The Chicago Artesian Well

George A. Shufeldt, Jr. History of the Chicago Artesian Well. A Demonstration of the Truth of the Spiritual Philosophy; with an Essay on the Origin and Uses of Petroleum.  Chicago: Religio-Philosophical Publishing Association, 1866.

When this was published, the investors, buoyed by the discovery of water, were still expecting to find oil as well.—JB

A. F. Croskey and George A. Shufeldt, Jr.: A. F. Croskey & Co., Proprietors of the Artesian Wells, 99 Washington Street, Chicago.  William T. B. Read, General Superintendent, at the Wells, corner of Chicago and Western Avenues.


This work, as a Spiritual demonstration, has become known throughout our entire country, and a great degree of curiosity has been manifested to learn the manner in which the revelation of the existence of water and oil beneath this ground was made.  To gratify in a measure this curiosity, and to contribute—only a mite perhaps—to the great mass of facts now rapidly accumulating in support of the truth of Spirit communion, the following details are given.  They are vouched for by the writer, so far as his personal knowledge goes; and those matters of which he is not cognizant are testified to by reliable witnesses to that extent which admits of no possible contradiction.  It has heretofore been a common practice to sneer at and ridicule such new truths and developments as were not comprehended by the ordinary understanding of men; but it will not do in this day, and after the demonstrations of the Steam Engine, the Locomotive, Hoe’s Press, the Magnetic Telegraph and the Telescope, to repudiate anything for the single reason that it is new and not generally understood.  There are things in Philosophy and Science every day revealed which cannot be laughed down nor sneered out of existence; and with all due respect to the men of learning and the wise ones of the world, I venture to suggest that this fact of the Spirit communion is one of that class.  The daily accumulation of proofs is too great, the mass of testimony in its favor is too strong, to permit any mere passer-by to laugh it down—like Banquo’s ghost, “it will not down”—but is ever, with its simple philosophy, with its Divine justice and morality, rising upward and marching onward; numbering its followers by millions; attracting the simple and lowly of the world as well as the learned and the great; uprooting Atheism, Deism and Pantheism; it destroys that skepticism and infidelity to God, which have cast so many shadows on the natural religion of man.

The facts detailed in the following pages—“The History of the Chicago Artesian Well”—are given and intended as mere links in the great chain of proofs, to demonstrate the reality of the Spiritual communication.  The revelation of the existence of water and oil underneath the ground, where geologists declared they did not exist, and the proof of the truth of that revelation, by actual boring into the ground, the result of which can now be seen by all, in the perpetual, never-ending flow of this splendid fountain, is the great fact to which we point, as conclusive proof of the matters which are here alleged.

It was sometime in the summer of 1863—in July or August—two gentlemen from Maine, Mr. Thomas J. Whitehead and Mr. A. E. Swift, visited Chicago on private business of their own.  They were strangers here, ignorant of Chicago, its soil, surface and surroundings, and bent wholly upon matters foreign to the subject and substance of this narrative.

These gentlemen happened to be the Spiritual faith, and met many times in a circle formed by themselves, Mrs. Caroline Jordan, a writing medium, and Mr. Abraham James, hereafter referred to.  The meetings of these persons and the holding of circles were, apparently, accidental, and without any particular designs other than those which usually attend such gatherings, and attention was first attracted by a communication in writing given through Mrs. Jordan—that a matter of great importance and significance would soon be made known; and, in pursuance of this intimation, it was shortly thereafter written, with an explanatory preface, to the effect that great doubts prevailed in the human mind as to the reality and truth of the spiritual communion, many persons altogether disbelieving in the existence of any of the alleged phenomena; hence, a practical test or demonstration was necessary, in order to remove these doubts and to place this fact beyond the possibility of cavil or dispute; and then the revelation came: That beneath a certain tract or piece of land, near the city of Chicago, Petroleum existed in large quantities, and could be obtained by the ordinary process used for that purpose.  And it was further declared and stated that underneath this ground would also be found a well or stream of the best, purest and healthiest water known anywhere, which would rush to the surface with great force and power, and was in quantities sufficient to supply the people of this city for all time to come, and that this water would be found and used for that purpose.  No very great degree of attention was paid to these statements until after many earnest repetitions of the same story and a specific location of the land was made.  The medium, Mr. James, was taken to the ground, was there entranced, and, in that state, selected a point for boring the first well; and at that precise spot this well is now flowing 600,000 gallons per day of the best and purest water in the world.

