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The hills are great sponges that do not and cannot hold the water that is precipitated upon them, but let it filter through at the bottom. This is the way the sea has robbed the earth of its various salts, its potash, its lime, its magnesia, and many other mineral elements. It is found that the oldest upheavals, those sections of the country that have been longest exposed to the leeching and washing of the rains, are poorest in those substances that go to the making of the osseous framework of man and of the animals. Wheat does not grow well there, and the men born and reared there are apt to have brittle bones. An important part of those men went downstream ages before they were born. The water of such sections is now soft and free from mineral substances, but not more wholesome on that account.

The gigantic springs of the country that have not been caught in any of the great natural basins are mostly confined to the limestone region of the Middle and Southern States,–the valley of Virginia and its continuation and deflections into Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Through this belt are found the great caves and the subterranean rivers. The waters have here worked like enormous moles, and have honeycombed the foundations of the earth. They have great highways beneath the hills. Water charged with carbonic acid gas has a very sharp tooth and a powerful digestion, and no limestone rock can long resist it. Sherman’s soldiers tell of a monster spring in northern Alabama,–a river leaping full-grown from the bosom of the earth; and of another at the bottom of a large, deep pit in the rocks, that continues its way under ground.

There are many springs in Florida of this character, large underground streams that have breathing-holes, as it were, here and there. In some places the water rises and fills the bottoms of deep bowl-shaped depressions; in other localities it is reached through round natural well-holes; a bucket is let down by a rope, and if it becomes detached is quickly swept away by the current. Some of the Florida springs are perhaps the largest in the world, affording room and depth enough for steamboats to move and turn in them. Green Cove Spring is said to be like a waterfall reversed; a cataract rushing upward through a transparent liquid instead of leaping downward through the air. There are one or two of these enormous springs also in northern Mississippi,–springs so large that it seems as if the whole continent must nurse them.

The Valley of the Shenandoah is remarkable for its large springs. The town of Winchester, a town of several thousand inhabitants, is abundantly supplied with water from a single spring that issues on higher ground near by. Several other springs in the vicinity afford rare mill-power. At Harrisonburg, a county town farther up the valley, I was attracted by a low ornamental dome resting upon a circle of columns, on the edge of the square that contained the court-house, and was surprised to find that it gave shelter to an immense spring. This spring was also capable of watering the town or several towns; stone steps led down to it at the bottom of a large stone basin. There was a pretty constant string of pails to and from it. Aristotle called certain springs of his country “cements of society,” because the young people so frequently met there and sang and conversed; and I have little doubt this spring is of like social importance. There is a famous spring at San Antonio, Texas, which is described by that excellent traveler, Frederick Law Olmsted. “The whole river,” he says, “gushes up in one sparkling burst from the earth, with all the accessories of smaller springs,–moss, pebbles, foliage, seclusion, etc. Its effect is overpowering. It is beyond your possible conception of a spring.”