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What Is This Strange Water Feature?

September 27th, 2013

I have seen these concrete triangles in the river before. But I had never noticed the spring water bubbling up. What is this strange water feature? [PHOTO: Michael Krauklis]
Last week a reader, Michael Krauklis, sent me this picture and asked two perplexing questions. Michael said, “I’ve worked downtown just next to the Broad Street bridge for 11 years now, and the entire time there has been a strange feature in the river just south of the bridge external link. Upon first glance it appears to be a spring, in the middle of the river, but with further inspection one can see the carcass of an old abandoned structure surrounding it… What was the original purpose of this and where is the water is coming from?”

I have seen these strange concrete triangles in the river myself, and I know there are more than one of them. But I had never noticed the spring water bubbling up! In either case, I had no good answer for Michael. So, I started digging. Here’s what I found out…

Thomas Hack, Chief Structural Engineer with the City of Rochester tells me he’s looked into these mysterious triangles before too. He says, “They appear to be cofferdams that were used for a variety of reason in the early 1900’s. The main purpose was to de-water Genesee River when they were blasting the rock profile back in 1905. They needed to keep the excavation somewhat dry so they erected these concrete cofferdams.”

Here are some archival photos that show what this excavation process looked like…

Here a workman poses with his steam drill under the Broad Street Bridge. Explosives will be used to deepen the river bed. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Here a workman poses with his steam drill under the Broad Street Bridge, shortly before the first explosive blast is to be touched off. The river has been drained and will be deepened to help prevent future floods in downtown Rochester. Take note of those holes he’s drilling.

Concrete flows down a chute from a concrete mixer on the Andrews Street Bridge. It flows into wheeled hoppers that move on railroad tracks to the work area. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Concrete flows down a chute from a concrete mixer on the Andrews Street Bridge. It flows into wheeled hoppers that move on railroad tracks to the work area.

Men work from narrow wooden platforms filling concrete forms with sand bags. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Men work from narrow wooden platforms filling concrete forms with sand bags.

Three workmen push a hopper along a raised trestle in the middle of the Genesee River. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Three workmen push a hopper along a raised trestle in the middle of the Genesee River. The hopper moves along a set of tracks located between the Andrews Street Bridge, where a concrete mixer waits.

Diver Pat Welch goes down in the Genesee River bed to check for leaks in the walls of the cofferdams. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
Diver Pat Welch goes down in the Genesee River bed to check for leaks in the walls of the cofferdams. The cofferdams will keep part of the riverbed dry for the river deepening project.

There's Pat. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone]
There’s Pat.

Here's another view of the triangle and the spring water.
Okay, so that sounds like a reasonable explanation for triangles. But why is this one spewing water like a natural spring? To find out, I turned to Bill Chaisson. Bill holds a Ph.D. in Geology. When I showed him the photos he immediately recognized it as the “Artesian effect.” AH HA!

Uh… dur… what the hell is the Artesian effect?

When water flows out of the ground on its own, without pumping, that is known as an Artesian Well. The name “Artesian” is derived from Artois, France, where such wells were sunk as early as 1126.

The Artesian effect is one possible explanation for the natural spring. [IMAGE: RochesterSubway.com]
In this particular case, Bill explains, “the water piled up behind the Court Street dam is being forced downward into fractures (joints, or other connected cavities) behind the dam.”

The water works its way down into permeable rock, like limestone or sandstone, underneath the damn. This porous stone is sandwiched between a top and bottom layer of impermeable clay or shale rock which keeps the water pressure high. So wherever that water can find an opening, “it will gurgle up” to the surface.

Remember the photo of the workers drilling into the river bed? Those holes have provided an escape route for the pressurized water beneath the rock… and VOILÀ!! Rochester has its very own Artesian Well.

Fascinating! Thanks to Tom Hack and Bill Chaisson. And thanks to Michael K. for asking the tough questions.

UPDATE: A commenter on Facebook pointed out another triangle at the Sister Cities pedestrian bridge. It seems this one was part of a fountain that worked for a few months in the late 1960’s when the bridge was new. It clogged with silt and stopped working. The triangle discussed in this post is from a much earlier time period. It can be seen in photos from the early 1920’s.

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 27th, 2013 at 8:00 am and is filed under Rochester History, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Exploration, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “What Is This Strange Water Feature?”

  1. Vicki says:

    Wow. I swear this is the most awesome website on the Intertubes.