About the time of the occurrence of these matters, my attention was called to it by Messrs. Whitehead and Swift, but not then understanding the object of the communication, and thinking that it was a mere search after money, which I knew was never sanctioned by spirits of truthful character, I declined to have anything to do with it, and for the time paid no further attention to it.  But, as these gentlemen were persistent in their efforts and evidently honest in their faith, I was finally induced to attend the circle, which I did for the purpose of learning more definitely the character of the communications and the probable truthfulness of the matters referred to—and here, for the first time, I heard this revelation in full, and its objects and purposes explicitly stated, and being convinced that such objects and purposes were for the accomplishment of a great good, negotiations were opened for the purchase of the land.  This purchase being consummated in the month of October, 1863, the drill was shortly thereafter started, in pursuit of the facts which had been thus revealed.  The one fact—the water—has been found; the other will come in due season.

Many times during the progress of the work—I may say many hundreds of times—these things were repeated and insisted upon by different spirits through the same medium.  A diagram was made showing the location of the water, and the workmen were advised to be on the lookout for it only one or two days before it was finally reached.  As to the existence of oil beneath this ground, we who have carefully watched the descent of the drill and studied its products have no doubt of the fact—for we see it every day and every time the sediment comes to the surface.  We were told that the oil was to be found in quantities below this water some fifty or sixty feet, and, when the proper time arrives, we shall demonstrate the truth of this assertion, or prove its falsity.  At present our business is with the water, and our efforts are directed to the one result, i.e., to make this the largest and most magnificent fountain of pure cold water to be found anywhere in the world.

It has been, also, frequently stated, through the medium, that the Petroleum and gases from this ground, and their products, would be used for the purpose of illuminating the streets and houses of this city, but as this statement may seem extremely problematical to many, I simply give it as it came, and leave the future to prove or disprove it.


Location of the Land.

The tract of land on which this well is located is forty acres in extent, and lies at the city limits of Chicago—at the corner of Chicago and Western avenues—three and one-half miles from the Court House, or center of the city.  Buildings of all kinds are gradually approaching it, and the onward course of the great city of the West will soon surround it.  The elevation is thirty-one feet above the level of the lake, and is the highest ground within the corporation limits; the water has a head of at least eighty feet above the surface of the ground, giving one hundred and eleven feet above the lake, thus warranting an ample head for all practical and useful purposes.


The Future of This Work.

We are now engaged in boring a well for a further supply of water, which, when completed, will be from fifteen to twenty inches in diameter—most probably the latter—and will discharge from ten to seventeen millions of gallons per day.  This water will be first used to supply the City Reservoirs and the people of Chicago with this indispensable article, of such a quality as the people of no other city enjoy.  A cheap, inexpensive, perennial river, will flow outward to our citizens forever.  We shall then apply the water to the making of ice, by constructing a pond of about forty acres in extent, and putting up, in the winter season, from fifty thousand to seventy-five thousand tons of the clearest, purest ice to be found anywhere in the world.  Shade trees and shrubbery will ornament the banks, and walks will be laid all about it, and thus it will be made to serve the double purpose of a Pleasure Lake in the summer time, and an Ice Pond for the winter.  The next thing now in contemplation is the erection of a cast iron column, or cylinder, about four feet in diameter and about one hundred feet in height, to carry this water to the level of its fountain head.  From this column it can be conveyed in any direction, and to any place, for use, a a power to drive machinery, for which it is admirably adapted, Paper mills, cotton or woolen factories, can be erected on this ground, and be run with a cheap and lasting power for all time to come.  There is, in fact, scarcely a conceivable use to which this power may not be cheaply and advantageously applied.

In the not distant future we shall lay out a pleasure-ground and garden, shade-trees and shrubbery, grass and flowers, fountains, springs, and little lakes, of this crystal water, will ornament and adorn this spot of ground-—baths and bathing houses will be built, and this great gift dispensed on every side with a free and liberal hand.

