Belmont’s Water Supply

The trails that go through the woods at Belmont take our visitors to remnants of historic artifacts from by-gone times. The sites include among other things a Ficklen period grave site, springs, an ice-pond dam and remnants of the canals that once powered huge mills in Falmouth. Several sites along the paths are identified with informational signs to explain the history behind our cultural resources.

The springs and a small building standing near the stream running through the woods northwest of the house tell the fascinating story of how fresh water was supplied to Belmont’s occupants. The shed was built 1921 to house an electric pump that pushed water to an underground cistern which could be accessed from the basement of the house. The pump house and new cistern replaced an older water supply system which used a “hydraulic ram-pump” and well house to store the water.

Melchers period pump house

Melchers period pump house

The hydraulic ram-pump was invented in England in 1772, but it wasn’t until 1832 that information began spreading across the eastern U. S. about the “simple pump that pushes water uphill using energy from falling water.” The pumps intrigued water-hungry rural Americans. A “Water Ram” could pump water from a stream or spring up a hill, a major scientific break-through.

Articles in magazines such as the Farmer’s Cabinet and American Farmer heightened recognition and understanding of the ram and its possibilities. Low cost was a major factor in growth of ram use. The machines were inexpensive to buy, simple to install, and nearly maintenance free.

Joseph B. Ficklen bought the springs property in 1860 “to provide a fresh source of water for the family at Belmont.”

Spring Head

Spring Head

Ficklen built the spring heads and piped the water to the ram; its location near the gravesite was noted in the plat created when Gari and Corinne Melchers purchased Belmont.

1916 plat showing location of ram

1916 plat showing location of ram

The ram pushed the water to the well house, the circular building in the drive near the main house, where the water was stored.

Spring house

Ca. 1860 well house, converted to spring house in 1921 when new cistern and electric pump was installed by Gari and Corinne Melchers.

For more than a century rams moved water to homes, farms, industries, railroads, and towns. They contributed to improved crop production, the introduction of extensive landscaping and gardening and, perhaps most importantly, to health and sanitation. But interest in hydraulic rams plummeted with the advent of electric pumps. The new underground cistern was built in 1921, and the springs supplied water to Belmont until the 1950s when the estate was hooked up to the county water supply.

Construction and principle of operation of a water ram:

A hydraulic ram has only two moving parts, a spring or weight loaded “waste” valve sometimes known as the “clack” valve and a “delivery” check valve, making it cheap to build, easy to maintain, and very reliable. In addition, there is a drive pipe supplying water from an elevated source, and a delivery pipe, taking a portion of the water that comes through the drive pipe to an elevation higher than the source.

Water supply methods at Belmont

 

Sequence of operation:

Ram components

Figure 2: Basic components of a hydraulic ram:
1. Inlet — drive pipe
2. Free flow at waste valve
3. Outlet — delivery pipe
4. Waste valve
5. Delivery check valve
6. Pressure vessel

A simplified hydraulic ram is shown in Figure 2. Initially, the waste valve [4] is open, and the delivery valve [5] is closed. The water in the drive pipe [1] starts to flow under the force of gravity and picks up speed and kinetic energy until it forces the waste valve closed. The momentum of the water flow in the supply pipe against the now closed waste valve causes a water hammer that raises the pressure in the pump, opens the delivery valve [5], and forces some water to flow into the delivery pipe [3]. Because this water is being forced uphill through the delivery pipe farther than it is falling downhill from the source, the flow slows; when the flow reverses, the delivery check valve closes. If all water flow has stopped, the loaded waste valve reopens against the now static head, which allows the process to begin again.

To see all the signs along our paths you are welcome to walk our trails whenever the museum is open to the public. The trails cover hilly terrain and might be muddy at times, so wear proper shoes. Please check in at the Visitor Center when you arrive.

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