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Vera water well open for weekend tour

UPDATED: Fri., May 12, 2017, 10:25 p.m.

If peering down an old-fashioned well is one of your wishes, then this weekend’s Mother’s Day tour is the place for you.

Vera Water & Power Co. is opening its No. 1 well to the tour from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

“This will be only the second time that we’ve let people look down the well,” said Catherine Cronin, Vera’s communications manager.

The other time was during Vera’s 100th anniversary in 2008.

The hand-dug well at 601 N. Evergreen Road is a well-loved landmark because of the stone castle pump house that was built out of native river rock to protect the well.

At 156 feet deep, the 8-foot-diameter well reaches the plentiful Spokane aquifer at between 115 and 125 feet depending on the time of year.

Workers sank the well in 1906 as part of a land development plan to supply irrigation to emerging farms.

Vera does not have a record of the diggers’ names.

However, it is believed the castlelike structure was constructed by prominent stonemason Hans Vinge.

“It’s a cool building,” said Brady Stewart, general foreman for the water division.

And it is well-loved in the community.

In the 1990s, a married couple built a miniature replica, which was donated and is on display at Vera.

A painting behind the counter is an artist’s rendering of the castle with its distinct turret, crenellations and arch-shaped wooden entry.

The well is still in use during summer months with a 350-horsepower pump.

“I don’t think people realize this is a well we still use,” Cronin said.

For the event, Vera staff built a Plexiglas frame and railing to protect visitors while allowing them to peer into the well.

A rope light was strung together and dropped into the well, which illuminates the mortared sides, pipes and the surface of the crystal-clear water so far below.

Cronin said the aquifer often sends bubbles to the surface.

Stones for the pump house and attached superintendent’s house came from the excavation.

The history of the well dates to the early 1900s when real estate developers opened what had been low-value land for agriculture.

According to Vera’s official history, “The Vera Electric Water Company was established in 1908 by Donald K. McDonald, A.C. Jamison, and Andrew Good, local real estate entrepreneurs.

“Their other business ventures were the very similar Modern Electric Water Company and the town of Opportunity.

“McDonald named this new company after his daughter (Vera). As the land filled up with apple orchards, the town of Vera was incorporated.”

The Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer flows through the region within a deep layer of rounded rock deposited during the glacial floods near the end of the Ice Age. The material consists mainly of gravel, cobbles and boulders, which allows water to flow underground like a river.

But the well and canal diggers had to fight through the material to get the job done.

In January, the aquifer was at 124.6 feet in depth. On Friday, it was at 115 feet, apparently due to the heavier precipitation starting in October. The Vera pump station was accepted into the National Landmarks of the American Waterworks Association in 1977.

Vera is a publicly owned not-for-profit utility providing water and electric service to about 25,000 customers in the heart of Spokane Valley, mainly south of Interstate 90.

Also on the tour are the Glover Mansion, Westminster Congregational Church, C.C. Koerner House, Ralston and Sarah Wilbur House and the Arbor Crest Wine Cellars grounds, including the rebuilt Riblet Mansion.

No one under 21 is allowed on the Arbor Crest grounds.


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