I wrote about a pair of artesian wells in Madison County a few Saturdays ago and headed to Mounds State Park to take photos and video of two more I knew of the day after. I found another the following Monday and another on Tuesday. When it rains, it pours! I love artesian wells, but my hobby of finding them was dormant until the past couple of weeks. Today, I’ll show you the two I uncovered -one literally- in northern Madison County, along with where I think a third one used to sit.
People flooded me with leads to more flowing wells in Madison County after I shared my posts to local history groups on Facebook Among the comments, I saw references to a well near the northeast corner of Romine and Moss Island Roads that’s been capped, a drinking fountain at Derby Downs Park which once flowed freely but was connected to Anderson’s municipal water supply, and several others near Chesterfield and Orestes. One comment stood out, when a woman wrote that she remembered a flowing well on County Road 500-North. She believed it’d been capped, and some confusion ensued in the discussion since one of the two I had written about was also on 500-North and still flows1,
The Likens Well
Eventually, she clarified that the well was on West County Road 500-North, not East, where the well I wrote about sat. It was on what used to be a cow pasture owned by the McCord family on a road that led to an old boy scout camp2. I thought I remembered that area as near the site of an old schoolhouse, so I got on Google Maps to look and see if I was right. I was.
With a desire to be purposeful before I drove to the middle of nowhere on what would likely be a nearly-empty tank of gas, I decided to use a relatively new tool for me, the interactive Indiana Geological Survey oil and gas well map, to try and find old gas wells near the corner. The map is slow to load, it uses eighteen-year-old aerial imagery, and doesn’t capture every flowing well since not all of them resulted from wells drilled about a hundred years ago, but it helps shore up the leads I receive. Indeed, it showed two in the area around the intersection of 500-North and 700-West, near the site of where the old Bell Rattle schoolhouse once stood3.
I consulted more recent aerial imagery that seemed to show a wet spot around the location of the old gas well. If the well had been capped, it looked like water was leaking out from under tlits casing, which I’d seen before elsewhere. I was satisfied enough by the results of my quick internet sleuthing to save the coordinates into my phone and head out to rural Jackson Township after work Monday. It turns out that I could have found the well pretty easily if I’d just meandered along 500-North, known locally as Scout Camp Road.
Although it wasn’t difficult to spy the well from the road when armed with the proper coordinates, it’s tricky to get a handle on what’s going on there since the water only visibly flows for an inch or two. At some point, the casing of the old gas well was extended and buttressed by piping that forms a right angle and deposits the water into a second pipe. The water is rusty, so it leaves a tell-tale red pool around the area. Grass grows taller near the well’s surrounds, which is what made it easy to identify in satellite imagery.
The well was drilled in 1895 by Consumers Gas Trust Company on land leased from the Likens family4. After the gas boom ended, water infiltrated the well’s casing and began flowing up to reach the piezometric surface of the aquifer.
The Vinson Well
It didn’t take much digging to find the first two flowing wells I wrote about in Madison County. It seems everyone knows about them! Fifteen years ago, the Anderson Herald Bulletin even went so far as to say that they were the only two in the county5. I wasn’t convinced- flowing wells are everywhere, just like old schoolhouses, and I knew I’d find more if I could crowdsource my research. That’s how I learned about the Likens well, along with the Vinson well.
Nevertheless, I was surprised at the amount of literal digging it took to uncover the thing! I shouldn’t have been, since the woman who remembered what she described as a “natural spring” by a creek bank under a bridge near Star Cemetery on Mt. Pisgah Road advised me to bring a stick to move the vegetation growing up around it away6.
I was familiar with the area surrounding the Vinson well because another old schoolhouse, Monroe Township’s District 7, stands nearby. I was also experienced in moving grass and brush out of the way by hand to uncover artesian wells from time I spent in Blountsville and Matthews, so I had no intention of bringing a stick or a shovel. I was sure the well would be easy to find once I was on site, so my preparations consisted soley of pulling up the old gas well map to find a precise location to stumble around.
The map showed two old gas wells on the banks of Mud Creek, but only one -on the southeastern corner of the creek’s crossing with Mt. Pisgah Road- was flagged as a flowing water well. Google Street View revealed a short pull-off nearby, so I headed out the evening after I found the Likens well. I parked and climbed around some boulders down to the creek. There was no sign of flowing water, so I began to dig by hand. I really wished I’d brought a stick!
I found one and used it to start poking around where the bank bottomed out. It took more work than anticipated, but a small pool emerged as I lifted out the grass and slop. A casing revealed itself as the water cleared.
The well was clearly flowing, but I couldn’t tell how far down the pipe extended into the pool to ascertain whether or not it had been shortened or if the vegetation around it raised the terrain to cause the water to collect.
Research indicated that the well dates to 1897, when it was drilled by the Manufacturer’s Natural Gas Company on land owned by the Vinson family7. In 1901, thirty-eight-year-old Mary Vinson owned eighty acres surrounding the well. She died in 1948 and was buried at Star Cemetery adjacent to her home8.
The Likens and Vinson wells were the twenty-third and twenty-fourth flowing wells I’ve been to in East-Central Indiana. Finding them revitalized my search! Since nearly all of the ones I’ve been to in Madison County are labeled “flowing water wells” on the map of old gas wells, I began scouring it for old gas wells near waterways to try and find more. Eventually, I did. At least in theory.
The McClead Well
The gas well map showed a flowing water well near Lily Creek in Boone Township. In 1901, Charles McClead owned the eighty-acre plot the well stood on9, but that’s about all I know. I went to investigate the area last weekend and couldn’t find it. Perhaps a stick would have helped!
It’s also possible that the well has been capped and graded over. Sometimes that happens! At any rate, beyond the Likens, Vinson, and McClead wells, I know of two more in Madison County, both near Chesterfield. I’ve yet to make it out to see them in person, but all of the wells I know about or have been to are on my updated artesian well map. I’m sure there are still more I’ve missed. Flowing water may offer a sense of calmness and tranquility, but those aren’t emotions I feel when I’m hot on the trail!
1 Sklebek, M. O.. Anderson/Madison County, Indiana history. (2023, April 23). thanks for that information. Not the one I know about and grew up down the road from. The one I [Comment]. Facebook. Web. Retrieved April 3, 2023.
2 (See footnote 2).
3 Bock, G. (1969, September 1). Mrs. McGurty Recalls Teaching At Bell Rattle. The Anderson Daily Bulletin. P. 4.
4 Well Events For IGWS ID: 142801 (2023). Well Record tables. The Indiana Geological & Water Survey. Indiana University. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
5 Watters, B. (2008, April 27). County has 2 flowing wells. The Anderson Herald-Bulletin. Web. Retrieved May 4, 2023.
6 Young, J. Anderson/Madison County, Indiana history. (2023, April 23). There is a natural spring on 1300 North in Alexandria. I grew up on a farm there and that spring [Comment]. Facebook. Web. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
7 Well Events For IGWS ID: 143066 (2023). Well Record tables. The Indiana Geological & Water Survey. Indiana University. Web. Retrieved April 24, 2023.
8 Mary Vinson, 85, Succumbs At Farm Home (1948, September 8). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
9 (1901). Stony Creek Township. An atlas of Madison County, Indiana. map, Cleveland, OH; American Atlas Company.