Downtown Olympia’s Artesian Well Receiving a Long-Anticipated Facelift

Olympia Artesian well
Rendering Provided By The City of Olympia

There was a time when many downtown Olympia businesses had artesian wells on their property. Today, the only publically accessible one is found at 4th Avenue and Jefferson Street. After the city of Olympia’s purchase last year, the popular fill ’er up spot is getting a much-needed facelift.

The exact date of the well’s construction is uncertain, but can be pinpointed somewhere between 1895 and 1915.

At 1.8-inch in diameter and drilled 90 feet deep, the well spills out approximately 10 gallons of water per minute. No pump is necessary – the water is free flowing – because it’s under enough pressure for water to be forced to the surface.

Folks far and wide sing the praises of the water, which is naturally filtered and protected by impermeable surrounding clay. “The water is the best around,” says Melissa Stambaugh. “Before we had our own well we used to fill up often.”

The wet stuff’s wonderfulness was even the catalyst for the 1902 Olympia beer slogan, “It’s the water.”

Earlier this year, the City Council approved short-term improvements to ease accessibility to the well and enhance the overall experience.

“The most important plan for the well is to keep it open and freely accessible to the public,” explains City Councilman Craig Ottavelli.

Ottavelli believes the well reflects the values and ideals of its surrounding community. “Not only is it iconic,” he says, “but it’s a physical embodiment of many principals Olympians hold dear: clean natural resources, public accessibility to the best amenities of our community, natural and alternative choices unadulterated by treatment or human intervention, an appropriate nexus between the natural an urban environment, and a space where community can happen.”

Rich Hoey, Interim Public Works Director of the City of Olympia, has worked for several years to improve the artesian well. He negotiated agreements with Thurston PUD and Diamond Parking to maintain community access to the well, and worked on the design of the improvements.

“We coordinated with H2Olympia-Artesian Well Advocates, the Olympia Downtown Association, and the Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA) on the development of the design,” Hoey says.

Olympia Artesian WellThe improvements, he says, will enhance the community’s use of the well and beautify the site.

Once complete, visitors to the well will enjoy new surfaces, an elevated bench for bottles, lighting, flower poles, a garbage can, signage, and a community announcement board. There will also be three dedicated parking stalls for visitors’ vehicles.

“The work is underway now and should be completed sometime in December,” Hoey says.

“In the long term,” Ottavelli adds, “additional improvements are possible but not likely to happen soon, due to budget constraints.”

A temporary filling station is set up to keep the well available during the transition, though officials ask folks to plan ahead and fill extra bottles, as there may be times when the well could be inaccessible.

The PBIA Advisory Board is currently seeking proposals from artists for the incorporation of public art into the design, planned for next spring. The PBIA has funded a $4,500 grant to paint the vertical elements of the new design. The proposal deadline is Wednesday, January 3, 2012. More information and application form available here.

Olympia artesian wellOttavelli is hopeful that the improvements to the area surrounding the well will help draw even larger crowds for years to come. “For me, one important change from the longtime incarnation of the well is emotional – I feel different visiting the well knowing it is finally in the hands of the public and secure into the future.”

Additional information about the artesian well and its facelift-in-progress can be found at

Rendering Credits: H2 Olympia: Artesian Well Advocates


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