The twin pumps at Main and Terrace

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In the 1920s and 1930s, a lot was written about “the twin pumps” that brought fresh well water to what is now the Canalside area for most of the 1800s.

The twin pumps, at Main Street and The Terrace. The pole with white paint a few feet up is Buffalo’s Liberty Pole. The building at the right is the back side of the Mansion House, Buffalo’s most famous hotel of the era, which was fronted at Main and Exchange. Today, the area in this photograph is in the shadow of the I-190, next to the crater where Memorial Auditorium once stood.

This photo was originally published with the caption “the most historic spot in Buffalo.”

There was a lot of nostalgia for these water pumps, which served as a reminder of the way Buffalo used to be. It’s the same sort of nostalgia you might feel when I mention that these pumps were located not far from the spot where Memorial Auditorium’s front doors would eventually be built.

He wrote a weekend magazine piece about the pumps in 1954.

The two pumps, standing side by side, were operated manually by two slim, curved pump handles made of wrought iron, about 4 feet long, with a ball at the end of each handle about the size of a small orange.

The pumps stood on a stone slab about 4 feet wide by 6 feet long and about 10 inches high, and one had to reach to put a bucket on a spout. On each corner of the small plot reserved for the pumps was a stout oaken post to fend off wagons that might be inclined to drive too close.

Before running water made its way into every building, pumps attached to subterranean wells dotted the city. In the 1860s, there were more than 100 municipal water pumps at places like Hampshire and 10th, Goodell and Oak, William and Pine, Elm and Tupper, and Louisiana and South.

The twin pumps were the most popular in the city. There were many who swore by the mysterious and medicinal benefits of the water coming from the spring well belong ground level — the spring that eventually caused some difficulty in the building of the Aud and the driving several of the structures supporting the Niagara Thruway. Before masons and cement men cursed the flowing waters, grandmothers of another time would send kids down to the twin pumps to get some of that special water to fix their stomachaches or to help grandpa’s rheumatism.

The spot was also popular for travelers looking to water their horses, especially with the folks who liked to take their thirst-quenching from the water pump to Pete Hanour’s tavern nearby. Not only were the pumps centrally located, but they were also only a few feet away from the Liberty Pole, the giant flag pole that could be seen from most places downtown and was a common gathering place.

The Buffalo You Should Know: Before there was Canalside…

Some old-timers living today who drank from the well probably think that the pumps throughout the city—of which there were many—were discarded when piped water came in, but the fact is the Twin Pumps well—the daddy of all wells in the city—was the direct cause of all pumps in use in 1891 being sealed forever.—Charles W. Mix

During summer 1891, the water in the well changed color, and the taste was off. Tests conducted by the city health department showed that the popularity of the spot as hitching post — and the run-off expected from a popular hitching post — caused the well water to be contaminated.

Soon after the release of the report, all the city’s remaining wells were capped, and a sight that was so much an essential part of life in Buffalo in 1880 became fodder for history books.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.