There is also a promise on record, of the spiritual intelligence who made this revelation, that the main object and design of this work, not being to put money into the hands of one or two or more individuals—nor for the mere accumulation of wealth by particular persons—that the day will come when the funds, to be derived from this source, will be applied to charitable, benevolent and educational purposes, and for the spreading and dissemination of the principles of this simple and beautiful philosophy.

That, on this ground, a great and magnificent temple will be reared to the Supreme Intelligence of the universe, whose portals will ever be open to the entire human family, and where all, casting aside the old creeds, forms, and theologies, may enter the vast halls of mind, and learn the eternal truths of God.  Free schools and colleges will grow up about it, in which the children of poverty may enter, and receive that education and instruction which will enable them to advance their condition in life, and to contribute to the general welfare and progress of the country in which we live.  Hospitals will be erected for the sick and destitute, and schools of the arts and sciences will be established to promote that intellectual culture which goes so far towards that refinement which is indispensable to a great people.

All of this may seem wild and extravagant to those who have given no thought to the subject; but as the tendency of this seeming extravagance is to contribute to the general welfare of the people, and to the advancement of the public good, the writer, who has given many days and weeks of thought to this and kindred subjects, craves the indulgence of a liberal people.  Satisfied in my own mind that all of this and much more will surely come to pass, and that the future of this great work can be comprehended by every person of common intelligence who will devote a little thought to the matter, I do not hesitate to place these anticipations in print, and to make a public record of my own convictions.  But a few years, and the story will be told, its truth or falsity known to men.


The medium through whom the revelation of the existence of this water came, Mr. Abraham James, was born in Pennsylvania, is of Quaker origin, was unfortunate enough in early life to be deprived even of the rudiments of a common school education.  As he himself expresses it—“his father, instead of sending him to school in the winter kept him laying stone walls.”  Later in life he has been employed by different Railway companies in the West, sometimes as conductor, at other times as a pilot, earning only ordinary wages.  It is known to me to be a fact that he is entirely ignorant of any language except the English; does not know the meaning of a single French, German, Italian, or Spanish word.  He is a simple-minded man, in the sense that he knows nothing of frauds, trickery, or imposture—perfectly truthful and upright in his character, unostentatious, and seeking no publicity or notoriety—he pursues his own way in the world, a natural, honest man.  His mind is as free from a knowledge of the sciences as that of a child of five years.  He has had no instruction in drawing, and, in his normal state, has no knowledge of the art of any kind or description.  There are hundreds and thousands of people here among us who know him well, and who can testify to these facts.  Now, with a full knowledge of this man—his antecedents, education, and history—I know it to be a perfect impossibility for him, in his natural state, or unaided by the higher powers, to do what he has done and what he is doing every day of his life.

Here on this ground, and in the rooms of this building, can be seen, by all persons who choose to visit the spot, some of the most elaborate and beautiful pencil drawings in the world.  A series of geological pictures, illustrating the formation and stratification of the earth’s crust—some showing the simple strata of the formation in this vicinity, which were drawn before the drill was even started, and which were demonstrated to be accurate and truthful by the descent of the drill for over seven hundred feet—other pictures show great caves and caverns in the rock, created either by vast upheavals, or by erosion—the action of water upon soluble rocks.  The floors of some of these caverns are composed of great masses of the most beautiful fossil shells, which, in their shadings and perfection, are evidently the work of a master-hand.  The elaborate character of this shell-work, which runs through all these geological pictures—the millions of accurate pencil strokes necessary to complete them, and the very short time in which they were executed—are matters of great wonder and astonishment to all who have seen them.  Many of these drawings are on full-sized sheets of paper, 26x40 inches, and cover the entire surface; they were completed in from three to nine hours each—the latter being the longest time given to any one picture.  Mr. James has also made many smaller sketches illustrating the same subject, viz: the fossils of Earth.  These latter are perfect gems of beauty, and all of his work seems to be geologically correct, and is so pronounced by those who understand these matters.  By reference to standard works on geology, I find their accuracy proved to a demonstration.  A greater work than all is now on exhibition here.  It is a diagram of this stream of water, fifteen feet in length and twenty-six inches in width.  It is understood as a clairvoyant view of the stream from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its outlet on this ground.  It may be called a “bird’s eye” view.  It exhibits on a general scale the principles of artesian wells, and demonstrates the manner in which water finds its way through the rocks and sands of earth, and finally raises to the level of its fountain head.  This picture is composed of six sheets of drawing paper, each one of which was finished separately, and without any apparent reference to the others, by the medium, and were joined together afterwards, when they were all found to match exactly and make one complete work.  This was the labor of only sixty hours.  Persons familiar with the subject say that no ordinary artist can do the same amount of work in many months.

