Two artesian wells in Madison County’s Mounds State Park

Mounds State Park has a fascinating history that spans several eras. Not only is it home to ten prehistoric earthworks, but it was also the site of an amusement park from 1897 to 19291! The place is the perfect spot for artesian wells to flourish thanks to its location on a limestone bluff high above the river. So far, I’ve been able to locate two.

One of Mounds State Park’s two artesian wells. Photo taken April 23, 2023.

I don’t intend to provide the park’s complete history here since doing that would take an entire book. Nevertheless, I can’t proceed to its flowing wells without mentioning the mounds, its raison d’etre: these earthen enclosures were built by the Adena culture around 250 B.C. The largest is the Great Mound, which spans 394 feet across and nine feet tall. The ditch is 10.5 feet deep, and the central mound measures 138 feet2.

The Great Mound, as it appeared on April 23, 2023.

Researchers theorize that the Adena used the mounds for astronomical observation since archaeologists have identified features ringing the Great Mound’s embankment that align with the sun’s position during the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. Other dips reference the alignments of prominent stars3.

Earthwork B is one of the park’s smaller enclosures. Its location matches the trajectory of the star Fomalhaut as it rises during the fall, and its companion, Earthwork D, aligns with the sunset during the winter solstice. Elsewhere in the park, the gateway of the Circle Mound is positioned towards due east and west, and other corner alignments identify the winter and summer solstices following the position of the sun4. Many years after the Adena built the mounds, the Hopewell culture used them for ceremonial purposes5.

Earthwork D is more prominent in person than in this photograph, taken on April 23, 2023.

European settlers first described the mounds in an 1803 land report that charted the Northwest Territory. The first record of the Great Mound itself came in an 1821 federal land survey6. That year, the Bronnenberg family moved from Ohio to the Chesterfield area nearby. Shortly after arriving, Frederick Bronnenberg purchased the land surrounding the earthworks and built a log cabin not far from the Great Mound. Later, his son Frederick Jr. built a two-story brick home. The family was well-known as farmers and industrialists throughout the area, and ensured the mounds were respected and preserved7.

Mounds Park’s Leap the Dips roller coaster, as depicted in an old postcard.

Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. died in 1901. Four years later, his son Ransom leased about forty acres of their homestead, including several mounds, to the Union Traction Company, an interurban operator. Union Traction established an amusement park on the site8 as a destination to boost fare revenue on its Anderson-Middletown line, and the park stood around the Great Mound, The Fiddleback Mound, and Earthwork B.

Mounds Park’s boat landing, as it appeared on an old postcard. The park’s first artesian well is visible in the bottom right of the image.

Eventually, Mounds Park grew to feature a variety of attractions such as a boat rental, a dance pavilion, concession stands, a shooting gallery, and even a wooden side-friction roller coaster called Leap the Dips! Unfortunately, the park was a casualty of the Great Depression and closed in 1929. Immediately afterward, the Madison County Historical Society purchased the property and promptly donated it to the state of Indiana. Mounds became an official state park in 19309.

The Mounds Park well

Mounds State Park’s first artesian well, as it appeared on April 23, 2023.

The first artesian well at Mounds State Park sits near the old boat landing on Trail 5 near the White River. It’s opposite the remains of a rock dam erected to prevent the rented boats from going too far downstream. In fact, the well can even be seen in an old postcard of the boat launch! At one time, tin cups were chained to its rim to provide patrons with a cold drink10.

Although most of Central Indiana’s flowing wells are relics of the gas boom, the Indiana Geological & Water Survey’s Petroleum Database Management System map doesn’t have a record of this one. I could be wrong, but I believe it was drilled to serve park-goers since its location doesn’t seem like a convenient place from which to extract natural gas.

Outflow from the old artesian well seen across Trail 5. Photo taken April 23, 2023.

Present-day park literature describes the site as the “remnants” of an artesian well, which is a fair assessment since the well no longer appears to be flowing. Wells like these flow without a pump because they tap a pressurized aquifer. Although they generally go on and on uninterrupted, artesian wells sometimes stop when the aquifer needs to be recharged or when, as in this case, the well is capped. Fortunately, I am nearly positive that this well’s still going strong despite outward appearances: the area around the well itself is swampy, but artesian water, stained with rust from its casing, seems to flow from underneath its concrete structure, under Trail 5, and into the White River. The red water is a dead giveaway.

