Cleaned out our spring this week and made a penstock which is of as much importance to Olympia as the introduction of the great water works to Boston.
-Daniel R Bigelow Diary, May 29, 1852.
Artesian wells were an important reason natives, and later American settlers, chose this site for a home. On this corner, a large all-season spring served as Olympia’s fresh water supply for many years. Early settlers later described the “well” as a wooden barrel with both ends removed and one end sunk into the ground. This created a continuously overflowing reservoir from which the town’s residents filled their containers. As the main source of fresh water, the spring became a meeting place where people of all social strata shared news and socialized. Often white families hired natives to haul water daily for household use.
The 1855-56 conflict between settlers and natives over treaty provisions prompted Olympia residents to fortify the town against attack. Since most buildings in early Olympia were north of this point, the townspeople built a palisade wall along Fourth Avenue from one side of the peninsula to the other, securing it from attack from land. Surrounded by saltwater, the town pump served as the main water supply for everyone inside the fortification.
By the 1860s the townspeople replaced the barrel with a cistern and the beginnings of a water distribution system. Since then, many area businesses also tapped the abundant artesian springs underlying the area, most famously the former Olympia Brewery in nearby Tumwater. Olympia’s restaurants and hotels also bored their own wells to supply their businesses. Today, a few of these wells still exist, including the original spring now hidden beneath the historic 1887 Chambers Building. While most of these flow to the bay in storm water drains, a few local businesses still make use of Olympia’s artesian wells.
DR Bigelow Diary, 1848-54. Bigelow House Museum Collection.
Newell, Gordon R. So Fair a Dwelling Place: A History of Olympia and Thurston County, Washington. [Olympia, Wash.]: G.R. Newell, 1985., 54, 92.
Rathbun, John C. History of Thurston Co., Washington. Olympia, Wash: [s.n.], 1895., 46.
“Chambers Block” DAHP Report.
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