There has been recently added to this collection a full length portrait of the martyred President, Abraham Lincoln; this also is a work done through the same medium.  The sheet of paper on which this likeness is drawn is seven and a half feet long by four and a half in width; it exhibits the President, life-size, as standing upon a rock, the broken chain of African slavery beneath his feet, and in his left hand the scroll of American liberty.  This picture was put upon paper in about twenty hours, and is in itself a most remarkable production, even of the power through which it is claimed to be received.

It is a matter of great difficulty, by any mere description in print, to convey even a tolerable idea of the nature of these works, they should be seen and carefully examined by all who are curious in the mysteries of nature.

A not less wonderful part of the matter is the manner in which the work is done.  The medium labors in an unconscious state, with from two to six pencils, and with one or both hands, the pencils are placed between the fingers, and the hand moves with a rapidity which troubles the eyes to follow, each pencil doing a separate part of the work at the same time, and it makes no difference whether 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; the pencils did their work equally as well as when his eyes were free and there were no obstructions.

There is another theory illustrated in these works, i.e. the medium draws a square or a circle to accurate measurement, without other implements than the mere pencil, and this with the right hand or the left.

Mr. James has gone further than these physical manifestations of the spirit power.  In common with hundreds of others who can verify the facts here stated, I have for the past two years heard through him a series of discourses on all conceivable subjects, political, scientific, and philosophical, which would not disgrace the greatest intellects that ever lived.  With equal freedom and facility he discusses questions of political economy and political science, geology, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, the philosophy of life, the structure of the earth, and all of the physical and natural sciences.

A distinguished professor of the science and a State Geologist, after listening to a discourse from Mr. James on the subject, remarked, that “I have met a man who knows more about geology than I do.”

I have also heard him speak fluently, and with an evident knowledge of the whole, in French, Italian, Spanish, German, and an Indian tongue, and I am confident of the fact that he is, in his natural state, wholly ignorant of any other than the English language.  There is neither deception nor fraud about this man.  He is beyond all question above suspicion.  He makes no exhibition for money, gets no money out of it, lives a retired and secluded life.  Now what is it?  Upon what hypothesis can this seeming mystery be solved?  These things are facts—hard, stubborn, unyielding facts.  Let those who do not believe as I do in the intelligence which operating through this instrument, performs all of these wonders, solve the mystery, it is not for me.

It was through this medium that the fact of the existence of water and oil underneath this ground was revealed; this was as early as the autumn of 1863.  And from that time until the water was reached, the fact was more than one hundred times re-stated and repeated, in the presence of the writer and numerous other persons, who can verify and prove this statement.

The land was selected, and the point for boring marked out by the medium in a trance state, the drill started, and the well bored at this point, with the result which is now visible to all—(a synopsis of the objects and purposes of this revelation is given in a previous page.)  They will be carried out by the parties in whose hands the matter rests.  Chicago is now on her grand march to her position as the second city on the continent, and there are those now living who will see her reach it.  And such will also see on this ground, and from this simple commencement, a structure reared which will be, not only an ornament to the great Northwest, but a shrine of religious liberty and truth, around which shall gather pilgrims from all the wide world.

In the fullest confidence that the Supreme Ruler and Creator of the Universe has done all things well, “that everything that is, is right,” that eternal progress is the law of nature and nature’s God, that no man should call God his Father who does not also call man his brother, we launch our little barque, freighted only perhaps with the germ of a truth, out upon the great waters.  She will return before many days, laden with the fruits of her mission.



