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This article on the Monroe County Oil Industry was written nearly 100 years ago.  This industry has seen many changes over the past century.  Yet, this article is probably one of the best pictures that we have of the industry at the turn of the 20th Century.  In addition to the article by John G. Devaul, several links have been added to the end of this article.  They are not related to the article except that they are examples of oil wells and activities in Monroe County.



By John G. Devaul


No history of souvenir book of Woodsfield and Monroe County would be complete without at least a short story of that industry, which more than any other has been instructional in bringing about the exceptional prosperity with which Monroe county is blessed.  Her rough and rugged surface, her hills rising several hundred feet above the level of the sea, her narrow valleys, combined with a light soil for man decades did not furnish to her people, except to a limited extent, the avenues leading to wealth and prosperity, and the country embraced within her borders had long come to be known as “The Dark Hills of Old Monroe.”  Her peaceful and law abiding citizens had seldom wandered from the primitive pursuits of life taught them by that hardy yeomanry that felled the forest and laid the foundations for her present greatness..  True, some of the more adventurous, learning of the fortunes made by “boring” for oil during the Cow Run excitement in Washington county, Ohio, had in the early sixties attempted to find oil, but after worry and labor with rude appliances gave up the attempt in disgust and betook themselves to their former occupations.  The wells drilled by these pioneers seldom reached a depth of more than 200 feet and many wooden conductors with which the wells were cased bear silent witness to the many disappointments which attended them and to hopes long since vanquished.

In the fall of the year 1890, the Woodland Oil Company, a Pittsburg corporation, with T.J. Vandergrift as President, Cryus Underwood as Vice President, and Harry Gracie, General Manager, became interested in the prospective outlook for Monroe county and soon had many thousands of acres under lease.  A location was made on the James Stephens farm about a quarter of a mile south of New Castle and they soon had a rig completed and ready for drilling.  Much interest was taken in this first well and people for miles came to see what they regarded as a visionary undertaking.  Much time was lost in getting the necessary material on the ground, many days being required in bringing the boiler from the river to the location.  Considering the ease and facility with which the heaviest material and appliances are now transported from place to place and the expedition and dispatch whit which huge undertakings are prosecuted, the almost super-human task of getting the boiler from the river to the Stephens location, forms the basis for interesting speculation in Monroe county, that represents millions of capital invested, that furnishes employment to many hundreds of employees and that has been the means of bringing much wealth to the county.

Nothing was discovered in this well until the Berea formation was reached, when a strong gas pressure was found and when the well was drilled in, the oil spouted over the derrick.  The wildest excitement prevailed and many who had looked upon the undertaking with ridicule now fancied themselves reaping a rich harvest from the discovery.  Other wells were drilled by the Woodland Oil Co., but they were not successful ventures and after spending more than $50.000 the Woodland Oil Company withdrew from the county.

About the same time oil was found in West Virginia, near Sistersville, and that field proved more prolific and of greater extend at that time, little interest was manifested in the possibilities of Monroe county except in the country opposite Sistersville on the Ohio side which soon became noted for its excellent wells.  These wells were found in the Injun sand and many were quite large.  From opposite Sistersville, the field spread to Dogskin, Trail Run, Deists, Calebaugh and almost to Antioch.  Then came Benwood with an Injun pool of exceptionally large wells.  The Fisher Oil Company, the Pittsburg corporation, at this point began to figure conspicuously in the development and continued to do so for many years.

Little attention had yet been paid to any sand other than the Big Injun.  Not long after the drilling of the Stephens well, a company was organized at Woodsfield, the county seat, for the purpose of drilling for oil and gas.  A location was made on the George Norris farm on Crane Nest creek.  When this well was completed it showed some oil in the Keener sand, but little attention was paid to the strike.  Later, in the year 1896, Galey Bros. completed a well on the Albert Jackson farm at Jackson Ridge but when the well came in, the oil being found in Keener sand, which was regarded as of little value at that time, the well was allowed to stand for a year, when it was shot and put to pumping and responded by making 15 barrels per day.  By slow and gradual steps, the Jackson Ridge oil field, located in Center township, four miles south of Woodsfield, was developed and became one of he largest and best fields in the county.  From Jackson Ridge the field extended to the southwest for eight or nine miles.

Northwest of Jackson Ridge was found the Moose Ridge oil field, also in Keener formation.  The Keener sand now having gained quite a reputation because of the staying qualities of the wells and the great extent of territory underlaid by it was now eagerly sought for.  Then came the Lime sand.  Later the Berea and later still the Cow Run sands with long list of excellent producers.

Perhaps no county in the state can furnish good producers in so many different sands.  If the operator does not get a paying oil or gas well in the first or second Cow Run sands, he may in the Maxon.  If not in Maxon perhaps in the Lime, and if not in the Lime, the Keener may respond; if the Keener is barren perhaps in Injun may surprise him with a large producer; or else the Squaw sand may be prolific; and last but not least, he may find a nice producer in the Berea.  For many years the producing area was confined to the southern part of the county, but now oil may be expected in most any part of the northern part has furnished some of the finest producers.  One of the best fields yet found in the northern part of the county is the Jerusalem of Keener formation, opened by the Unity Oil Company.

