The Other 95 Artesian Wells in Downtown Olympia


It sounded incredible to me, too…but a 1940s survey by the City of Olympia identified 96 active artesian wells and springs in the downtown area. They supplied water for restaurants, steam trains, water fountains and industry in a city where it was cheaper to drill your own well than pay the high prices demanded by the private water companies. I could only name one artesian well, in the Diamond Parking lot on 4th Ave., so what happened to the other 95?

I read a subsequent study done in 1994 by Thurston County and Friends of Artesians which located 31 wells still functioning. The last study, in 1999, conducted by LOTT Wastewater Management, found only 19 wells and 3 springs. The numbers were dwindling, indeed. Were there some charming watering holes I didn’t know about that could disappear any time now?

Using the maps from the 1999 study, I spent an afternoon exploring whether or not there were other artesian wells accessible to the public.

Two of the existing wells, #32 and #34, supply drinking water to The Spar and The Reef. Many other artesian wells emerge into downtown buildings, and then are plumbed directly into the sewer outflow such as U.S. Bank, Bamboo Restaurant, Bayview Market, the YMCA, Olympia Fireplace and Old Town Bicycle.

 




I discovered artesian well #29 (photo, above) buried in ivy behind the former Northern Pacific Depot by Capitol Lake, more recently the Economic Development Council of Thurston County. In the woods to the east of the train tracks lies a large concrete basin filled with water from an embedded fountain (rightside of photo). This fountain flowed upwards and outwards energetically, draining downhill towards Capitol Lake. Historical records indicate that this water was piped over to the old Depot for the steam trains.

 


 

Artesian well #22 (photo, above), located in a parking lot on the corner of Olympia Ave. and Washington St., seems the younger sibling of the popular well on 4th Ave. The outflow pipe is only 1 inch in diameter, but it flows constantly, and I shared its refreshment with a gentleman waiting for his bus to arrive at the Intercity Transit Center across the street.

 


 

An artesian well on the corner of State Ave. and Adams St. (photo, above) was flowing as recently as October of last year, but now is capped off. It is on state land which the city is hoping to buy for a parking lot, which makes this well’s future unclear. Friends of Artesians would like it to be considered as a possible site for a (long promised by the city) artesian park.

 


 

A particularly unfortunate casualty in the artesian well story lies in an un-marked grave at the corner of 4th Ave. and Washington St, in the northeast corner of U.S. Bank’s parking lot. When I moved here in 1991, there was a water fountain here, issuing forth drinking water to passer-bys. The stone fountain is gone and the well is now capped (photo, above).

 

 


 

Artesian wells are created when a hole is drilled down into the aquifer. An artesian spring emerges from the ground of its own accord. A stunning example can be found at Bigelow Springs (photo, above), in a park on the corner of Quince St. and Bigelow Ave. When I went, there were a dozen children playing in the sparkling spring and a mother confided in me that her kids love to splash in, tromp through and even drink the spring water.

The conclusion of the 1999 survey, and of my own search, are that almost all of the original wells have been capped or buried as buildings and streets were renovated. Of Olympia’s original 96 artesian wells, I had found only 3 flowing outdoor wells...plus Bigelow Springs. With its flower gardens, decorative rock beds, and happy children in a rainbow of rain jackets, these springs provided an inspiring model for how to protect and showcase Olympia’s artesian features. Not that parking lots won't work in a pinch.

Comments

I'm pretty sure...

I'm pretty sure that there was an artesian well flowing into Capital Lake in the Seventies, when I moved here. I've seen drawings of the Heritage Park project, from long ago, that showed the well as a fountain. The location is about 15 yards off-shore, just off the island on the southeast shore, opposite the former train terminal.

Thanks for this.

It makes me sad and happy (shappy?). Happy to see some focus on the wells and the water but sad for our city to have missed so many opportunities.

With 95 wells around town, where are all of the fountains? Here is a link to 2 pages full of other town's artesian wells. Oly is in there but we look like an artesian joke!

Pullman even has a replica of an artesian well in homage to the fact that their town used to have 20 artesian wells (hmmph..20). Even the website featuring their well replica is more than Oly has.

We should have artesian fountains everywhere! Fully usable, too. Some humbugs (who shal remain nameless) keep telling the city/port they had better not allow people to drink the water for liability reasons.

Heard a lot of talk lately about an artesian pocket park in town. I hope that such a thing might happen soon.

Saving the wells

Who else might be interested in saving or restoring these wells?
Kay

Wonderful post...

Thanks for the research on a fascinating topic.

nicely done

Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. :) love you

artesian well # 29

Does anyone know exactly where well #29 is located (the one pictured that is near the Old Pacific Northern Railroad Depot)? I'm working on a graduate thesis dealing with the artesian wells and springs in Olympia, this is the only one I couldn't find.

Where

Where can i find the plans of Heritage park online.... where did you see them

Yes

I am.

I don't know about on-line

But presumably the General Administration staff would have a copy, and the State Archives might well have one too...

Best,
Thad


Best,
Thad

Fountain of Artesian water or.....

