A Visit to the Fountain of Youth

stone spring house embedded in wooded hillside
Fountain of Youth, North Park, Summer 2021

From the road, it is impossible to see much detail in the odd structure lurking in the woods. Built directly into the hillside with an impressive array of flora stretching up as far as the eye can see, there is a proscenium-like opening in the tree canopy such that it’s visible right from Kummer Road.

It’s obvious this is neither one of North Park’s many party shelters nor anything too utilitarian, so you’ll know you’re onto something out of the ordinary. Get closer and the etched stone ornament above the doorway clearly, cryptically, tantalizingly reads Fountain of Youth.

detail of capstone on spring house engraved as "Fountain of Youth"
Capstone, Fountain of Youth

Two visits to the fountain, separated by fifteen months and one global pandemic. The first–literally days before the world shut down in March, 2020–was brisk, way before leaves had returned to the trees, but lit up in glorious early afternoon sunshine under a pure blue sky. The second, mere weeks ago, on a hot and humid June afternoon, following the inevitably-introspective event of a friend’s gone-way-too-soon memorial service and a really rough few months in Nogginland.

If you, your friends, and loved-ones survived the pandemic with your (physical) health intact, be thankful. It was a really difficult year-and-change even if everyone in your world is still breathing. At best, we all probably feel like a year of our lives just evaporated into the aether.

interior view of the spring at the Fountain of Youth
An offering for the fountain sprites

Under these circumstances, who wouldn’t want to dip a ladle into a cool spring and drink crystalline mountain water–spiked with faerie dust, magick-infused, and blessed by the cosmos–to regain a measure of our collective lost year?

Spoiler alert: Don’t get your hopes up. First of all, no one (including your author) is recommending you drink the water from The Fountain of Youth. A 2019 Pittsburgh Magazine story informs us that by the 1950s, “tests revealed the fountain’s waters were no longer fit for human consumption due to ‘coliform organisms.'” Rumors have it that leaks within the nearby golf course watering system led to the spring’s demise. One can imagine graduating seniors from nearby North Allegheny and/or Pine Richland contaminating the water the old-fashioned way.

view through stone doorway to sunny wooded area
View from inside of the Fountain of Youth

The basic facts on The Fountain of Youth are both easy to find [Atlas Obscura, Roadside America, and WESA’s “Good Question!” series all got there before we did] and yet don’t tell us much at all. These sources agree the New Deal-created Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed the spring house in 1938 and modeled the design to look like a Roman cavern. The short life (~15 years) of the spring as a water source, the pump-don’t-work-’cause-the-county-took-the-handle, and that stuff about water contamination are in common as well.

That’s about it, though. No one has an explanation for how a government works program decided to declare this place Fountain of Youth and not, you know, something more predictable like “Roosevelt Spring” or “Liberty Fountain.”

entrance to spring house grotto built into wooded hillside
Entrance to the Fountain of Youth spring house, winter 2020

It is a cruel irony–or, perhaps, the most clever of cosmic jokes–that as a functional entity the “Fountain of Youth” had a lifetime shorter than that of your average house cat. But the ornate built-into-the-hillside structure is still with us, sheltering in the rain, cool and tranquil in the heat of summer, and enticing the inner, curious child in all of us (ahem) no-longer-children out into the woods for an eye-opening explore.

Does simply breathing in the clean air of the Fountain of Youth give us a regenerative contact high? Does a proximity to natural spring water cleanse the soul even if we don’t ingest it? Does it matter? The Fountain of Youth got us up and out, into the woods, poking, pondering, and bathed in sunlight. So yes, it seems like the Fountain of Youth is still working its magic just fine.

spring house grotto built into wooded hillside
Fountain of Youth, seen from Kummer Road, late winter 2020

Getting there: The Fountain of Youth is maybe 100 feet off of Kummer Road, in North Park. It’s 0.7 miles north of the intersection with Ingomar Road and has a marker on Google Maps–you won’t have any problem finding it if you look.

Note: While the distance from the roadside is short, getting to the spring house from the road requires shinnying down a little hill, crossing a small stream, and then up again on the other side. The site is neither wheelchair-accessible nor recommended for those with any level of mobility problems or difficulty negotiating awkward terrain.

Get Out The Voegt: Finding the Spring Hill Spring

natural spring in concrete pedestal embedded in hillside, Pittsburgh, PA

Spring is sprung: Voegtly Spring, The Spring Hill spring

Ask a Spring Hill local how to get to the neighborhood’s newly-unearthed and re-opened natural spring and he or she will make it real easy for you: “It’s right by the boxing ring.” Me: “Oh, thank you very much, that helps a lot. Just one more question: where’s the boxing ring?”

From there, it just gets more confusing. The “boxing ring” is actually the Steel City Boxing Association and Google Maps puts it way down the hill from its true location. Assuming you do find the right place, the stonework is engraved Hook & Engine Co. 53 for its (former?) life as a fire hall and contains no after-market mention of the sweet science.

