Category: Landmarks


Selkirk Hand Dug Well

The old well is the only remnent of a once busy Santa Fe Railroad of the Great Bend Division in western Kansas. The hand-dug well has been beautifully preserved, being 110 years old. It is 24 feet in diameter and 102 feet deep, rock lined, and strange as it seems, they laid the rock from the top to bottom as they went down.

It took forty-six (46) train car-loads of stone, nine (9) car-loads of lumber for the curbing, and five (5) car-loads of cement. There were 48,000 cubic feet of dirt removed from the well. This dirt was hauled on the train cars back to Ness City to be stock piled there, as dirt was a precious commodity. It was used for laying the railroad beds, etc. Out in western Kansas at that time, the buffalo grass grew like hair on a dog?s back. It was thick and rooted down as it grew along, making it almost matted. The settlers that came to farm had to use their teams and a special implement to dig up this buffalo grass. Many of them used this sod to build their homes and other buildings on their farmsteads. The only bare ground was where the farmers had plowed.

The water from this hand-dug well had many uses. First and foremost it was used for the steam for the engines, then also to supply water for the stationary boilers, wash train cars and floors, clean out the boilers, cooling ashes, fire protection, and many similar purposes at the shops, engine house, and the station buildings. The citizens of the town of Selkirk were also furnished water at the cost only of the fuel necessary to running the apparatus, which was as liberal as could be asked.

The tools for digging this well were very simple. A wooden frame was built over the well with pulleys attached with ropes. These ropes were tied on to half – barrels and were filled with the dirt down in the well. The ropes were attached to mules, oxen or workhorses on the outside of the well, that pulled the barrels up to be emptied. After the well was finished, the pump was placed in a pumphouse above ground which transfered the water into the large tank-tower for use as needed. There was a wooden staircase that went to just above the water level.

The Santa Fe line never went on to Denver as was originally planned, nor did it go to Colorado Springs, as was later planned — it didn?t go any farther than Selkirk. It was not economically feasible to continue since it paralleled the D.M. & A. from Scott City. It was abandoned in May of 1896, and the rails were taken up in July of 1898. The steam engine is gone, and there is no use for the railroad wells now, most of them have been filled-in years ago.

This well has been kept covered and in the ownership of the same family for about seventy (70) years. It has been donated to the Wichita County Historical Society to be preserved. Our plans are to get it on the list of The State Register, along with the National Register of Historic Places. Our first project is to erect a building over the well, and make it an site for people to view and learn about the early railroad. We would also like to display railroad memoriblila of the Santa Fe Railway. Another of the exciting plans is to build a model railroad, with steam engines along with historic buildings of each town on this particular line. We hope that eventually we can build a replica of the wooden water tower that stood at that station site.\"Well\"

The Selkirk Well is in the foreground with a grain elevator in behind it. The elevator is approximately 110 feet in the air,rnwhile the well is almost as deep in the ground, at 102 feet.

– Wichita County Historical Society

Point of Rocks

Point of Rocks, the large outcropping of rock rising above the prairie, was visible for long distances from both directions along the Santa Fe Trail. It was a landmark and guide for travelers. The panoramic view of the Cimarron River Valley from Point of Rocks was excellent for seeing other travelers or game. Today you can drive to the top to enjoy the view.rn

The Big Well Museum & Visitor Information Center

The Big Well is a marvel of pioneer engineering that was completed in 1888 as the towns original water supply. At 109 feet deep, this is a breathtaking sight to see. This new museum opened in May 2012 and once again allows visitors to descend a spiral staircase into the Big Well and view exhibits that feature Greensburg’s history, the tornado, and our rebuilding as a sustainable community.

The story of the World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well began in the 1880’s when both the Santa Fe and Rock Island railroads were laying tracks across the plains of Kansas. A large supply of water was needed for the steam locomotives and for the people of the area. The only dependable source of water was from a well. In 1887, the city granted a franchise for a water works system, to cost approximately $45,000, a huge sum of money in those days. The Santa Fe terminated its track at the west Kiowa County line and removed eight years later.

Construction of the well was a masterpiece of engineering. Hired on a day to day basis for fifty cents to a dollar a day, crews of twelve to fifteen farmers, cowboys and other local men dug the well. Other crews quarried and hauled the native stone for the casing of the well. This stone was hauled in wagons from the Medicine River twelve miles south of Greensburg. Dirt from the well was hauled away by the wagons which had slatted beds. By opening the slats and dumping the dirt in low spots, streets and roads to the quarry were leveled.

For many years it was accepted that the stone casing was built on a circular wood platform and lowered inch by inch using jackscrews, and that the stonemasons worked at ground level.

