The artesian well at Granville, Indiana

I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled across a flowing artesian well.  It was midnight and I was twenty, fresh off a shift at my call center job. No twenty-year-old wants to stagger home and hit the sack right after work, so in those days I’d go explore the countryside by car. One night, with no idea where I was, I slowly crossed an iron bridge and found myself staring at a pair of enormous boulders that -I swear- had water spewing out of them. At that moment, I felt as though I had stumbled upon a biblical miracle.

The flowing well east of Granville, Indiana in northern Delaware County.

I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t even get out of my car! I’m not a religious person, but right there at midnight in the Indiana countryside I felt connected to the ancient past: I was in awe of the power of the divine and felt a powerful sense of peace and connection to something greater than me. It was a life-changing experience and one that I will never forget.

Of course, that sentiment looks incredibly naive and melodramatic nowadays as it stares back at me from a computer monitor. But I was naive and melodramatic in my early twenties- it’s really what I felt! Of course, if I’d been smart enough examine my surroundings, I’d have realized that the water poured out of a squat, cylindrical casing that only sat between the two humongous fieldstones. Rather than inadvertently crossing paths with my own personal reenactment of Numbers 20:10-13, I’d found my first artesian well.

This diagram is not to scale.

An artesian well is a type of well that’s been drilled into an aquifer where the water pressure is high enough to cause the water to flow to the surface under its own pressure without the need for a pump. The diagram I made above represents how they work in an oversimplified way: the brown area represents normal, permeable rock. The gray layers of impermeable strata, called confining beds, pressurize the aquifer, shown in blue. Drilling a casing into the confined aquifer allows the water to reach equilibrium with the top of the water table, a level called the piezometric surface, which is shown here by the dashed line.

There are also non-flowing artesian wells, one of which is represented at the upper left of the diagram. It’s a well that’s been driven into the confined aquifer at a higher elevation than the piezometric surface: the water still rises through the well casing, but not enough to actually flow to the surface of the ground. For the rest of this article, we’ll assume that “artesian well” refers to the flowing type. The wells themselves get their name from the historic province of Artois in France, where Carthusian monks were known to drill them in large quantities during the twelfth century.

Satellite imagery courtesy of Schneider Geospatial’s Beacon app. Map data courtesy of the Delaware County Assessor’s office.

Here’s the science backed up with some data: the well I discovered sits in the elbow of the road pictured in the image above, at an elevation of 894.27 feet above sea level. That’s about seven feet above the field to the west of it. The confined aquifer extends underneath the crops there to provide a piezometric level for the well’s water to rise to.

A few years later, my grandparents gave me a book that featured photographs taken by a man named Dick Greene. A reporter for the Muncie Star from 1945 to 1983, Greene and his wife, Mildred, located eight artesian wells in Delaware County and made trips to each of them. As you might imagine, I took the Greenes’ total as a personal challenge to surpass: As of this writing, I’ve been to eleven flowing artesian wells in Delaware County, along with eight more in the surrounding areas. I know of several I haven’t gotten out to yet, and at least two of the artesian wells the Greenes’ visited have been removed.

Here’s another view of the flowing well near Granville. The hamlet of Granville, itself, is located down the road near the rear of the image.

Clearly, this area of the state has more artesian wells than might be expected, and we have the Indiana gas boom to thank for that: Although the Trenton Gas Field was first discovered in 1876, its vast size and commercial potential wasn’t fully understood or realized until the 1880s. At more than 5,000 square miles, the field was the largest that’d ever been discovered up to that time! Unfortunately, the majority of the gas was wasted and the boom was over by 1910, but much of the infrastructure installed during that time is still in place today. Take, for example, the gas wells: over time, their shafts and casings began to crack. Water seeped into the pipes and began to flow out of those that’d been drilled through confined aquifers.

That’s exactly what happened at Granville and though it sounds bizarre, artesian wells that need dredged or otherwise have a limited flow rate do smell like natural gas. I even burned the hair off of my left arm while inspecting the remains of one west of Delta High School’s softball fields! That said, it’s not uncommon for people to drive miles to fill jugs from these! I’ve drunk from all of them I’ve been to: they taste like well water. If you intend to take a trip, heed a word of caution first! Any continuously-flowing source of water may test safe one day and unsafe the next. The least dangerous, according to my understanding, are those that eject the flow of water away from their base like a faucet or a fountain. But I’m not a lawyer.

The artesian well at Granville empties into a pipe that goes under the road in order to drain into the Mississinewa River. Many others I’ve been to meander towards creeks and ditches and drains out in the open. Biblical notions of awestruck realizations aside, I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to these places. But in his poem, The Brook, Tennyson wrote:

“…”And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.”

I think that might be it.

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