First New Mexico Oil Wells

Giant Hobbs oilfield discovered in 1928, six years after first petroleum production.

 

“It was desolate country – sand, mesquite, bear grass and jack rabbits. Hobbs was a store, a small school, a windmill, and a couple of trees.” – New Mexico roughneck.

Although the Hobbs discovery came six years after the first oil production (seven years after the first natural gas well), petroleum geologists soon called it the most important single oil find in New Mexico history. The Midwest State No. 1 well — spudded in late 1927 using a standard cable-tool rig — saw its first signs of oil from the giant oilfield at depth of 4,065 feet on June 13, 1928. It had been a long  journey. (more…)

First Texas Oil Boom

Seeking a water well in 1894, Corsicana discovered an oilfield and became the richest town in Texas.

 

A contractor hired by the town of Corsicana to drill a water well on 12th Street found oil instead, creating a drilling frenzy seven years before a more famous discovery at Spindletop Hill, 230 miles southeast.

Corsican’s first oil well produced less than three barrels of oil a day, but it quickly transformed the sleepy agricultural town into a petroleum and industrial center. The discovery launched industries, including service companies and manufacturers of the newly invented rotary drilling rig.

Derricks at Corsicana oilfield shown in vintage post card.

The first Texas oil boom arrived in the summer of 1894 when the Corsicana oilfield is discovered by a drilling contractor hired by the city to find water. Residents annually celebrate the 1894 discovery with a Derrick Day Chili & BBQ Cook-Off.

Corsicana local historians consider the 1894 discovery well, drilled on South 12th Street, the first significant commercial oil discovery west of the Mississippi (Kansans claim the same distinction for an 1892 Neodesha oil well).

The American Well and Prospecting Company (from Kansas) made the oil strike on June 9, 1894, at a depth of 1,035 feet. The city council — angry and still wanting water for its growing community 55 miles south of Dallas – paid only half of the $1,000 fee. (more…)

Derricks of Triumph Hill

Post-Civil War oilfield discoveries created an Allegheny petroleum boom.

 

Soon after the Civil War ended and demand for kerosene for lamps soared, the young U.S. petroleum industry found oil at a small hill west of Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Wooden derricks soon replaced trees on Triumph Hill.

Formerly quiet Pennsylvania hillsides of hemlock woods vanished in the fall of 1866 when oil fever came to Triumph Hill. The oil industry was barely seven years old. Just 15 miles east of the 1859 first American oil well along Oil Creek well at Titusville, an 1866 oil discovery at Triumph Hill sparked a rush of uncontrolled development.

The oil drilling craze would not last long, but notorious boom towns sprang up at Gordon Run and Daniels Run west of Tidioute on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River. Like the earlier discoveries at Titusville, Rouseville, and Pithole Creek, wooden derricks replaced hillside trees.  A deadly Rouseville oil well fire had been overshadowed by the start of the Civil War.

Wooden derricks crowd an oilfield at Triumph hill, PA.

An 1870s photograph of the east side of Triumph Hill, near Tidioute, Pennsylvania, by Frank Robbins of Oil City. Image is right half of a stereo card rendered black and white for clarity from original sepia tone. Photo courtesy Biblioteca Nacional Digital Brazil.

Tidioute (pronounced tiddy-oot) was joined by the roughneck-filled towns of Triumph and Babylon with “sports, strumpets and plug-uglies, who stole, gambled, caroused and did their best to break all the commandments at once.”

Fresh from the oilfields at boom town Pithole 25 miles southwest, the infamous Ben Hogan, self proclaimed “Wickedest Man in the World,” operated a bawdy house on the Triumph hillside. Despite growing recognition that crowded drilling reduced reservoir pressures and production, the exploration and production bonanza, which began with the first well on October 4, 1866, prompted a frenzy of drilling as investors tried to cash in before the oil ran out.

