I’ll never forget stumbling across my first artesian well. It felt as though I’d come across a biblical miracle! After I learned what they were, I made it my mission to track down all of them around East Central Indiana. Eventually, that trek took me to Madison County. I’ve found three there so far, but we’ll talk about two of them today.
Flowing water focuses my mind, which tends to be chaotic! That’s a big part of the reason that I love artesian wells, and now, several years after I found that first one in Granville, I’ve been to twenty-one of them. In addition to the sense of clarity they provide, I’m mesmerized by them for no other reason than that they’re just cool.
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 permeable rock. Water can’t penetrate the gray layers of impermeable strata, called confining beds, which pressurizes 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. Around central Indiana, these wells are relics from the gas boom that occurred around the turn of the twentieth century. After the gas was exhausted, the shafts and casings of the old wells began to crack. Under certain circumstances, water seeped into the casings and began to flow up and out. That’s what happened near Moonsville and Frankton.
The Moonville well
The Moonville flowing well sits just a mile west of the Delaware/Madison line. Situated on East County Road 500-North at Killbuck Creek, it appears on the Indiana Geological & Water Survey’s Petroleum Database Management System map as an old gas well on land leased from Isham W. Burton, a Richland Township farmer who owned twenty-four acres spanning both sides of the creek1.
John Forkner’s 1897 history of Madison Township refers to the hamlet near the well as Moonville and Moonsville2. INDOT maps show it as Moonville, but signs around the community say it’s Moonsville. Whatever it’s called, the place got its name from Zimri Moon, a Madison County pioneer3. At its apex, Moon(s)ville featured a schoolhouse, a cemetery, a blacksmith, a general store, and a post office4. Today, a typical traveler probably couldn’t identify it since the town is little more than a cemetery, a sign, and a cluster of homes.
Although the flowing well dates from the gas boom that brought brief prominence to many of Central Indiana’s smallest communities, Moonville is best known for the aborted Moonsville Rock Festival. If all had gone to plan, 10,000 people would have joined the town’s forty-six residents to see acts like the Bob Seger System, Brownsville Station, the Ohio Express, Rugbys, Black AN Blues play from August 14-16 in 19705.
Unfortunately, citizens were unenthusiastic about their little town turning into Woodstock. That July, nearly 150 people swamped the Moonville Conservation Club to figure out how to prevent their homes from being overrun by crazy longhairs! Madison County Sheriff Joe Brogdon and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Richard Kreegar both spoke. Kreegar suggested that locals put up “no trespassing” signs around their properties but stressed that “the days when you can shoot a man are gone6.”
The conflict ended with a whimper when residents eventually obtained an injunction to stop the festival7. These days, soybeans grow on the forty-acre site where it was to have happened. The well emerged from the controversy unaffected; it still flows about a hundred feet east of the concert site.
The Pipe Creek well, also known as Knott’s well
The Pipe Creek well sits between Frankton and Orestes, fifteen minutes northwest of Moonville. Like its cousin, the well started as a natural gas well in 1894, and it was operated by Manufacturer’s Natural Gas Company8. In 1901, a gas pumping station stood at the site.
At only four hundred feet deep9, the gas well was shallow compared to many of its contemporaries. Nevertheless, water made its way into the pipe after the boom ended and started gushing out at a phenomenal rate, said to be a gallon a second10. That remarkable flow rate makes the Pipe Creek well unlike any other flowing well I’ve seen. The well is an enormously popular place to get water. I had to wait my turn behind a guy filling up a truck bed worth of jugs to snag a quick photo and video!
Although the Pipe Creek and Moonville wells feature on the Find A Spring website, they’re not springs. Springs occur when groundwater naturally appears at the land surface11. In comparison, Artesian wells result from a boring drilled deep into an aquifer. I’m starting to think that this explanation is becoming a lot of boring drilled deep into your brain, so just remember that springs and wells are different!
Artesian wells are all over the place, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Madison County is home to more. In fact, I know of two more at Mounds State Park, which we’ll talk about another time. Another I’ve heard of once existed near the corner of Romine and Moss Island Roads; it appears to have been capped about a decade ago12.
I know of more flowing wells just outside Madison County. One I haven’t written about is a mile into Henry County on Mechanicsburg Road. The Lee Pit and Gernand-Thompson wells lie three-quarters of a mile east of Madison County in Delaware, while the Village Brook well sits on the south side of County Line Road in Hancock.
Flowing water has long been associated with purity, life, and renewal. Unfortunately, the era of free-flowing artesian wells may be coming to a close since some state governments across the country have identified them as wasteful sources of contamination. Florida’s legislature has even enacted regulations that severely limit their flow or plug them up entirely13! I don’t see that becoming a threatening issue here in Indiana, but part of me will die the day the last artesian well is plugged in some distant, post-apocalyptic wasteland. For now, all we can do is enjoy our slate of flowing wells while they’re still here and do our best to document them for the future.
1 Madison County (1903, February 1). Oliver C. Steele [Spiceland]. Map.
2 Forkner, J. & Dyson, B. (1897). Historical Sketches and Reminiscences of Madison County, Indiana. book. Anderson, IN.
3 Greene, D. (1970, July 4). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
4 Lawrence, D. (2020, August 15). Moonsville reflects on 50th anniversary of almost rock festival. The Anderson Herald Bulletin. Web. Retrieved April 22, 2023.
5 Harris, B. (1970, July 24). Where the Bands Are. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 8.
6 Residents Of Moonville Area Ponder Rock Festival Action (1970, July 30). The Anderson Herald. p. 1.
7 Rock Festival Decision Friday (1970, August 14). The Muncie Star. p. 25.
8 Well Events For IGWS ID: 143128 (2023). Well Record tables. The Indiana Geological & Water Survey. Indiana University. Web. Retrieved April 21, 2023.
9 Chambers, R. (2004, October 6). Knott Well: Refreshing water and a relaxing spot to take a break. The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
10 Watters, B. (2008, April 27). County has 2 flowing wells. The Anderson Herald Bulletin. Web. Retrieved April 22, 2023.
11 Commonly Asked Questions About Springs (n.d.) The Minnesota Department of Health [St. Paul]. Web. Retrieved April 22, 2023.
12 Neff, G. If you grew up in Anderson, IN (2014, August 3). the one on Moss Island was in somebody’s front yard but I was told it was capped off because the[Comment]. Facebook. Retrieved April 22, 2023.
13 The abandoned artesian well plugging program. St. Johns River Water Management District [Tallahassee]. Web. Retrieved April 22, 2023.