The village of Buchtel has an official song written by J.D. Jewell. The song tells the story of schools, churches and people, but it also sings the praises of Buchtel’s popular watering trough: “Morgan’s raiders came this way; And watered their horses; We’re using the same old water hole; Unto this very year; Bring a couple of empty jugs; When you come down this way; One taste of this and you’ll come back; For more another day.”
Many area residents also sing the praises of the old Buchtel watering hole, and they aren’t alone. People come from all over Southeast Ohio and as far away as Columbus to sample the cool spring water in this Athens County village and take gallons home to use for cooking and drinking.
The watering hole is located on Route 78 and Marietta Avenue in Buchtel, and it’s been around for as long as people can remember. The current concrete trough was built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, but people who remember that construction say it was preceded by a wooden trough.
The water runs from a large underground lake on land owned by Nelsonville resident Jack Oakley, but it runs onto public land from which the water flows through pipes into the water trough. Oakley said he didn’t know when the wooden trough was built.
“All I know is that we own it,” Oakley said. “I own the lot that the water runs through to the end of the watering trough that’s on the public street. It runs considerably through the hill quite a distance. My understanding is that up above Buchtel the water is not good, but the water on this side and running through the trough is very, very good and has been used by the people for a long time. The only time it’s not run was one Christmas night when it was cold as hell and frozen up. You almost always see someone getting water there when you go out there. It makes excellent water for coffee.”
Oakley said, as far as he knows, the concrete pipes through which the water runs were built by Drydock Coal Co.
“It was built originally for watering the mules that worked in the mine in the area,” he said. “I have no idea when it was originally built. But there’s no question about it — people say it’s good water and they come up here all the time to get it.”
Local historian Rodney Galentin, who served as Buchtel’s postmaster from 1971 to 1992, said no one knows what feeds the lake. Galentin has amassed numerous documents and photos about the watering hole, but he’s still searching for a photo of the wooden trough.
“I’ve been told there are pictures of it, but I haven’t seen them myself,” Galentin said. “I’d love to have a photo of the wooden trough. Anyone who has one, please call me at 753-3445.”
He said no one really knows when the water was first used as drinking water. Galentin said Buchtel was established in 1876, and, in 1913, when the village school was built, water was pumped from the trough to the school. The pump house built in 1913 to pipe water to the school still stands to the left of the watering hole. He said the school used the water until 1960.
“The trough has been there a long time. There are references that say Morgan’s Raiders watered their horses there after they left Nelsonville. They made a raid through Nelsonville in 1863 and burned canal boats and bridges, then went northwest and ended up captured in Somerset,” Galentin said. “I don’t know how long people have used that water. I can only assume it’s been running since the Earth’s been here. Nobody knows why it didn’t get sulphur in it. I think it’s because of the volume of water flowing through the pipes. There’s 100 gallons a minute going through it. I get my water out there. It’s the only thing I drink and cook with. People come from everywhere to get this water. I’ve been there when people from Columbus are filling jugs with that water. It’s just good water.”
He said in the past moonshiners used the underground lake to haul supplies to abandoned mines.
“Years ago, especially in the 1930s when we had such bad times, moonshiners would bootleg to support their families. It was commonplace because times were so rough. Hamburger was a nickel a pound, but no one had a nickel. I talked to someone who said he had a neighbor who ran a moonshine still up there.”
Local resident John L. Sullivan said he can remember when WPA workers built the concrete structure that holds the water.
“It was built in 1938. I even remember the foreman’s name — Wes Greenstead. He was the boss, and he’d give us kids heck. We’d be up there, playing in the sand, watching them work and getting in the way,” Sullivan said. “I can remember when farmers plowed their fields and they’d take their horses there. The horses would be drinking out of one end, and we’d be drinking out of the other end. We didn’t think anything of it.”
Charles Hammer, administrator of the Athens City-County Health Department, said the water isn’t tested because there hasn’t been a request for it and because the health department doesn’t test water supplies that flow from sites like that one.
“We wouldn’t test it because of the way it’s constructed,” he said. “A test could come back as negative for bacteria, but because of the way it’s constructed, it could rain overnight and the test would change. … It would possibly give someone a false assurance that the water is safe over a long period of time, and that would not be the case. A sample that was safe today might very well be unsafe tomorrow because of the construction.”
Hammer said there haven’t been reports of people getting sick from the water, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. He said he could understand why so many people like to get water there.
“It’s a dramatic-looking site that shows the history and evokes nostalgia,” he said.
Hughie McCune, who has lived in Millfield since 1937, gets his water at the Buchtel trough.
“My dad was 91 when he died, and I remember him getting water up there,” McCune said. “It’s pretty good water. It tastes like good spring water. There’s lots of people who get water up there. There’s always one or two up there all the time. It’s a lot better water there than you can get anyplace else.”