Missouri: "The Spring State"

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

Missouri is sometimes called "The Cave State," but it could just as appropriately be nicknamed "The Spring State." For where there are caves, there are, or at least once were, springs. Caves give rise to springs. Both are features of karst terrain, a porous landscape formed in areas of limestone and dolomite bedrock. Weakly acidic, percolating rainwater dissolves and widens openings in these rocks until a flowing spring system develops. Much of Missouri has karst terrain, which explains our numerous caves - and springs.

Many creeks in the Ozarks would be bone-dry for much of the year if not for their feeder springs. Flowing springs also create a variety of unique and interesting habitats. Some animals and plants, like mottled sculpins and watercress, are adapted to the constant cool temperatures near the spring mouth, while others find a more comfortable home where spring waters join streams.

Springs are historically significant to life in Missouri. The remains of ground sloths, muskox, mastodons and other ancient creatures have been unearthed from the boggy muck of Missouri springs.

Since springs are reliable water sources, it is not surprising that archaeologists find a large number of prehistoric human habitation sites near them. Native Americans and westward migrating settlers established hunting camps and villages near productive springs. Springfield, for example, was founded near a natural "well," a pit-cave opening down into a subterranean spring pool.

The geographic distribution of springs profoundly impacted settlement patterns in the state. At least 65 Missouri communities have names that contain the word, "spring." Springs also served as the first public water supplies for many towns. Aurora, Bolivar, Mt. Vernon, Neosho, Ozark, Palmyra, Pierce City, Springfield, Sullivan, Warrensburg and Webb City all used springs as water supplies at some point. Springfield is unique among cities in that it still uses a large spring for a significant portion of its water supply.

Springs generated and sustained a variety of commercial and industrial enterprises. Some served as refrigerators for dairies. Others furnished cheap, reliable power for mills and provided water for tanneries, canneries, factories and pickling operations, as well as boiler water for steam locomotives.

Cool, shady spring glens became focal points for community gatherings, picnic sites, swimming holes, fishing camps and pleasure parks. The social legacy of springs, in fact, survives in the many city parks that feature springs as centerpieces. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some springs even

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