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Big Well (Kansas)
Big Well (Kansas)
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U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Former Big Well visitor center before it was destroyed by a tornado in 2007
Location 315 South Sycamore, Greensburg, Kansas
Coordinates 37°36′20″N 99°17′37″W / 37.60556°N 99.29361°W
Coordinates: 37°36′20″N 99°17′37″W / 37.60556°N 99.29361°W
Area 1 acre (0.40 ha)
Architect Wheeler, J.W.
NRHP reference No. 72000507
Added to NRHP February 23, 1972
The Big Well is a large historic water well in Greensburg, Kansas, United States. Visitors entered the well for a small fee, descending an illuminated stairway to the bottom of the well.
1 History 2 Construction 3 Visitor center 4 Gallery 5 See also 6 References 7 External links
It began construction in 1887 at a cost of $45,000 to provide water for the Santa Fe and Rock Island railroads and finished construction in 1888. It served as the municipal water supply until 1932. It was designated a National Museum in 1972; in 1973 it was awarded an American Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association. Under the name of "Greensburg Well," it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) since 1972. In 2008, the well was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.
It is billed as the world's largest hand-dug well, at 109 feet (33 m) deep and 32 feet (9.8 m) in diameter. The in the Cairo Citadel at 280 feet (85 m) deep and the Pozzo di S. Patrizio (St. Patrick's Well) built in 1527 in Orvieto, Italy, at 61 metres (200 ft) deep by 13 metres (43 ft) wide are both actually larger.
The Big Well's construction in 1887 utilized many engineering techniques from the late 19th century. According to The Kansas Sampler Foundation, crews of 12-15 men utilized, pickaxes, shovels, ropes, pulleys, and barrels. The casing of the well was made from stones brought from the Medicine River roughly twelve miles south of Greensburg that were brought over via wagons. Slatted wagons were used to haul dirt away from the well. Whenever a low spot was reached in the wagon, the slats were opened, allowing level ground to be created around the area. As the well's construction continued, a wide shaft was cribbed and braced every twelve feet with two by twelve inch planks for safety reasons in concern of the workers. Utilizing these braces, soil was hoisted up in barrels to continue the digging. After the stones were fitted around them, the braces were sawed off. When the well had reached roughly 109 feet in depth, perforated pipe was driven horizontally into gravel containing water, which aided in bringing water into the basin. 
The well had a visitor's center detailing the history of the well's construction. On May 4, 2007, a tornado hit Greensburg, destroying the center. The well reopened on May 26, 2012.
The new visitor's center, also known as the Big Well Museum, contains a circular timeline of the city of Greensburg in three stages, including the beginnings of Greensburg, the Tornadic event, and the Eco-Friendly Rebuilding of Greensburg. The Big Well Museum contains information on the formation of tornadoes and explains the meteorological phenomenon that took place to spawn such an event. There are interactive pull-outs in the walls, as well as televisions, cards, and infographics depicting historical events, interviews, tragedies, model survival kits, and other tornado related items. Around the museum are elements of storm debris, including stop signs, street signs, clocks, and tornado sirens.
The visitor's center also displayed a Brenham half-ton (1,000 lb, 450 kg) pallasite meteorite recovered from the area. The meteorite was billed as the world's largest single-piece pallasite, but that title is held by other samples. It was reported that the Big Well visitor center was destroyed, and the meteorite was missing  on May 7, after an EF5 tornado destroyed the town. The meteorite, which was insured for $1 million, was later located underneath a collapsed wall and was displayed temporarily at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas. It has returned to the reconstructed museum site.
New Big Well Museum, as of June 2013.
The new museum's well stairwell, as of June 2013.
"World's Largest Pallasite Meteorite"
Pallasite meteorite, displayed at Big Well museum
Woodingdean Water Well, world's deepest hand-dug water well
References^ "National Register Information System". . National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
^ Jump up to:
Big Well official homepage^ Big Well on World's Largest Things^ Water Landmarks Archived 2005-09-24 at the Wayback Machine from the website of the American Water Works Association^ KANSAS - Kiowa County, Nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com. Accessed 2008-10-23.^ Other hand-dug wells are much deeper, such as the Woodingdean Water Well in Brighton, England, but the Big Well's diameter gives it a greater total volume.
8 Wonders of Kansas Overall
Big Well, Greensburg
Address: 315 S. Sycamore, Greensburg, Kansas
courtesy Big Well Museum
courtesy Big Well Museum
courtesy Big Well Museum
Rural Culture Elements represented: Architecture, History
Contact: Stacy Barnes
BIG WELL UPDATE:
The new Big Well Museum is now open! Located under the water tower at 315 S. Sycamore. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9 am-6 pm; Sun., 1-6 pm.
