station, and spring houses. The cool spring water was fed into a trough inside the structure — in this case just 300 square feet — where it cooled the air. The thick stone walls kept heat from escaping.

President Abraham Lincoln himself once visited the area where the cemetery now is, meeting with troops to discuss strategy under a nearby oak tree and drinking from the spring. (The tree, believed to be nearly 500 years old, was struck by lightning in 1991, and a new oak was planted on the same spot.)

As far as historic structures go, the Old Spring House is a humble one, but that only makes it more compelling to visit.

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