The following paragraph from a writer on petroleum, will take us back to the spirit of the work in which we are engaged on this ground:

“Many years ago, as the Seneca Indians have the tradition, the Great Spirit appeared to one of their chiefs in a dream, and told him that if he would proceed to a certain part of the country he would find, oozing up from the earth, a liquid which would prove a balm for the cure of many ailments to which red men as well as white men were heirs to.  The chief proceeded to the spot and there found the balm flowing copiously from the bosom of the earth.  The instructions of the vision were complied with, and sure enough the liquid proved a healing ointment to the tribes of the Senecas.  There are white people now living who were treated medicinally by these Indians with this ointment, and we believe there is still an article known and sold in the drug stores as ‘Seneca oil.’”


[Boring the Second Well.  “In May last . . .]

This well, like its predecessor, was located through the clairvoyant powers of Mr. James.  In a state of unconscious trance, the spiritual intelligences through him selected the precise spot, on the surface beneath which the water would be again found; and here the drill went down, and here the water was found.

This fountain lies deep down in the bowels of the earth, concealed from the natural sight.  The physical senses cannot perceive it, and man cannot find it, but the intelligence which made this revelation, with powers of vision which pertain only to the Immortal, said to us, “Come, and we will show you the exact location of this water, and we will demonstrate at once the truth of clairvoyance, and the fact of the spiritual communion.”

[. . .]

The second well is located about nine feet distance from the first; is 694 feet 4 inches in depth, to the surface of the water; was commenced on the 8th of May, and reach the water on the 1st day of November following.

[. . .]

This water may now be considered as the clearest, purest and best in the world.  On the surface of the ground there is none like it, and no other Artesian well approaches it in purity or temperature.

In the absence of any accurate measurement, we conjecture that the two wells are now flowing about twelve hundred thousand gallons per day.


As the geologist, the reader of the great stone book, unfolds its leaves and tells us of the millions of years of creation; of the gradual development of vegetable and animal life through thousands of centuries, and demonstrates its truth by pointing to the record which God has written in the rocks; so Spiritualism adopts what geology teaches, and casts aside the fabulous story of a special creation in a few days of time, preferring the more enlarged, more comprehensive, and more natural view of the work of God, to the purely mythical view resting only upon a fatherless tradition.  The astronomer who maps the skies and exhibits to us the architecture of the heavens, exposing to the admiring gaze of man the countless millions of worlds and suns, of beauty the most transcendent, who, penetrating to the remotest depths of space reveals the existence of unnumbered orbs of light, of vast systems of starts, which can be likened only to the sands upon the seashore.  This man bears witness to the falsity of another of the traditions of our childhood, viz: that which taught us to believe that this earth was the chief result of the creation; that the sun and moon and stars were made to give light for and to adorn, and beautify it, and that on this earth alone, was man, the sole recipient of the Divine Spirit, placed.  Can it be that God has made the whole of this wondrous creation, these millions of worlds, and on this mere mote, amid the vast ocean, the earth, and on it alone, that He has been pleased to locate the image of Himself?  Astronomy answers, No.  Spiritualism believes—nay, it knows—that intelligence, even like unto the Great Creator himself, is omnipresent; that all of these worlds are peopled, or are in the process of perfection to that state, which will eventually fit them for the habitation of intellectual beings.  That intelligence is the culmination of creation, and is not confined to any one orb or sphere, but is universal, co-extensive with the stupendous works of God.  Spiritualism is a liberalizing power, she takes science by the hand and bids her go on, unravel, investigate and develop the laws of nature, to expand the human intellect, and to learn what she can of the manifestations of God.  Spiritualism does not meet the investigator as the Church met Copernicus and Galileo; she has no prison houses for the men of genius, for the leaders of the human race; she has no fear that scientific knowledge will contradict the sayings of some musty old saint, or the traditions current in the barbarous ages of the world, for she believes that God intended man should learn, should raise himself up, should exalt his moral and intellectual faculties to the highest possible standard.  The truths of Nature, the revelations of the Divine are scattered throughout the universe; they are there for man to grasp and understand—like the peaks and ranges of the great mountains, we have no sooner compassed one but others higher and greater, rise in majesty and grandeur before us; and that in this order knowledge ever continues to progress until we reach even to the confines of the great Infinite mind.

Such is a glimpse of the Spiritual Philosophy.  Wider fields and broader avenues are every day opening to the view, and at no remote day Spiritualism will demand and receive from the judgment of men its proper place among those philosophies, which are based upon and supported by indisputable facts.

CHICAGO, January, 1866.


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