Olympia's Historic Artesian Wells
Artesian wells were for many years the primary source of drinking water for Olympia. In the mid 1800s, an artesian well at Fourth Avenue and Capitol Way supplied most of the town with water. Many downtown businesses had their own artesian wells. Much has changed in Olympia since the wells first were used, and most of the businesses are gone, but many of the wells remain:
- The well on Fourth Avenue in the Diamond Parking lot once served a grocery store. The store has been demolished, but the well is still a popular place to gather water.
- Near the corner of Olympia and Washington, an artesian well that once served a carriage house still flows. The well and the building's foundation are all that remain of an era when horses were Olympia's primary mode of transportation.
- An artesian well used to be seen in the northeast end of Capitol Lake. The well was drilled during the lake's creation to help cleanse it of salt water. It has since been cut-off below the waterline.
- McAllister Springs (an artesian spring) is the main water source for Olympia and parts of Lacey.
- The Olympia Brewery, whose motto is "It's the water," is supplied by 26 artesian wells.
A rich artesian history
Early settlers in what are now Olympia and Tumwater used artesian springs for their main water supply. An especially popular spring at Fourth Avenue and Main Street (now Capitol Way) was the main community well where settlers gathered to socialize.
The Talcott family drilled the first artesian well in downtown Olympia at the family store on Capitol Way. That well and dozens of others to follow in the 20th century were in part a reaction to the escalating cost of water supplied to Olympia customers by private water companies.
The well in Diamond Parking's Fourth Avenue lot, heavily used today by the public, was originally drilled to supply water for steam locomotives at an Olympia train depot.
Most of the dozens of artesian wells in downtown Olympia were abandoned, capped, paved over or forgotten after Olympia constructed the McAllister Springs water system in 1949.
Several community members concerned about preserving the Diamond Parking artesian well gather to form Friends of Artesians with a long-term goal of developing a small park around the well.
Friends of Artesians conducts studies to show that the well casing is structurally sound and water quality is good.
Noting that the popular public well does not meet state standards, the state Department of Ecology orders Diamond Parking to make improvements or shut down the well by mid-April.
Diamond Parking has yet to do any of the things required by Ecology to keep the well open. Friends of Artesians members say a new artesian well site in downtown Olympia may be necessary.
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