  2. ray knobs says:

    Nice touch with the fish graphic

  3. apwoz says:

    Thank you for labeling the fish I was very confused.

    but seriously this is interested. I like learning about this type of stuff.

  4. Dave Vogler says:

    wow, I was just looking at this on saturday. Thank you for reading my mind and answering my questions before I could think of them!

  5. Rick says:

    Awesome find/research. You can see in this pic where they cut down the river bed: http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6085/6094714441_6fe175d1ca_b.jpg

    That must have been a ton of work.

  6. UPDATE: A commenter on Facebook pointed out another triangle at the Sister Cities pedestrian bridge. It seems this one was part of a fountain that worked for a few months in the late 1960’s when the bridge was new. It clogged with silt and stopped working. So that begs the question… was this triangle near the aqueduct bridge also a fountain? I think I’m just as confused as I was before.

  7. Mike Jessup says:

    Thank God for this website and the people who work so hard on it. For all the people in Rochester who really do care about the history of our city, we thank you for answering all the questions we thought we would never find the answers too. Love this site…….

  8. Thanks @Mike. It’s just me – one dude. Anyone can do this stuff. It’s great fun.

  9. Dave Gottfried says:

    I used to work by the Sisters City bridge at the old Chamber of Commerce and always wondered about the old fountain there. I’ve been searching for ANY pictures of the thing actually in operation, and have come up with nothing so far. If you ever find anything, be sure to post it! I’d love to know what the fountain actually looked like ON!

  10. JT Ambrosi says:

    Cool. Mystery solved by research and great writing.

  11. Debbie Adams says:

    Thank you for the very interesting, offbeat articles about old Rochester. I really enjoy reading them and seeing the pics of old blogs etc..

  12. KevinD says:

    I have never seen any pictures of a fountain at this particular site. But now I’m going to look even harder at old pictures of the Court Street bridge…

  13. I dug through some more photos at the Public Library today. You can see the triangle in this photo of Broad Street (c.1923)…

    And you can seen a large cofferdam in the lower left corner of this 1917 photo. It’s not a small triangle but a much larger squared off space…

    I haven’t found any photos of the fountain at the Sister Cities Bridge yet. But here’s one from just before it opened. The fountain would be right in the center of the arms of the “Y”…

    Still searching…

  14. Rebecca Fuss says:

    The Rochester Public Library is offering “River to Roof” Tours of the Rundel Memorial building this weekend for the city’s River Romance. Friday Oct. 4 at 2pm and Saturday Oct. 5 at 12:30 and 2:30. If you like the old library and its relationship to the river, this tour is a must! Call 428-8350 to make a reservation.

  15. Jason Haremza says:

    Fascinating. Excellent work sir!

  16. Rich Rolwing says:

    The malfunctioning fountain is “Front Street’s Revenge.” Or, it could be that nobody cared about fixing it because nobody noticed it to begin with.

  17. John says:

    When I was young I lived in Gates. We used to take a bus down Lyell Ave. to Broad St. We would ride the subway from Lyell Ave. to South Ave. There was a natatorium on South Ave. For a quarter we could swim all day. There were showers & locker rooms.There are a number of stories about the street cars & subway.

  18. john gormley says:

    in the 30’s and later,we kids in Rochester were fascinated by the big snapping turtles sunning near Broad st. bridge.I an going back a bit…being 90 years oldin 2013! Wow! has Rochester changed since I left48 years ago!

  19. Bud Lowell says:

    Re the Sister Cities Fountain; I remember a story on “Rochester Failures” many years ago in the D&C (in the 1980s). IIRC, the fountain was one of those Johnson-era urban beautification things. They turned it on and after a brief period it silted up and quit working. They repaired it at a rather large cost and turned it on again, whereupon after a brief period it silted up and quit working again. They then evidently said “the hell with it.”

  20. A model showing Rochester's Sister Cities Bridge and the forgotten fountain. c1960s.

    I just found a book that talks about Rochester’s forgotten fountain by Donovan Shilling. It includes a small photo of a model that shows the Sister Cities Bridge and fountain.

    The passage talks about how the fountain was turned on for a brief moment by the engineers who installed it. Water gushed 40 feet in the air. But the next time they flipped the switches to turn it on, nothing happened. The contractor, already in the hole seven to eight thousand dollars, gave up on the project after estimating it would cost another six thousand to fix the electrical problem.


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