The narrow dirt lane behind Ken and Charlotte Kitchen’s home leads back in time, to a place where history flows from a hillside.
“This is it: the Windsor Spring,” Ken Kitchen said, gesturing toward a low wall where water trickles noisily into a marble cistern.
The spring, said to have been named by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, is a family treasure of sorts that has recently been given permanent protection through a conservation easement.
“It used to be a lot bigger,” Kitchen said of the land nearby, which includes 86 acres and the couple’s 1840s home, known as Seclusaval.
“It’s gone from thousands of acres to hundreds to where we are today,” he said.
Charlotte’s grandfather – George M. Clarke – established the Windsor Spring Water Company there in 1907.
The business thrived for a century, serving clients as lofty as President William Howard Taft, before finally closing in 2007.
The earliest owners of the once vast plantation included Paul Fitzsimons, who built the stone walls that still surround the spring – and who died there in 1840.
Augusta’s first mayor, Freeman Walker, was another owner, whose family held the property until Clarke arrived in 1970.
Over time, though, the property has been carved into smaller parcels and whittled away by development.
The Kitchens wanted to spare the remaining area from further encroachment.
Their quest led them to the Central Savannah River Land Trust, a non-profit group that works to protect sensitive natural areas through conservation easements that leave private ownership intact.
The easements recently placed on the property will keep it protected in perpetuity, said Hazel Cook, the organization’s executive director.
“But for whoever owns it later, the restrictions we put on it today will last forever,” she said.
Conservation easements can be drafted to allow some activities, such as removal of damaged trees, but are designed to keep natural areas intact to promote their benefits to the environment.
The Windsor Spring property, just the road that bears its name, includes monstrous loblolly pines, ancient cedars twisted by time and magnolias that once shaded Easter egg hunts of long ago.
It is also a critical link in a natural chain that provides clean water and protects streams, Cook said.
“This spring is one of the origins of Butler Creek,” she said. “By having all these mature forests and gullies preserved, they act like natural filters that benefit streams and rivers.”
The land trust, formed in 2001, has created similar measures of protection for more than 6,000 acres.
Kitchen said he and his wife are pleased to create a lasting legacy that includes the Windsor Spring and its historic surroundings.
“These days, there is so much pressure to develop,” he said. “But unless there is some kind of ironclad guarantee, sometimes what you want to happen can be changed later.”