Friday, July 6, 2012

Well, that's interesting: Man takes trip down water memory lane

by  Andrea Ball for the Austin American Statesman 

Robert Mace is always on the hunt for postcards.
The Austin man isn't into the typical fodder, though — no landscapes, historical landmarks or retro pinups for him. Mace, 45, collects postcards of artesian wells.

He's got about 100 of them, mostly featuring old photographs of Texas wells from the 1800s and early 1900s. He posts them on his personal website, He also shares photos of wells from other countries, including France, Egypt and Australia.

An obscure passion? Definitely. But for Mace — the Texas Water Development Board's deputy executive administrator of water science and conservation — the hobby makes perfect sense. He likes water. He likes historical stuff. Artesian wells fit the bill for both.

"There's no artesian well association, but I can start one and be the president," he joked.
At a time in which Central Texans are constantly worried about drought and water supplies — some people are actually digging private wells to ensure their grass stays green — a foray into the world of artesian wells is an interesting trip.

Artesian wells are pumpless wells in which water gushes to the surface because of underground pressure. The wells are named after the former province of Artois in France, where monks first drilled them in the 1100s. Their golden age was around 1900, when communities were not only discovering such resources, but promoting them heavily to show their sustainability as a community.
"People would use that to recruit people to move to their towns," Mace said.

Texas had thousands of these wells and benefited greatly, he said. Waco advertised itself as "the Geyser City," with artesian wells supplying the water for Dr Pepper Bottling Co., farms and other businesses. Then, with the development of photography, artesian well postcards emerged.
Seven or eight years ago, Mace was looking for a picture of a well drilled in Paris in the 1800s when he discovered a postcard of it online.

Mace has been collecting the postcards since then, mainly purchasing them from eBay for $5 to $10.
"I'm generally interested in history, so I got bit," said Mace, who also collects old electric fans and calls himself a "borderline hoarder."

In 2010, Mace started his postcard website to share his finds. One shows a well-dressed man sipping from a teacup beside a gushing water pipe. Another shows palm trees near a fountain. Others depict bathhouses, parks and man-made waterfalls.

There are still artesian wells in Texas, Mace said, but most of them are now gone. Some towns just let the wells run free until they stopping running altogether.
"They just played out," Mace said. "It's actually a really good lesson in conservation."

Contact Andrea Ball at aball@; 512-912-2506

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