By the summer of 1867, Triumph Hill was producing 2,000 barrels of oil a day. The flood of oil bought lower prices – an early example of the petroleum industry’s boom and bust cycles. Photographer Frank Robbins of Oil City published stereographic images of Triumph Hill, declaring it to be “the most magnificent oil belt (as oil men call a strip of producing land) ever yet discovered. On this belt which is but two miles long, and less than one mile wide – were over 180 producing wells, nearly every one of which was in operation at once.”

Robbins, who moved his studio to Bradford 1879 when that region was on its way to becoming “America’s first billion dollar oilfield,” also printed postcards for sale to tourists.

An image from the 1903 edition of "Sketches in Crude-Oil."

An image from the 1903 edition of “Sketches in Crude-Oil; some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe” by James McLaurin.

“Triumph Hill turned out as much money to the acre as any spot in Oildom,” noted James McLaurin in his 1896 book Sketches in Crude-Oil (some accidents and incidents of the petroleum development in all parts of the globe).

Many of the hill’s wells averaged 25 barrels of oil a day, McLaurin reported, adding that “the sand was the thickest – often ninety to one hundred and ten feet – and the purest the oil region afforded.” Eventually the tempo of oil exploration around Tidioute and boom town debauchery slowed as the region’s daily production fell. Drilling discipline and well spacing, reservoir engineering and other oilfield management skills would evolve, but Triumph Hill’s glory dissipated within five years as overproduction drained the field.

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Today, Triumph Hill remains as one of the many quietly beautiful and forest-covered sites along the Allegheny River Valley that has earned a special place in America’s petroleum history. Tidioute also is among the earliest panoramic maps of America’s earliest petroleum communities by Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler. Read more about his work in Oil Town “Aero Views.”

Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler oil town “aero view" of Tidioute, PA.

Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created oil town “aero views” – panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum communities. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Frank Robbins – Early Oilfields Photographer

Pioneer oil industry photographers like “Oil Creek Artist” John A. Mather documented Northwestern Pennsylvania boom towns.  He and other photographers like Frank Robbins captured many views of North American oil booms, according to geologist and oil patch historian Jeff Spencer. “Common scenes included oil gushers, oilfield fires, teamsters, and boom towns.”

“Frank Robbins documented the emerging Pennsylvania petroleum industry of the 1860s through 1880s,” Spencer noted in a 2011 article in the journal Oil-Industry History“He was one of the most prolific producers of stereoscopic views of oilfields in the Oil City and Bradford, Pennsylvania and Olean, New York area. His many oilfield views include scenes of Triumph Hill, Tidioute, Petrolia, and Pithole. Many of his photographs also were used in early twentieth century postcards.”

Sereoscopic view of "Drake Well, the first oil well."

A stereoscopic view by Frank Robbins described simply as “Drake Well, the first oil well.” Courtesy the New York Public Library

Spencer in 2003 published a book featuring historic Texas postcards (see Postcards from the Texas Oil Patch). For more resources of oilfield imagery, visit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s petroleum photography websites.

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Recommended Reading: Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pennsylvania, Images of America (2000); Around Titusville, Pa., Images of America (2004); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Derricks of Triumph Hill.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/triumph-hill-oil. Last Updated: June 1, 2021. Original Published Date: July 3, 2015.

Santa Rita taps Permian Basin

1920s West Texas petroleum discoveries that have kept on giving.

 

West Texas petroleum history is made in 1923 when a well blessed by nuns reveals the size of the Permian Basin. A small Texas university owns the arid land deemed worthless by many experts.

The Permian Basin, once known as a “petroleum graveyard,” began to make U. S. petroleum history in 1920 with a discovery by W. H. Abrams in Mitchell County in West Texas. When completed, his well produced just 10 barrels of oil a day.  It would be another discovery well, the Santa Rita No. 1, to convince wildcatters to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin from West Texas into southeastern New Mexico.

Although many experts still considered West Texas barren of oil, the Santa Rita well would produce for seven decades after tapping into the vast commercial oil production of the Permian Basin.

