The Steam Pump at Crystal Spring
Roanoke, VA
June 7, 2009

Long before the arrival of the first westward explorers, the cool waters of Crystal Spring flowed from an unknown source into what is now southwest Virginia’s Roanoke Valley.  When Scots-Irish immigrants settled the region in the mid-1700’s, the Evans family harnessed these waters to power a grist mill, and Crystal Spring has played an important part in Roanoke’s history ever since.

Located at the base of Mill Mountain,  this water supply has figured in Roanoke history since the early 1800's.  Providing water for animals, Indians and Colonial Travelers, the spring is still responsible for a portion of the water for Roanoke City.
Crystal Spring was originally a park built around the water supply as seen in this early postcard.

 The spring is still present today but no longer visible.  It has a specially made cover over it and is beneath the tennis courts seen here!  That's Roanoke Memorial Hospital in the background.

The smaller building on the right houses the steam pump.

An early view of Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Crystal Spring is on the right.

A picnic shelter is also on the grounds.

In 1905, the City purchased the Snow Steam Pump from the Snow Steam Pump Works of Buffalo, NY.  The pump was a mechanical marvel of the day.  The pump’s 13 ft. diameter, 11-ton flywheel was designed to turn at a consistent 40 revolutions per minute to ensure steady pumping operation and it did so almost without interruption for the next 50 years.

Steam at 125 lbs pressure is supplied by these hand-fired boilers.  It is transmitted through a 5 inch diameter intake pipe and delivered to the 19 inch diameter high-pressure cylinder.  As the steam enters one end of the cylinder through an internal valve, it forces the piston to stroke the length of the cylinder.  The piston rod, which connects the piston to the crosshead, connecting rod and crank, starts the rotation of the flywheel and shaft.  The exhaust steam from the back side of the 19 inch diameter piston is discharged from the cylinder to the tank.


One of the pistons for the pumping action.

Notice the many small "pots" of oil throughout.  There's two down low in the pic near the piston rod, and above those you see three more - with another set of three on the opposite side of the pump.

This is the Water end of the pump where the water is taken in.  Power from the flywheel shaft is transmitted to the water end through cranks, connecting rods, crossheads, plunger rods and two 13.5 inch diameter plungers.  During the suction stroke of each plunger, water enters the pump through a 24 inch diameter intake opening and flows through 30 suction valves into the cylinder.  On it's return stroke, the plunger builds up pressure which closes the suction valves and forces the water out through the discharge valves.  The water then at full pressure flows out of the pump through the 16 inch diameter outlet opening and into the city water system.

Al, talking to John, gave us a very interesting tour and info on the pump.  He also gave me a chance to take a video!

The huge fly wheel
13 foot Diameter, 11 inch wide rim, weight 11 tons.

On the left is the smaller Low Pressure Steam Cylinder

Horizontal Duplex Cross Compound Pumping Engine
Capacity 5,000,000 gallons of water per 24 hours; total engine weight 200 tons.

Another view

The Crystal Spring Pump Station has been recognized as an important part of Roanoke’s history.  Through restoration efforts, clean-up and new exhibits, the Pump Station and the Snow Steam Pump have been been returned to their grandeur.  The Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Snow Steam Pump is recognized as one of the last, best examples of its kind by the Smithsonian Institution.

Various views of the pump

Sample of tools used on the Steam Pump.

This is called a governor. It's an automatic regulator of the supply of steam insuring an even speed.

Different types of oil for different parts of the pump.

This is a water main made of logs found by Conduit men while digging a trench for a new feeder on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC.  It had been laid in 1802.  The logs are 18ft long with solid iron joints and with a 3.5 inch hole bored through the middle as seen below.

This main was laid by private citizens to carry water to their Pennsylvania Avenue homes from the old "City Spring" in DC.  Imagine that!?

The historic Crystal Spring Pump Station located at the intersection of Jefferson Street and McClanahan Avenue is open to the public from May through September, on Sundays from 1-4 pm.  Visitors can experience the spectacle of the great fly-wheel rotating, the pistons pumping, and the sound of steam escaping with a hiss.

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