Big Spring Creek and the Village of Springfield

Big Spring Creek is a five-mile-long tributary of Conodoguinet Creek in Cumberland County. It is formed by the fifth largest spring in Pennsylvania with a median flow of 18 million gallons a day. The headwaters are near U.S. Route 11, approximately eight miles northeast of Shippensburg, and it empties into Conodoguinet Creek near Newville.1

In the mid­1700s, settlers were attracted to land near Big Spring Creek, sometimes called “the great spring” in early records, because it provided power for a variety of mills, fishing, a domestic water supply and other uses. Also, during the Colonial era, England offered grants of land to those who would develop grist mills to supply flour to British troops; eventually there were six grist mills along this waterway. Laughlin's Mill, in Newville, was the first mill built on Big Spring Creek, and it is the only mill still standing along the creek.2 By 1784, William McCracken, who had built a grist mill at the stream's headwaters, owned 164 acres near the spring. He laid out a town that he named Springfield and offered over 50 lots for sale. In 1793, McCracken and others proposed that a schoolhouse be built near Springfield.3

During the Civil War, Springfield was a village of approximately 200 residents; it consisted of 50 dwellings including a store, a tavern, a schoolhouse, a tin shop, two barrel factories, two saddler shops, three shoemaker shops, a saw mill, and a tannery. Because of its location along well-traveled routes between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the community enjoyed considerable economic activity. When newer roads were built, Springfield declined. In 2014, only a few homes and the stone building where barrels were once made remain to testify to the existence of this community.4

Big Spring Creek, a limestone, spring-fed creek, is part of the historic beginnings of fly fishing in America. It is so similar to an English Chalk stream that English writers often reported on the stream in the 1930s and 1940s. The native brook trout population in this stream, unlike similar fish in mountain streams, is very selective regarding insect prey and spends a great deal of time surface feeding. Temperatures of 46 to 51 degrees year-round and an abundant supply of insects promoted a robust population of brook trout until 1972. That was the year when a fish hatchery built by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission near the creek became operational. Shortly thereafter the native brook trout population decreased dramatically. It wasn't until 1997 that a two-year environmental study showed that the cause of this decline was effluent released into the stream from the hatchery. Further studies by the Department of Environmental Protection and pressure from citizens' groups forced the closure of the hatchery in 2001. The stream made a remarkable comeback, and by 2008, it was the most productive brook trout stream in the nation.5

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Similar Entry

West Pennsboro Township

Conodoguinet Creek, Heishman's Mill, near West Hill.

The recorded history of West Pennsboro Township began in 1735 when it was part of Pennsborough, one of two original townships in the North Valley. This preceded the formation of the county by fifteen years. By 1745, Pennsborough had divided into East and West Pennsboro. In the following years, the township boundaries changed as the population increased and the townships subdivided even more. 

References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

[1] From Wikipedia: U.S. Geological Survey, National Hydrography Dataset, high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed August 8, 2011.

[2] The Evening Sentinel, Carlisle, March 10, 1984.

[3] The American Volunteer, Carlisle, April 5, 1899.

[4] Robert A. Kressler, Grist Mills Along the Big Spring, a research paper submitted to the Department of History and Social Science at Shippensburg State College, Shippensburg, PA, 1962, 19.

[5] [for a complete evaluation of data, studies, and reports of what happened on this stream go to:]