The producing wells in Monroe county vary in depth from 800 feet to 2235 feet, the first paying sand being the Cow Run and the last one or deepest one yet found productive, being the Berea.  The wells vary greatly in size, the Injun sand furnishing the largest producers.  The largest well yet drilled in Monroe county, was J.R. Diest No. 4, south of Antioch.  This well produced 2400 barrels the first 24 hours after being drilled in.

The fields of note already developed are Jackson Ridge, Jackson Township, Dog Skin, Trail Run, Deists, Calebaugh, Benwood, Piatt, Round Bottom, New Castle, Cameron, Bellsville, Ozark, Jerusalem, Malaga, Lewisville or Speary pool, Grays, Sycamore, Moose Ridge, Graysville, Stafford, Woodsfield, or McDonald, Rinard’s Mills, Rich Fork, Lebanon, and other minor pools.

Some of the compalnies operating in Monroe are Pure Oil Company, Pure Oil Producing Company, Unity Oil Company, Imperial Oil & Gas Company, Carter Oil Company, National Production Company, Central Gas Company, Troutman Drilling Company, Keener Oil & Gas Company, Carter Oil Company, Southern Oil Company, Ann Oil Co., American Oil Company, American Oil Development Co., Florance Oil Co., Goetman & Pulley, Emery Oil Co., Mooney, Longfellow & Barnesdale, Nonnemaker & Shear, Urquhart and Co., North and South Securities Co., H.S. Shaffer & Co, Mars Oil Co., The Parker and Edwards Oil Company, Eugene Liebel & Co., Federal Oil Co., J.H. Kuntz & Co., Fisher Oil Co., Tide Oil and Gas Co., Berea Oil Co., Shell Oil and Gas Co., Berea Oil and Gas Company, Franschot Bros., Traders Oil Company.  Some of the private individuals, many of whom we are proud to claim as citizens of the county, who are operating here are, W.C. McBride, W.C. Mooney, F.L. Mooney, J.W. Alderton, Frank Ritzert, A.L. Johnston, Hugh McGillis, Charles E. Soliday, Jacob Cohart, J.W. Norris, John Roy, James Roy, N.T. Staudt, Charles Burkhart, Aaron Goldstein, Henry Dougherty, Charles Norris, W.N. Loar, W. F. Boercher, Peter M. Smith, W.G. Decker, W.B. Decker, Pat Biggins and many others.

Woodsfield has two purchasing agencies, The Buckeye Pipe Line Co., and Producers and Refiners Oil Co., Limited.  Three Supply stores, Oil Well Supply, National and Jerecki.  Two Machine shops, Loffland Bros., and Oil Well Supply.  And all these as a direct result of the oil business.

          The Torpedo business is represented by the Producers Torpedo Co., L.S. Albee, General Manager; Marietta Torpedo Co., E.E. Wolley, General manager; The French Torpedo Co., and J. H. Hanks and Eba.

          Every now and then, one hears the statement that the oil business in the county is dying out.  In answer to this statement it is sufficient to say that in the past two years fully 500 wells have been completed and the end is not yet.  The property value of these wells will run into the millions.  It is safe to say that 3000 wells have been drilled in the county and the incomes to the producers are enormous.  The royalty paid for operating these wells and which benefits the land owner directly is not a small item and there are many such land owners whose incomes per month range from $100 to $2500.  The rental paid out for leases is no small item and a single company has been known to pay as much as $35,000 in one year for rentals.  A number of oil operators now regard this county as their home county and many employees of the various branches of the industry are here to stay.  They are among our best and most progressive citizens and they have come to realize that “it is good to be here;” and we are glad to have them for in the light of that combined industry, intelligence and honest effort, the people have just cause to congratulate themselves on what has so far been accomplished and to look forward to continued and well deserved prosperity.



Source:  The story, “Monroe County’s Oil Industry,” was written by John C. Devaul and published in a book entitled Souvenir of Woodsfield and Monroe County 1906.  The book was issued by the newspaper, The Monroe County Republican, Woodsfield, Ohio, in 1906.


Spiry # 1 – Located on a farm then owned by W. Spiry (sometimes spelled Sperry), this well is still producing.

Lewis (or Levi) Hehr # 1 – at Owl Hollow, Monroe County, Ohio

Wise Rig # 1was located near the bridge on Ohio Route # 78 that is about one mile east of Lewisville

Rig “unknown” – typical oil low-cost drilling rig used by speculators and contractors.

Oil wells in Lewisville – Oil wells drilled east of Lewisville, Ohio.  The Wise Rig #1 is just off the right side of the photo.

Feldner # 7 – photo of well after being shot



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CDs of important Monroe County record books are now available.  Each page of dozens of Monroe County record books have been photographed and made into CDs.  For a current list of available CDs click here.