Newspaper accounts of the well’s construction describe exactly how it was dug, cribbed and cased. As the dirt was removed, it was cribbed with wood to prevent caving in. Every eight feet was braced from wall to wall with 2″ x 12″ planks. When the well was down to water, a ring was built, called a boot, constructed of heavy oak bridge timbers. The timbers were mortised and dovetailed together in such a way that no nails were used. When the boot was finished, the stone was started on it and the weight forced it through the water and sand till it rested on solid footing. As the masonry progressed upward, the cribbing braces were sawed off after the stone was laid up around them. Some of these ends have rotted away leaving holes in the wall, while others are still in place and are clearly visible.

When the well was completed in 1888, it was 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter. It served as the city’s water supply until 1932. The well was covered and opened as a tourist attraction in 1939. Since then over 3,000,000 people have visited the “Big Well.”

People have been tossing money and other items into the Big Well since its beginning. In 1990, the town hired trained divers to clean the bottom of the well. A silver and onyx crucifix, shoes, coins, and even a rubber snake and frog were found. These items are on display in the gift shop. The money was deposited in a special fund to help maintain the well.

Visitors brave enough to walk down the 105 steps to the bottom will be impressed with this century-old feat. The lights installed under the water enable one to see all the way to the bottom.

Point of Rocks Prairie Landmark

The Point of Rocks landmark is located eight miles south of Jetmore on US 283, 6.75 miles east and 1.5 miles north. Before the settlement of the area, the ‘point of rocks’ would act as a guiding landmark helping people to find their way, since it could be seen for miles. In the early days it was a favorite picnic, recreation area for community groups, schools and churches.rn

Santa Fe Trail Ruts

Come and see the wheel ruts of the famous 60 mile “Jornada” Trail, a stretch of arid prairie between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers referred to by early Spanish explorers as the “jornada de muerte” or journey of death. The Santa Fe Trail swales are easily visible at this site. If you are looking for trail ruts, look for sudden changes in the grasses and gentle undulations in the earth.rn

Santa FeTrail Tracks

Tracks of the original wagon trail used by pioneers from 1821 to 1872 are located nine miles west of town. This site, listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, contains the largest continuous stretch of clearly defined tracks along the entire route of the trail.

The ruts, formed by constant use from freight wagons and other heavily laden wagons, are deep swales that are still visible today. The Santa Fe Trail varied in width from a mile in some places to just a few feet in others. The westward expansion of the railroad replaced the well worn earth tracks with steel rails.

Also contained on the site are remnants of the Eureka Irrigating Canal, known also as the “Soule Ditch”, which was begun in 1883 by Asa T. Soule. The canal was intended to divert water from the Arkansas River at what is now Ingalls, KS, 96 miles across gray and Ford counties, to Coon Creek in Edwards County. The canal reached Spearville in 1888, but the project failed when similar irrigation projects upstream and a prolonged drought during these years lowered the river’s bed

The Kansas Highway Department has provided a turnout and parking area for easy access and visitors may walk to the site of the parallel tracks. rn

Geographic Center of the U.S.

This is the Center of the U.S.A. original 48 states, as determined by the government geodetic survey in 1898. It is the crossroads of the nation, proper, on US-281 highway.

The marker made of stone with a flag pole built in Center park, a place for the public to stop, relax and picnic.

The registration book revealed signatures from every state and most of the countries in the world. With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii, it is now the center of the contiguous states.

Alcove Spring

Alcove Spring is a spring of fresh water flowing from the side of the alcove into the basin below the Naomi Pike 10-12 foot falls, all in a woodland setting. The spring has never been known to dry up, even during severe Kansas droughts. Today, the spring is part of a 223 acre park owned by the Alcove Spring Historical Trust and operated by its Preservation Association.

From May 26-31, 1846, the Donner-Reed party camped at the crossing, waiting for the flooding river to quiet. One of the frontiersman found the Alcove Spring site and another engraved the name in the rock at the top of the falls. On May 29th, Sarah H. Keyes, 70, the mother-in-law of the co-leader, James R. Reed, died. Blind and deaf and suffering from consumption, she was traveling to Idaho to see a son. Her gravesite has been lost, but the park monument is inscribed, “God in His love and charity has called in this beautiful valley a pioneer mother.”

Although the huge rocks have broken from the ledge, the engravings “Alcove Spring” and JFR 26 May 1846 ( all that’s left of “J.F. Reed”) are visible on the rocks. The Donner-Reed Party was bound for California and the five-day delay (and poor judgment in attempting an untried route) caused the party to be marooned at the Sierra pass resulting in 36 dying of exposure and starvation.

Alcove Spring was the first Marshall County property entered on the National Register of Historic Places.rn

Town Clock

The Town Clock is the only such clock between Indianapolis and Denver on Highway U.S. 36. It was built in 1891 as part of the First National Bank building and is listed on the Kansas Register. The clock is owned by the City of Hiawatha and the building by a local businessman.rn