The water you hear in the video above is from the White River, not the rusty water, and the park’s 2011 interpretative plan labels this area as a seep rather than the outflow from the old artesian well11. I’m no hydrologist, but I understand seeps to be little more than wet areas where groundwater meets the surface, like a puddle, with little-to-no actual flow. To me, the area immediately surrounding the old well resembles a seep. The crimson flow of water heading under the trail to the river suggests that what’s actually flowing originates from the well itself. I’d bet a Cheesy 10-Sack from White Castle on it.

That Mounds Interurban Park’s old artesian well still flows is a hill I’m willing to die on. Even if the outflow’s nothing more of a seep, its color, its proximity to known infrastructure, and the fact that it’s legitimately flowing (albeit slowly) are all too much to ignore.Even though water doesn’t flow up and out of the visible part of the old well itself, it’s still an interesting artifact from Mounds’ days as an interurban park. There’s very little left to be seen from that bygone era.

The Mounds Campground well

The site of Mounds State Park’s second artesian well, as it appeared on April 23, 2023.

Thankfully, another artesian well still exists to satiate our obsessive thirst for more information. From the old boat launch area, take Trail 5 north to its intersection with Trail 6 north of the Circle Mound, then take Trail 6 to the camp store. Mounds’ second flowing well sits about three hundred feet northwest.

You could also do what I did and park behind the Bronnenberg house, walk to the Great Mound, take Trail 1A to 5 down to the well, retrace your steps to your car, and drive to the camp store. At any rate, I refer to the first well as Mounds Park for obvious reasons. To differentiate the two, I decided to call the second one the Mounds Campground well. It’s not a very original name, but it works. The well sits under a small shelter in the park’s Youth Tent Area.

Unlike the first artesian well at Mounds Park, I believe its second is an old gas well. The Indiana Geological & Water Survey’s Petroleum Database Management System map I mentioned earlier shows two on the park’s property nearby12. Meanwhile, the map lists a gas well just south of abandoned 10th Street across the river from the park as a flowing water well13. Who knows- there might be a third close to here!

Water erupted from a pipe that stuck up from the top of Mounds’ second artesian well not long ago. It still flowed when my parents visited it during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the pavilion was cordoned off with caution tape. Since then, the well has modified so it no longer flows freely. Nonetheless, you can still hear its water burbling around inside the casing if you get up close like I did in the video above.

You can also see the water flowing for yourself if you turn the handle of the new spigot that was installed near the well’s base. It’s a shame that its uninterrupted flow was cut off, but it’s an allowance I’m happy to make since the well itself was left intact. I’m not sure that Mounds’ wells can be categorized as “flowing” wells anymore, but they’re still extant artesian wells with water coming out of them, which is good enough for me.

As of this writing, I know of three other artesian wells in Madison County. I’ve been to two of them. I’ve been tracking them down for years, and the wells at Mounds State Park represent, I think, the twenty-second and twenty-third I’ve been to across East Central Indiana. I’m infatuated by these places! I’ve got solid leads on two wells near Chesterfield and a third just across the Madison/Hancock County line, and I’ve yet to write about a handful just outside Madison County in Henry and Delaware Counties. If you’re interested in learning about other flowing wells in the region I’ve written about so far, click here to go to their category page.

Sources Cited
1 National Register of Historic Places, Mounds State Park, Anderson, Madison County, Indiana, National Register # 73000022.
2 Snow, D. R. (2010). Archaeology of Native North America. Prentice Hall [New York]. Book. 
3 Mounds State Park Interpretive Master Plan 2011 (2011). Indiana Department of Natural Resources [Indianapolis]. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
4 (See footnote 3).
5 Tharp, J. (2004). Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana. Central States Archaeological Society. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
6 Hull, M. (n.d.) Mound Preservationist. The Madison County Historical Society. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
7 The Bronnenbergs (n.d.) Mounds State Park Interprative Services. Indiana Department of Natural Resources [Indianapolis]. Pamphlet.
8 (See footnote 7).
9 Mounds State Park (n.d.). Indiana Department of Natural Resources [Indianapolis]. Map.
10 GPS History Adventure (n.d.). Mounds State Park. Indiana Department of Natural Resources [Indianapolis]. Pamphlet.
11 (See footnote 3).
12 Well Events For IGWS ID: 142673 (2023). Well Record tables. The Indiana Geological & Water Survey. Indiana University. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
13 Well Events For IGWS ID: 14276 (2023). Well Record tables. The Indiana Geological & Water Survey. Indiana University. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.

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