Equipment and walking beam of Santa Rita No. 1 well at University of Texas

In 1958, the University of Texas Board of Regents moved the Santa Rita No. 1 well’s walking beam and other equipment to the Austin campus. The student newspaper described the well, “as one that made the difference between pine-shack classrooms and modern buildings.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made its major oil strike May 28, 1923 – after 21 months of cable-tool drilling that averaged less than five feet a day. Within three years of the discovery, petroleum royalties endow the University of Texas with $4 million (legislators had given the land to the university when it opened in 1883).

The Texas board of regents moved Santa Rita’s drilling equipment to the campus in 1958, “In order that it may stand as a symbol of a great era in the history of the university.”

(more…)

First Nevada Oil Well

Discoveries inspired decades of frustrated searching.

 

Although drilling for oil in Nevada began in 1907 southwest of Reno, the first oilfield was not discovered until 1954 after many “dry holes.” An early attempt for drilling the state’s first commercial oil well was an expensive, 1,890-foot-deep well in Washoe County southwest of Reno in 1907.

A second exploratory well was rumored to have been drilled northwest of town, but details about it and others are rare because drilling permits were not required until 1953. (more…)

Cherry Grove Mystery Well

Pennsylvania drillers kept oil production from 1882 well a closely guarded secret.

 

Anyone interested in Pennsylvania petroleum history should not miss the annual celebration at Cherry Grove. Every June, this small community of oil patch historians has celebrated a dramatic 1882 oil discovery with the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day.

Oil prices plunged in 1882 when oil production from a single Pennsylvania well was revealed. The well’s true — and at that time massive — oil production had been a closely guarded secret in a small, Warren County township.

Even the best oil scouts had been stymied at Cherry Grove.

Wooden derrick and museum preserve 1882 oil history of Cherry Grove, PA.

Dedicated volunteers at a small Pennsylvania community annually celebrate “the great 1882 Oil Excitement in Cherry Grove” every June.

As the well’s owners quietly secured nearby leases, word finally spread about a secret May 17, 1882, discovery well that flowed with 1,000 barrels of oil per day.

“The hilltop settlement of Cherry Grove saw national history in the spring and summer of 1882 when the 646 Mystery Well ushered in a great oil boom,” explained historian Paul H. Giddens in his 1938 classic, The Birth of the Oil Industry.

The sudden news about the mystery well, operated by the Jamestown Oil Company, sent shock waves through early oil market centers. The nation’s first commercial oil well in Titusville was just 25 years old. “The excitement in the oil exchanges was indescribable,” noted the historical account by Giddens. “Over 4,500,000 barrels of oil were sold in one day on the exchanges in Titusville, Oil City and Bradford.”

According to Giddens, the Cherry Grove discovery demoralized the market and drove the price down to less than 50 cents per barrel. It brought an early financial crisis for the young U.S. petroleum industry.

Bus tour the "mystery well" site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.

Visitors annually tour the “mystery well” site in Cherry Grove, Pennsylvania.

Despite the collapse of oil prices, hundreds of derricks appeared around Cherry Grove – and thousands of people moved there while the boom lasted.

Celebrating Cherry Grove Oil

It was short lived, according to the dedicated modern volunteers of Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day Committee, which has hosted many special petroleum history events on the last Sunday of every June.

“Before the railroad could lay a new line to Cherry Grove, the boom went bust,” noted Walt Atwood, president of the Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day, in 2012. “Thousands of people moved on. Those who remained kept the memory of the Oil Excitement alive with reunions that became known as Old Home Day.”

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In 1982 and again in 2007, a group of Cherry Grove Old Home Day regulars rebuilt a replica of the 646 Mystery Well. The volunteers worked with the township supervisors to secure grants and bring in a work crew from the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps.

The Cherry Grove Old Home and Community Day annual oil patch event is open to the public with no admission fee. “Anyone who is interested in oil field history, or the history of Cherry Grove, is encouraged to participate to keep the history alive,” Atwood proclaimed.

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Recommended Reading:  Cherry Run Valley: Plumer, Pithole, and Oil City, Pa., Images of America (2000); The Birth of the Oil Industry (1938). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member today and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Cherry Grove Mystery Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/mystery-well-of-cherry-grove. Last Updated: May 15, 2021. Original Published Date: May 12, 2013.

 

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