Admission information available at http://www.bigwell.org/museum/hours-and-admission-rates
The Big Well is one of The 8 Wonders of Kansas because the construction of it was an engineering marvel in its day and it is the world's largest hand-dug well!
On August 9, 1887 Jack Wheeler led his crew in an architectural adventure as the first shovel dug into what would become a 32-feet wide, 109-feet deep well with two feet thick native stone walls. Taking almost two years, the well was hand-dug, cribbed, cased and stoned with rock from the Medicine River and sand from the Cowskin Creek. Stone masons of Herculean talent constructed what many have called "a pioneer engineering marvel."
Although the well was built for city water it was also built alongside the Kingman, Pratt, & Western rail line, a subsidiary of the Santa Fe, which ran a freight line from Wichita to the Mullinville turnaround until 1893. A large amount of water was needed for the steam locomotives. The Big Well supplied Greensburg with water until 1932 when another well was dug nearby.
In 1939 the folks of Greensburg decided to slap a handmade sign along the highway and began sporting their wonder as a Kansas tourism site. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the Big Well from every state and from all over the world since then. Obviously, the Big Well had become the economic heartbeat of Greensburg.
On May 7, 2007, Greensburg was hit by the monster EF5 tornado that destroyed much of the town, including everything above ground at the Big Well. A new museum at the Big Well opened May 26, 2012.
The Big Well, Greensburg, Kansas
The World's Largest Hand-Dug Well -- which you can walk to the bottom -- the World's Largest Pallasite Meteorite, and a museum about the town, which was destroyed in a 2007 mega-tornado. All under one roof.
Looking up from below, the Big Well's spiral staircase circles skyward.
The Big Well
For over 50 years the "World's Largest Hand-Dug Well" was just a big, rock-lined hole in the ground, 32 feet wide and 109 feet deep. It was dug in 1887-88 by men using picks, shovels, a pulley and rope, and half a barrel to haul up the dirt. A staircase and lighting were added in 1916, but it wasn't until 1939 that the Well was opened to tourists, who would pay for the adventure of walking down to its dank bottom.
The Big Well's vortex building design was inspired by the tornado that flattened its predecessor.
Ten years after The Big Well opened to the public, the World's Largest Pallasite Meteorite -- discovered by a local farmer with a giant home-built metal detector -- was added to the Well's above-ground gift shop as a bonus attraction.
And that's basically how things stayed until May 4, 2007. That was the day that everything around The Big Well -- not just the gift shop but the entire town -- was blown to smithereens by a mile-wide mega-tornado.
Meteorites, tornadoes... the angry skies of Greensburg.
Eleven residents died in the horror, but the below-ground Well suffered minimal damage, and the meteorite was one of the few things that survived obliteration of the gift shop. Greensburg mourned its dead, shook off its dust, and rebuilt itself as a "model green city." And after five years The Big Well reopened, now encircled by a museum dedicated to telling the story of the town and its disaster.
Driving into Greensburg to see The Big Well is an in-your-face reminder that you're in deadly twister territory. The little town is an odd mix of state-of-the-art green buildings and empty lots filled with weedy rubble. The Big Well Museum alone cost $3 million, and was designed as a vortex, with a new spiral staircase for the Well, so that it would suggest a tornado.
Jesus was unfazed by the twister. His disciples, however, lost their heads.
On the ground floor, displays recount the history of The Big Well and the giant twister. Vintage Big Well souvenirs -- obviously elsewhere when the storm hit -- are exhibited along with significant debris such as the town's wrecked tornado siren and a clock stopped at the moment that Greensburg was destroyed. The poor meteorite, a star in any other small town, has fallen to a distant third place in the reasons-to-visit-Greensburg museum's hierarchy.
Greensburg's old safety yellow tornado siren is now part of its museum's wreckage display.
Despite the Big Well Museum's new slick and serious veneer, the main attraction remains the odd thrill of walking down into The Big Well. Its interior is cool and humid; its bottom disappears into the local aquifer. Tiny balconies at various points along the spiral staircase allow visitors to lean in and look straight down without risking a fall -- although any dropped smartphones or cameras are goners. The bottom of the Well, as was the case before its remodeling, is littered with loose change. If you lean in too far while standing at the bottom, you may be conked by a penny hurled from above.
In the gift shop, chunks of the Well's old staircase are sold as souvenirs. We remember standing on it during an earlier visit when the town's tornado siren went off -- the same one now displayed in the museum -- echoing weirdly off of the Well's circular stone walls. Back then it turned out to be just a test -- but if another monster tornado does strike Greensburg, there's probably no safer place to be than down in The Big Well.