How about the Internet–a recently excavated and restored piece of local history should be front page news, right? Well, you try a web search for “Spring Hill spring”–it’s un-Googleable! Spring Hill’s Internet presence doesn’t assist at all–there’s nary a peep about the spring from the neighborhood associations or its wiki page. C’mon, guys–help a blogger out!

Rest assured, dear reader: if we achieve nothing else, The Orbit will get you to the Spring Hill spring.

Detail from public mosaic "The German Settlers of Spring Hill" depicting the Spring Hill spring, Pittsburgh, PA

“The German Settlers of Spring Hill” (detail) mosaic depicting Voegtly Spring, Spring Hill

A large mosaic installation titled The German Settlers of Spring Hill welcomes visitors near the corner of Homer and Damas Streets*, one of just a few access points to the hilltop neighborhood. The final section of the four-panel piece features various community members in old world garb gathered around the image of the hearth-like Voegtly Spring, the natural water source that gave Spring Hill its name.

In that depiction, the spring is a flooding outpour overflowing its basin, its output equal to a dozen garden hoses. That’s not exactly what we found. The constant stream of water–there is no Off valve to a natural spring–is more of a dribble or a trickle than the gusher one might expect from the artwork mere feet away. That may have something to do with us visiting after a run of dry weather, so we’ll have to go back to verify after a decent stretch of rain.

masonry enclosure around pipe dribbling natural spring water, Pittsburgh, PA

The spring

Some background, from the Voegtly Spring historic nomination form**:

A stream ran down from the top of Spring Hill, ran through the intersection of Humboldt St. (now Homer St.) and an unnamed street (now Damas St.) and down into modern day Spring Garden (Fig. 4). In 1912 a rectangular stone and concrete structure was built into the shale hillside alongside Damas St. (formerly Robinson Road) to harness the flow of water beneath the ground to provide easy access to drinking water for the residents of the neighborhood and surrounding area.

The nomination form goes on to mention that “the spring water was tested and shut off sometime in the 1950s” and that house construction above the spring “may have contributed to [its] contamination”. Furthermore, “It is reported that during this time the spring water developed a distasteful odor and became a yellowish orange color.”

There’s no official word on whether the discoloration is still in effect, but it looked fine to my admittedly low standards. Despite the warning that “public works does not encourage its use because [the water] is not treated”, it’s certainly right there for the drinking and let’s face it: it’s cool to suck spring water right out of the hillside. Lesser journalists–speculative or otherwise–would turn toward home after snapping some pictures, but this blogger rushed in for a righteous century-in-the-making quaff.

glass of water from Voegtly Spring, Pittsburgh, PA

No discoloration here. Voegtly Spring water.

So…what does Voegtly Spring’s water taste like? Well, it ain’t Perrier, that’s for sure. If it’s not too vague, we’ll describe it as earthy, or maybe minerally. Flavorful–but I wouldn’t describe that flavor as desirable. It’s maybe a little gritty–like a woodsy stream–surprisingly warm, and decidedly different from city tap water (for good or bad). That said, it doesn’t have the natural toe-tingling effervescence of more celebrated waters. I’ll go out on a limb to suggest it’s unlikely we’ll encounter Winnebagos parked on Damas Street with tourists filling five-gallon jugs like you regularly see down in Berkeley Springs.

I’ll be honest: there’s not a lot else to do at the spring. You can drink from it straight like a water fountain and you can fill up a jug. That’s pretty much it. As entertainment, a visit is pretty low rent compared to, say, Pac-Man or The Jumble. Regardless, it’s a neat little old world nugget to trip across if you find yourself hanging out by the boxing ring or, more practically, desperately need some hydration and can’t quite make it down to Penn Brewery.

Here, on this eve of an incredibly important national election, we can only recommend that Orbiteers first get out and vote. And then, if you’re still not satisfied, get out and Voegt.

masonry enclosure for natural spring in hillside, Pittsburgh, PA

Voegtly Spring, The Spring Hill spring

Getting there: Voegtly Spring is on Damas Street, just off Homer. When you see the old Hook & Ladder Company or the big public mosaic/garden, you’re real close. The easiest way to get there (especially on bicycle) is from Spring Garden Avenue, up the hill on Homer. We’ve also added a pin for the spring to our Map page.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted an August, 2016 Post-Gazette piece on the re-opening of the spring that incorrectly lists Fred and Wilbert Bergman as the builders. The Bergmans took the earliest known photograph of the spring, but construction was done by the city Department of Public Works.


* The mosaic was constructed by a large group at the leadership of Linda Wallen, whose Yetta Street mosaics (also in Spring Hill) we profiled last year.
** A big thank-you to Spring Hill resident James Rizzo for helping to clarify the facts on ownership and construction of Voegtly Spring.