Strange New England - Fountain of Youth

founta1When traveling, we hear rumors of many possible sights that are worthy of our time to investigate. Every once in a while we hear of one that we feel deserves our immediate attention. When we were told a story about a Shaker Fountain of Youth in Harvard Massachusetts, our ears perked with excitement.  A Fountain of Youth in New England? Was Ponce De Leon searching in the wrong place?

The shakers were a religious group that was founded in 1747 in Manchester, England. They were called in derision, “Shaking Quakers,” because of their ecstatic and violent bodily agitation in worship. The Shakers came to America shortly after the revolutionary war. Since they were not only pacifists but also British, they kept a low profile. It wasn’t until May 19, 1780, a famous event known as “Dark Day,” brought their testimony to the public attention. Soon the Shakers were experiencing a great increase in converts along with beatings, stoning and general harassment.

founta2In the mid 1800’s the shakers of the east family village of Harvard Massachusetts discovered a natural spring that rivaled the purity of the renowned Poland Springs. Due to a draught and failed wells, the local shaker communities began to drink exclusively from this spring. It wasn’t long before they noticed that this water contained unusual properties. Not only did it promote a feeling of well-being but it also increased the average lifespan by 16%. Ages of 70-80 soon became common. It would be over 50 years before the rest of New Englanders would equal that. With the vanish of the Harvard Shakers, Knowledge of this fountain of youth and its location faded too.

For months I searched through the local archives and libraries for any information on the Harvard Shakers or the spring. Information on the village was fairly easy to find but finding any solid info on the spring proved to be difficult. Knowing the fact that the village must have operated much like a town today does, I assumed that records would be kept concerning important local resources being used by the village. Finally I hit pay dirt! I discovered that the spring was on the west side of Oak Hill, and approximately one mile from the village.  I also discovered that they built an aqueduct form the spring to the village. Pulling out some old topographical maps from the early 1900’s and plotting a one-mile perimeter around the village, I quickly narrowed down my search to a small area. With my map in hand and a bit of foolish confidence, founta3I was on my way to Harvard.

Once arriving in Harvard, I was eager to find the spring and be on my way to a local coffee shop for a victory Mocha. As usual, things did not go as planned. What looks like such a small area on a map turned out to be very large. For hours I was wandering around mindlessly looking for the spring or a sign of the aqueduct. Eventually I settled down for lunch and came up with a new plan of attack. I crossed to the opposite side of route 2 to see if I could find any signs of the old aqueduct there. While searching for the aqueduct, I found many signs that I was in the right area. I located old walls and foundations. I knew I was getting close. An old bard wire fence snagged my leg, almost making me fall on my face, and tore my jeans! Obviously a booby trap set by the Quakers to protect their precious fountain. This wouldn’t be the last.

founta4While scanning a swampy area I found a marker for the old Worcester County Highway. I was on the right trail. Soon my persistence paid off. There it was plain as day, the aqueduct!! I followed it to Route 2, got my compass bearing and was off.  It was like following a giant trail of breadcrumbs left by the Shakers long ago. My luck ran out when a very large vernal pool halted me in my path. Could this be run off from the fountain? I wasn’t sure.  I made my way around the wetlands but the trail was lost. I looked high and low for the spring for an hour but found nothing. I returned to the point where I had lost the trail got my bearings and tried again. Just as I was making on last pass, I noticed a large moss covered rock in the distance. Curious I went in to investigate. To my surprise, it wasn’t a rock; it was the stone hut that secreted the fountain! I had finally found it! There it was standing guard of the springs magical waters, just as it did over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, there was no way to gain access to founta5the spring. Following up on the hunch that the pool of water that temporarily inhibited my progress was caused by the spring, I began to follow from the stone hut toward the pool. Just as I came upon the hillside above the pool, I found a broke pipe from the old aqueduct. Cold clear water was still was running strong from the pipe. It seemed to be coming out in strong pulses.  I pulled out my bottles and quickly collected as much of its waters as I could. As I sat there relaxing for a moment, I imagined how Ponce De Leon would have felt if he had found his fountain of youth.

Foolishly I scurried off to lounge at my favorite coffee shop to revel over my rediscovery of the spring. After many mochas and retelling of the story, I proceeded home with my bottles of the rejuvenating elixir. Unknowingly I had allowed time for the curse of the fountain to begin its evil work. When I got home, I put the water on ice and kicked back to relax.  Suddenly I noticed a tick. Then another tick…. and founta6another and another!! They were everywhere, on Me! What made this experience even more disturbing is that they all were deer ticks! This was obviously the final safeguard for the spring. If anyone was to find it, they would never live to tell others about it. I had found a total 8 ticks on me and several trying to find a way through the layers of clothes. For days after I experienced a tick paranoia. I became very sensitive to every odd itch and sensation. In all my years of hiking, I never had found more than one tick on myself. I though I was well prepared for these evil insects but obviously had underestimated how clever a tick could be. Concerned about lime disease, I made an appointment with my doctor the next day and fortunately the results came back negative.

~ Strange New England



You can find more information about the Shakers & the Shaker Spring at:

In Historic Harvard Town

Mass Mysteries

Shaker Trail – Self-Guided Tour & Hike


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