The Big Well
America's plains states are pocked with destinations without the geophysical beauty marks of mountain ranges, ocean shores, or picturesque canyons. The flatlands must mine a little harder for their tourism dollars. This conjures some interesting sights, from fake Indian Pueblo ruins to a Liberty Bell made out of wheat. In Kansas, the Big Well and the World's Largest Pallasite Meteorite are two such strange bedfellows -- a hole in the ground and an astral hole-maker.
The well had a small part in the race between the Sante Fe and Rock Island railroad lines, which were frantically building west in the late 19th century. A massive well would provide all the water the Santa Fe trains might need in river-shy southwestern Kansas.
The well project was started in 1884 and finished in 1887, workers using only shovels, picks, pulleys, ropes, and half a barrel. It was 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter.
The Santa Fe line lost the race and the right of way to Rock Island, and the tracks were dismantled. The well prospered anyway. It supplied water to the city for 50 years, before it was decommissioned and opened as a tourist attraction in 1937. The "World's Largest Hand Dug Well" was eventually designated a National Museum by the government.
Signs tout the genius of the Big Well. Sez one: "The stone wall casing was built on a circular wood platform on the ground level. As the earth was removed and the cavern deepened, the casing, acting as a Keystone, was lowered into the excavation by means of jackscrews."
A modest fee gains you access to the 126 metal stairs leading to the bottom of the well. After descending, you'll want to linger a few moments in the dank chill -- pondering all its hand dug glory. There's still water at the bottom, and the humidity is very high, natch. During our most recent visit, we were halfway down when the town tornado sirens went off, echoing weirdly off the circular stone walls. Before we could decide whether it was the best or worst place to get caught in a cataclysm, the siren stopped. Just a noontime disaster test....
We climbed back to take a gander at the well's little buddy -- the Pallasite Meteorite, on display in the Big Well Museum and Visitors Center up top.
The Meteorite was discovered in a farmer's field in the area. The Greensburg region had apparently been a target for an ancient meteor shower, which deposited heavy iron chunks of space bullets everywhere. The Meteorite was the biggest of these projectiles recovered. Dubbed the "Space Wanderer" when discovered in 1949, the 1,000 pound Pallasite boulder was promptly placed in the Big Well Museum. There it sits today.