Experience with old Hand Dug Wells?


Active member
Anyone have experience with hand dug wells?

I just had 2 filled in on my property today. I'll have to post pictures in the next few days - sadly photos of the larger one will not even come close to doing it justice or conveying how big it was and the work that went into it.

Wife and I live in a small settlement/town S of Topeka founded late 1800s - think we are on an old homesite for one of the townfolk back in the day - our place actually has 3 wells as when I walked part of the place for the first time 2-3 weeks ago I found one that looked to be 1800s vintage if I had to guess as it's construction was quite a bit different than the 2 we filled in. We have lived here for a year and 2 mos now - relocated from Wichita and ended up renting this house as it was all we could find when coming up here then after living here a while worked out a deal with the owners due to the messed up real estate market here and figured we had equity opportunity cleaning up 20 plus years of property neglect. 3rd well is located quite a ways from the 2 filled in and I'm wondering if it was for a neighboring house at some point in the past.

Anyways we live on 5.5 acres that was subdivided out of an 80 in the late 70s and has a creek/brook running through it that closeby (about a half mile) feeds into a larger creek/river. One well closest to the creek scared the bejesus out of me when I was made aware of it as it had vines all grown around it, thorny bushes wire, tires and rotted rail road ties - basically the thorny underbrush and wire kept people away - I got the county/state involved for cost share and it was about 13' deep and 6' across.

Larger well was further up the hillside and may have been the main water source for a farmhouse I was told was on the hill immediately beside us and to water livestock. It was what we thought was 6' across at the top and 26-30' deep. It had better constructed top stone work on it with modern rail road ties as a cap. However once the track loader took all that crap off and knocked the top off - the inside bellowed out about 2-3' down to what we guessed is 8-10' wide.

The track loader could have easily fallen in the hole - and there'd be no problem to drive my 2500 reg cab silverado HD and Tahoe into the hole with room to spare top to bottom. He brought about 50% more fill than we anticipated we'd need - hardly used any on the first hole so he was trying to figure out where he'd spread it on my property - as the day went on he ran out of fill and had to find quite a bit of fill on our place. I was blown away the effort that went into making this thing - about 2-3' down where it opened up the hole was dug through shale rock - absolutely unfathomable the amount of labor and time it likely took to dig it out. It was kind of sad to fill them in as they are relics to the past however if you believe in visions etc i had a horrible nightmare I was trying to keep 2 little boys from drowning underneath a storm grate (I have a 4.5 yr old boy) the day before I found the big well and then something kept nagging at me there was more so I kept looking around and after asking some ?s of the former owner found the scarier one (as it wasn't covered well) and then more recently found the 3rd. The state guy had to be on site all day while they did the work due to me getting cost share - so got to visit with him and he told some interesting stories of what he's seen - I know if I approach old farmsteads while out hunting now I'll be approaching them with far more caution than before.

Photos to come soon.
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Active member
Very interesting story. You’re right wells and cisterns can be anywhere.

On the subject of the work folks did back then. My grandfather keep an income/expense book for taxes. In it he included work he did for neighbors. Many times he listed installing field tile, hand dug, couple feet down for hundreds of yards for maybe a dollar or so a day (he got paid by the rod).

One of my more shameful moments is tilling some ground on his place next to the lake. We got a new chisel plow and we could really sink it down. I looked back and saw a few hundred feet of broken tile on top of the ground. He laughed and said no one would ever have thought that tile could be reached with a plow.

He would just go out and dig tile in for something to do when the work was slow.