On July 2, 1949, it was laid to rest with a funeral attended by hundreds.

In November 1999, it was pulled from the ground at the corner of Jefferson and Main streets and put on display.

Sometime in the next year or so, the old town pump will be coming back to life, in some shape or form.

The Brown County Rotary Club and town staff are working to figure out how to get it to actually draw water again.

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For 60 years, the iron pump and two others near the Brown County Courthouse provided water for Nashville families who had no well at their property, and for fighting fires, according to a history flier posted at the Village Green. The pump drew water from artesian well, which never ran dry.

What form the pump may take now and how the water would be used hasn’t been determined yet, but preserving the well is one goal, said Town Manager Scott Rudd.

A lot of people — adults included — may never have experienced the feeling of drawing water from the ground with a hand pump, he said.

“We’ve thrown out ideas such as a water conservation educational tool, maybe watering the landscaping on this site, a kids’ play element, and making the well pump functional again. We’d like to do that,” he said.

The revival is part of an overall Village Green Revitalization Project, which is focusing first on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Main.

It’s the same corner where a compact, “all-ages play space” is being created with state grant money. The former library on that corner was turned into a public restroom earlier this spring.

Before the project goes much further, the group is in need of an expert to assess the condition of the brick-lined well and give them ideas on how to protect it, Rudd said.

Pump history

The pump at Jefferson and Main is believed to date back to about 1890, according to the posted history flier created by the Brown County Historical Society.

“A good place to feel the pulse of civic life is at the public drinking trough. The ebb and flow of animal life, as it quenches its thirst at the public fountain, gives us an estimate of the wealth, population and prosperity of the community; the character, habits and occupations of its people and the utility, pleasure and hardships of its citizens,” says a story in the Oct. 22, 1914, Brown County Democrat.

“There is no better place to study the progress of the community than at the town pump. … Pure water and plenty of it is a good community builder.”

By 1949, the pump had outlived its usefulness. The town had installed a new water system fed by Lake Ogle in Brown County State Park, according to a history by the late Fred King.

On July 2, 1949, the pump was laid to rest with an elaborate funeral.

It was measured for a casket at Calvin Bros. Hardware.

It lay in state to allow the public to pay their respects — a ceremony normally reserved for esteemed public servants of the human kind.

It was paraded through town on a horse-drawn hearse which was attended to by professional mourners — paid to mourn because, according to the history flier, “no one regretted the passing of the town pump.”

The pump was then given a proper funeral led by James Austin of the United Methodist Church. The courthouse bell tolled 60 times — once for each year the pump served the town — and then, it was dropped into the well, the flier says.

There it stayed for 50 years until the Brown County Historical Society raised it and put it on display in 1999, the flier says.

Back to life

On Nov. 9, a group of town staff and Rotary Club members gathered at the corner to open the pump’s watery grave and see what lay beneath.

It took four adults a good amount of grunting to haul the iron remains up and out of the small concrete hole, with the aid of some heavy-duty straps.

Rudd and others peered inside with a flashlight. Under the main, straight hole, it opens up to a wider tunnel which appears to run under the street, he observed.

He was able to make out an old tobacco pipe, bottles and trash floating in the water, but it was impossible to see the bottom, he said.

Town maintenance man Lamond Martin improvised a depth finder with a pipe fitting tied to the end of a chalk line. It dropped for about 12 feet before hitting water, which measured about 25 feet deep.

Rudd thinks he saw parts of the pump still in the well.

The town’s and Rotary’s task is to keep digging, to bring more of its history back to life.

Rotary Club and town council member Jane Gore said the club gathered $3,750 from raffle ticket sales, and that was matched with a grant from district-level Rotary. That’s the budget they’re working with for the pump project, though Rudd said some of the state Village Green Revitalization Project money could be an option if they need it.

Replacing the log structure surrounding the pump is also on the agenda, as is improving the green space around it.

The end result is envisioned as a place for people to gather as they did more than a century ago.

Rudd said work at the corner — including the all-ages play space, an area to relax on the porch of the restrooms and the pump work — should become more visible within the next few months.

Are you a well expert?

The town is looking for a well expert to assess the condition of the old town pump and well and guide decisions on how to preserve it and convert it into something that’s still useful. To help, call Nashville Town Manager Scott Rudd at 812-988-5623.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.