The Big Well museum has a new director and continues to attact visitors from near and far

Edward Naughton and Jennifer Stultz
Kiowa County Signal
Heather Coyne has been the Greensburg Tourism and Big Well Museum Director since early June of this year.

Heather Coyne, the new director at the Big Well Museum in Greensburg, has only been on the job for about two month, but already she has met visitors from Uzbekistan, Croatia, Australia, Israel, Czech Republic, Korea and just every about every state in the United States of America. Just last week there were 496 visitors from  27 states and 11 countries.

"We love meeting people from other countries," Coyne said. "Making connections and asking questions about other people’s way of life is one of the best parts about this job. We really haven’t had too much of a problem with a language barrier. Once we had a group of Tibetan Monks that stopped in on a US tour, but they brought a translator."

Coyne was the director at Kiowa County Historical Museum for four years and also worked in the banking sector before landing her current job as museum director and head of Greensburg Tourism. She was on hand August 5 to greet guests from Hutchinson, Allicia Gibbs, and her son Mayson Wilson. The Big Well continues to attract many in-state visitors as well as those from abroad.

"My great-grandfather helped dig this well for three months many years ago," Gibbs said. "We just had to come see this before summer was over."

Allicia Gibbs, and her son Mayson Wilson, came from Hutchinson to visit the Big Well Museum in Greensburg last week.

According to Coyne, the well itself would have not been possible to create except for the hard labor employed by men working 12 miles away from the site. They harvested about 116 cords of rock weighing 10,000 pounds a cord, stone was quarried from Medicine River between October 15, 1887 and May 3, 1888. 

Blasting operations during this period began unbelievably early at 3 a.m. Then after loading the stone, the workers fed the mule teams and lined them up. After loading the stone, the routine they used daily would culminate in transport to the well site which made the day into an extraordinarily long test of endurance basically ending at midnight most days.

This well and these stony structures built to last obviously bears testimony to the feat that men undertook at the pay rate of minimum of 50 cents a day, to as much as $2 dollars a day for others, many working past sundown before they got up the next morning to do it all over again.

The men working on-site were chosen at sun-up and paid 50 cents to $2 at sundown. These men vigorously took picks and shovels in hand as they removed dirt and cribbed the walls with wood to prevent cave-ins. Every 8 feet, bracing was used wall-to-wall with 2 feet by 12 feet planks.

Going down the winding staircase and nearer to the bottom of the well, there is stone all around with some vague etchings on it visible, even some openings in the wall structure that intrigue visitors, like Gibbs and Wilson, who wondered exactly what part in construction their grandfather played.

At the Big Well Museum, visitors can go down towards the bottom of the well on a safe and secure staircase, or for a more birds-eye-view, there is a staircase that goes up to look down at the well below.

Gibbs and Wilson took the stairs to the bottom, but took some moments to rest on the return trip up.

"I have asthma so I get short of breath going upstairs sometimes," Gibbs said.

After a few minutes rest standing still and relaxing and talking lightly with her son, before proceeding back up the last part of the stairs, she was fine, but was happy to make her way up finally to the main floor feeling good.

The Big Well Museum was completly rebuilt in 2012. The design once inside is that of a easy walk-around circular display of storm artifacts, an amazing meteorite, historical references, charts, graphic illustrations and well thought-out special features like video clips from live coverage in the aftermath of the incredibly powerful tornado that hit Greensburg on May 4, 2007, which is the reason it was rebuilt.

The museum displays help visitors remember that after the storm there was eventual triumph in the incredible rescue and volunteer efforts, the insertion of National Guard troops to regulate traffic and assist civilians in distress, and of course FEMA came quickly at the behest of President George Bush who also visited the town and spent time encouraging the wounded residents on the road to healing their town. There was unheard of federal assistance in the re-building and sustainability story too that is Greensburg. 

The museum staff keeps a map on the wall at the entrance hall which has little pins affixed to the various geographic locations where visitors since the start of this year. 

Admission fees for children vary according to age. There is a reasonably priced $8 admission fee to view the museum. Seniors 60 and over get in at $6 per person.

The Big Well Museum was first Leadership in Energy and Enviromental Design (LEED) Platinum municipal building in Kansas is in Greensburg, and it currently contains the office of the city administrator Stacy Barnes, her administrative staff, city council chambers, and police chief for the city of Greensburg, Aaron Webb.

The museum is also home to a large, pallasite meteorite rock called the space wanderer. Weighing 1,000 pounds, this rock was uncovered in 1949 by a man named H. O. Stockwell who worked the Peck farm.

A visitor to the Big Well Museum can expect to many steps to the bottom of the man-made wonder.