Submitted by jack on Wed, 2014-11-12 10:56
At the northwestern corner of of Chicago Avenue and Western Avenue, an artesian well was dug in the 1860s. The well and an icehouse were there for several decades. The strange story of the digging of the well was told in a pamphlet published in 1866 entitled History of the Chicago Artesian Well : A Demonstration of the Truth of the Spiritual Philosophy. Portions of the history were reprinted in Spirtual magazine, which is available through Google Books.
The author of the pamphlet was a lawyer named George A. Shufeldt, Jr., who was an investor in the well. He recounted how he became involved in the project. Interested in spiritualist activities, he met a medium in Chicago named Abraham James. James claimed clairvoyant powers, and made geological drawings as directed by spirits.
Shufeldt described the process: "The pencils are placed between the fingers and the hand moves with a rapidity which troubles the eye to follow, each pencil doing a separate part of the work at the same time and it makes no difference whether it be in the dark or light; indeed his best pictures are made in a dark room. I have frequently bandaged his eyes and held a paper between his face and his picture and it made no difference..."
In addition to complex geological renderings, James reportedly used this method to draw a life-size portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
Eventually, Shufeldt recounts, the medium indicated a specific piece of land where petroleum would be found in Chicago, and also a "stream of the best purest and healthiest water known anywhere" The medium was taken to Chicago and Western Avenue and "was there entranced and in that state selected a point for boring the first well." Soon water was flowing from the well (although the petroleum never materialized.)
In 1865, the Tribune described the well as the "greatest artificial curiosity in or near Chicago" and reported that crowds, "sometimes as great as eight hundred or a thousand" gathered there. (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 29, 1865.) Several years later, the paper reported that "artesian well fever" had spread to nearby farms. The reporter speculated that the digging was driven by a dry season and a desire to boost property values. (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 27, 1867.) As late as 1880, the well was mentioned in the paper, and the ice house appears on Robinson's Atlas of 1886.
Encylopedia of Chicago entry on groundwater:
The West Town Community Collection at the Chicago Public Library holds a number of items about the Artesian Ice Company, including a sketch: