116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
BELLE PLAINE - Belle Plaine dignitaries gathered at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Eighth Street on May 21, 1955, to commemorate the event that put the town on the map in 1886.
A granite boulder placed at that corner bears a plaque that reads 'Old Jumbo well broke out in August, 1886 at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Eighth Street. It was months before this gusher of artesian waters was brought under control. Artesia Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution of Belle Plaine, Iowa commemorates this location December 1954.”
In the spring of 1886, six wells were dug in Belle Plaine, including one at the new creamery that rose 53 feet, one in the residential north part of town and another at the foundry, with similar results. The success of these wells led the city to drill two more on the main business street to use mainly for fire protection.
On Monday, Aug. 23, contractor William Wier & Sons began to drill for an artesian well at what was then the corner of Beach and Washington streets. Instead of boring a three-inch hole, however, the contractor drilled two inches, thinking that the water would carve out the extra inch so that the casing could be installed.
Four days later, water began gushing out of the 193-foot deep well to a height of more than five feet. It was allowed to run for a day when the three-inch casing was supposed to be installed. By then, the geyser was shorter, but the hole was a foot in diameter and the torrent of water was flooding nearby streets and property.
A reporter from the Marshalltown Times-Republican said, ''We visited the scene of the overflow before daylight, and followed two swiftly-flowing streams that shoot out from the well in exactly opposite directions. The aperture through which the water boils is now about four feet one way and three feet the other. Owing to the size of the aperture and the openness and irregularity of the crater, the water does not shoot up as it did at first ... The 500 carloads of sand that have been thrown out, according to the telegraphic reports, do not appear, though there have been probably one-fifth that amount belched out by the flood. The ground surrounding the lake formed by the artesian fountain is apparently firm and hard. There is a strong current and the water is ejected with considerable force, but it does not rise above the level of the ground.”
In the meantime, water from wells farther uptown stopped.
It was estimated that more than 5 million gallons of water were flowing from the well per day. 'The most curious feature of the great freak is that with the sand and water thrown out, there is emitted many rare specimens of quartz, crystals, isinglass, soapstone, etc., ” said The Gazette report.
An engineer from Chicago, George C. Morgan, arrived Sept. 1 in Belle Plaine. He advised digging another well 300 to 500 feet away to relieve the pressure on the first well. Four to six-inch tubing surrounded with fill stone would force the water into the tube where it could be controlled and the uptown wells would start flowing again.
A cone, 36 inches in diameter, 26 feet long, made of boiler iron and attached to a 5-inch pipe 96 feet long was forced into the well with a 1,600-pound pile driver. It disappeared and the water kept flowing.
The Gazette said, 'The flow of water from the subterranean reservoir is as strong, if not of greater force than yesterday. Two great streams of water, two feet deep and nearly a dozen in width, are flowing rapidly away from the hole to the lowlands below, and finely wend their way to the river a mile or so distant. The pressure of the invisible stream below or the propelling forces of the geyser, seems to be quite irregular. In consequence the stream at the top of the hole varies in height from three to five feet. It is said the residents of the town, and especially those actively engaged in the work of staying the deluge that seems to be vomited up out of the bowels of the earth, are growing discouraged over the many varied and futile attempts to stay the flood.”
The City Council asked for anyone who had plans to stop the flow of water to submit them. The condition of any contract was 'no cure, no pay.”
An Evening Gazette story in September 1886 tagged the phenomenon as Belle Plaine's Water Elephant. By June it had acquired the name Jumbo after the elephant star of Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth.
By the end of September, thousands were coming by train to view the 'watery monster.” Lincoln King, a well contractor, was hired to choke off the well in January 1887. He installed an iron pipe with a smaller pipe attached. The water in the uptown wells was within a foot of the top, so his efforts looked hopeful, but were temporary. The city refused to pay the bill King submitted. In March 1887, The Gazette reported, 'The Belle Plaine artesian well baffles all attempt to check or control its delivery. It seemingly breathes at regular intervals of forty or fifty pulsations per minute.”
Local resident George Palmer Sr. of Palmer Brothers Foundry finally was successful in stopping the flow of water 14 months after it began. He used 77 feet of 16-inch pipe, 60 feet of five-inch pipe with a large cone attached, 162 feet of 18-inch pipe, 40 carloads of stone, 130 barrels of cement along with lots of sand and clay.
The high-pressure channel of water that fed Jumbo still is there, beneath Belle Plaine.