  I know that pipe. It was just off shore from the southeast corner (can a lake have corners?) of the lake, near the amphiteater. Yes there is an amphitheater there.  But given the attentiveness of goverment regulators, I always thought it was free-flowing sewage, which is what made the lake inhospitable to humans for swimming.  I guess I was wrong. It was something else that made the lake inhospitable to humans...... and it still remains. Hey, government regulators...... WAKE UP!

I can't recall where I read this

However,

When I was researching the construction of Capital Lake a few years back, I came across a mention that "offshore" well was drilled at the same time to freshen the lake water.  Apparently there was a concern even then that the shallow basin would stagnate.

I think its still there

They just sawed off the pipe, so it's only visible when the lake is drained.

Best,
Thad

Thad is right

On a separate but related note there is an Olympian piece on Little Hollywood that described a water supply system fed by artesian water.

Thank you so much.

What a great local lesson. Good job.

image

incredible

Not one but two original hyperlocal posts show up in five minutes. Thank you Indilympia...this is what OlyBlog is all about.

"In principle, I am an anarchist. Kurt Vonnegut once said he was an agnostic who respects Jesus Christ. I am an anarchist who loves democracy." - Kenzaburo Oe

"In principle, I am an anarchist. Kurt Vonnegut once said he was an agnostic who respects Jesus Christ. I am an anarchist who loves democracy." - Kenzaburo Oe

Sweet....

I've got something for you.

Some time back I was walking down fourth Ave when I saw an old bottle sticking out of the dirt.  I picked it up and it proved to be a Bluebird Soda bottle from the early to mid 1920's.  Well old bottle digger that I am, I picked it up.  It's gathering dust on the boat.  I think you can make better use of it than I can.   

"Those who fail an attempt destroy me have made a serious tactical error."

 

This is a non political tag line and cannot be linked up through a twisted thought process to an obscure company making specialty tools.  

Great post

Thanks!

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." President Dwight D. Eisenhower April 16, 195

Nice work

I've seen the maps, but its great to see images of the real things. Would be a fun geocoding Flickr project.

please stop rebolding the text

[...]

"In principle, I am an anarchist. Kurt Vonnegut once said he was an agnostic who respects Jesus Christ. I am an anarchist who loves democracy." - Kenzaburo Oe

just a note

Indylimpia pointed out that it would've been nice had I addressed this in a private message instead of in the comments. He's right and gets this public apology as well. I detracted from what is an excellent OlyBlog post.

"In principle, I am an anarchist. Kurt Vonnegut once said he was an agnostic who respects Jesus Christ. I am an anarchist who loves democracy." - Kenzaburo Oe

"In principle, I am an anarchist. Kurt Vonnegut once said he was an agnostic who respects Jesus Christ. I am an anarchist who loves democracy." - Kenzaburo Oe

Great stuff.

Any chance we could get this info on Goggle Maps? Then people could take an Artesian Wells of Olympia tour.


> It's OK to be nice. <
enpen's social contract

Beware the terrible simplifiers.
Jacob Burckhardt

Excellent report

That fountain on 4th and Washington was a fixture and a regular stop during my childhood years in Oly (late 1950s-early 1960s). Thanks for all your field work.

4th and Washington

I have the same childhood memories as StevenL about the across the street from the Spar drinking fountain. If I ever actually do run for city council, getting that reestablished will be my first mission.

If?

How about when?

probably never

Not wanting to hi-jack the thread, but I want to be the kind of person that's a good citizen for the sake of being a good citizen, not some other personal goal. But, thanks for the encouragement.

Thanks!

That's really interesting. Thanks for sharing your discoveries with us.

Artesian Springs & Wells

Interesting thread.

Olympia's original water supply was an artesian spring on the NE corner of Capital Way and 4th.  Daniel Bigelow mentioned helping clean it out for public use in an 1852 diary entry.  From Rathbun's 1895 Early History of Thurston County (p46):

  • There existed in those days at the corner of Main and Fourth streets a large spring from which the village was supplied with water.  In May 1864 the committee on streets was instructed to build a reservoir at the spring and place a pump over it for the convenience of the citizens.  Social lines were then not very definitely drawn and the gatherings at this town pump were indeed miscellaneous.  The federal official joshed with the day laborer and probably his beautiful daughter flirted with the dusky Siwash.  Since then the Chambers building has been erected over the spring.

Others that I'm aware of:

I recall visiting the bargain basement of Miller's Department Store (NE corner Capital & Legion) in the 1970s and an employee mentioning there was an artesian well in the basement that flowed into the storm drain. 

The Kay Family owned the Nankin Restaurant in the 1930s and used artesian well water.  The site later became Ben Moores.

Where can I find the 1994

Where can I find the 1994 Artesian Well Study?

Thanks!

Thurston County Health did it...

and I don't know if you can get a copy from them or not, but this 1999 LOTT study of 36 reported artesian sites in Olympia summarizes some information about the locations from the 1994 study, and has a copy of the map as well as a detailed discussion of the sites LOTT explored. (They were interested because it looked as if the flow from them into the LOTT plant might be something like 60 million gallons a year.)

Best,
Thad