Two artesian wells just outside of Delaware County near Matthews

In the 1940s and 50s, longtime Muncie newspaper columnist Dick Greene and his wife Mildred identified eight flowing wells within Delaware County, Indiana, and made trips to write about each of them1. I was seventy years late to the game but decided to try and follow their path. So far, I’ve found eleven flowing wells, but two more flowing wells exist just out of bounds near Matthews in Grant County.

Flowing water has the power to calm a troubled psyche. Aside from the challenge of finding these artesian wells and the satisfaction I get when I do, their mollifying abilities are a big part of what draws me to them! The word “artesian” comes from the historical province of Artois in France, where Carthusian monks were known to drill them in large quantities during the twelfth century. They require a specific set of topographical requirements to flow without a pump, and you can read more about how they work here.

The Trenton Gas Field, as depicted in part two of the Eighth Annual report of the United States Geological Survey to the Secretary of the Interior, 1886-1887.

As was the case for nearly all of Central Indiana’s artesian wells, the two I’m focusing on today were drilled during the Indiana gas boom that began in the 1880s. The town of Matthews was the epicenter of growth during that timeframe2, but the boom fizzled out about thirty years after it began. Other former boomtowns nearby feature landmark courthouses that still stand as testament to their concise prominence, but these two artesian wells serve as a reminder of Matthews’ brief eminence. 

The Kirkwood Well

The Kirkwood flowing artesian well as it appeared on July 6, 2019.

The first well sits about 2.3 miles southwest of town. I wish I could add it to my roster of artesian wells in Delaware County, but it’s twenty-five feet north of the county line on West County Road 1300-North. Drilled on September 5, 1903, by the Indiana Natural Gas and Oil Company3, the well accompanied three others on John D. Kirkwood’s land4. Kirkwood was a prominent Grant County citizen5 and the brother of a well-known Muncie violin-maker.

The Kirkwood flowing artesian well as it appeared on March 8, 2020.

The well reaches a depth of 975 feet6, but the casing cracked sometime after the Trenton Field was exhausted around 1910. Water seeped in, up, and out, and the well continues to flow today. The reason it flows is that the well taps into a pressurized aquifer. The casing serves as a pressure release that allows the water to reach equilibrium with the top of the surrounding water table.

The Kirkwood flowing artesian well as it appeared on July 6, 2019.

The well sits about six hundred feet west of where Hoppas Ditch flows underneath County Road 1300-North. It’s hard to see during the summer when the area’s overgrown, but the well can be heard from the road if it’s quiet out.

A past owner of the property added a trough system to the well so livestock could drink from it. In fact, Google’s Street View car captured cows lapping up the water in September 2013. As with other artesian wells in the area, its water stays about fifty degrees year-round and features a strong iron taste. The rest of the water flows over the sides of the trough or escapes the apparatus via a pipe that transports it under the road and into the ditch. I’ve been to the well twice, but I’ve never examined its outflow on the south side of the pavement. I’m sure it’s a vibrant orange color, thanks to the iron in the water.

The Kirkwood well sits close to County Road 1300-North on 110 acres of privately-owned farmland. I don’t advocate trespassing, but if you’d like to see it from the road, start in Matthews and take Massachusetts Avenue southwest until it reaches South County Road 900-East at Wheeling Pike/Jonesboro Road. Continue south for two-fifths of a mile and take the next right onto Grant County Road 1200-South/Delaware County Road 1300-North. Follow the road 1.8 miles to the well. It’s in front of a three-bay open pole barn.

If you’re coming from Gaston, head north on Sycamore Street and pass the old Carmen/Miller schoolhouse at County Road 1000-North. In three miles, take a left, and follow the road the 1.8 miles to the well.

The Matthews Well

Matthews, as seen in a 1903 Grant County atlas by W.B. Westlake.

The second flowing well in Jefferson Township is in Matthews. Once the gas boom came, the town grew from 13 buildings to nearly 335 almost overnight7. The community sprawled with industry so much that it absorbed an old village called New Cumberland a mile away8! New Cumberland was famous for its 1877 covered bridge, and now Matthews is: the town’s Lions Club has put on a festival celebrating it since 19719.

The Matthews flowing artesian well as it appeared on March 8, 2020.

Matthews’ flowing well sits near the bridge. I don’t know as much about it as I do about its cousin on John Kirkwood’s property, but I don’t doubt that it was also once a gas well. In 1975, a group of local business leaders called the Matthews Improvement Club restored the well10 and built a shelter over it11. The club expected it to big draw to the Covered Bridge Festival!

The well was in rough shape when I first visited it nearly half a century after it was restored: the aquifer suffered from the recent melting of a high water event that limited its flow by clogging it with muck. A friend with long-standing ties to the area, Rolland Careins, told me that previous stewards cleaned the well by dropping a long chain with a hook down inside of it to pull the gunk out11. Unfortunately, the well has seen little maintenance in recent years12. As of my last visit in 2020, water barely trickled out of the well as gas bubbled to the surface inside the head. Rolland told me that the well’s owner had plans to clean it out that spring, so I’ll have to go back and check it out again.

To get to the well in Matthews, take Massachusetts Street towards East Sixth Street, and follow signs for the covered bridge. Pull off and park past the bridge and climb down the railroad ties towards the field to the east. The artesian well sits under a gazebo near the river about four hundred feet southeast of the bridge’s northern portal.

Another shot of the Kirkwood flowing artesian well as it appeared on July 6, 2019.

I’ll stop by both wells this weekend and post a follow-up, and I hope the well in Matthews is flowing freely now. It’d be a shame to let such a cool and unusual site fall into disrepair again, especially since artesian wells seem rare in Grant County. I know of three more flowing wells there, but I haven’t been to them yet: the first is near the town of Jalapa, and the second is near Marion, the county seat. The third is in Marion’s Matter Park, but it’s enclosed and isn’t visible. I’m sure there are more I haven’t heard about, but you’ll be the first to know when I do.

Sources Cited
1 Straw, J. (2000). Dick Greene’s neighborhood Muncie, Indiana. G. Bradley Pub. [St. Louis]. Print.
2 Bump, D. (1947, March 8). It Was a “Hot Time Every Night” in Matthews’ Gay Days. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 14.
3 Well Events for IGWS ID: 136241 (2003). The Indiana Geological & Water Survey. Indiana University. Web. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
4 Westlake, W. B. (1903) Map of Grant County, Indiana. Madison, Ind.: W.B. Westlake. Map. 
5 Death of John D. Kirkwood (1905, May 8). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 10.
6 Indiana Oil and Gas Well Records Viewer (2023). Map. Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Web. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
7 (See footnote 2).
8 Simons, R. (1949, May 29). The Muncie Star. p. 88.
9 Matthews Covered Bridge Festival Will Feature Classic Automobiles (1988, September 8). The Muncie Star. p. 27.
10 Greene, D. (1976, May 1). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
11 Greene, D. (1975, June 26). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
12 Shideler, T., & Careins, R. (2019, September 3). personal communication.
13 Shideler, T., & Careins, R. (2020, March 8). personal communication.

2 thoughts on “Two artesian wells just outside of Delaware County near Matthews

  1. Well done Ted!
    I like driving around Parke county and finding the covered bridges, these type of adventures fascinate me


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