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Natural Gas in New York State & Allegany County

(No better source in history of the gas & oil industry of the Allegany County region is available than was compiled by John P. Herrick in his 1949 book, Empire Oil.  In order to relate the history of “Empire Gas & Oil Company, Ltd., Bradley Producing Corporation and others, we provide this excerpt from the book, Chapter Eleven, entitled “Natural Gas in New York State.” P.346, fwd.)

Empire Gas & Fuel Company, Ltd.

                “The Empire Gas Company was incorporated with a capital of $100,000, October 10, 1881, to furnish gas for the drilling wells and to supply fuel and light to Allentown, Richburg, Bolivar, Wellsville, and adjacent towns.  The incorporators, William H. Kneeland, Frank P. Kneeland, and Justin B. Bradley, who were selling gas individually for well drilling, decided to merge their holdings and expand operations.  The officers were William P. Kneeland, president; Justin B. Bradley, treasurer; and Nelson L. Williams, secretary.  On December 26, 1881, William H. Kneeland and Frank P. Kneeland sold their one-half interest in the company to Edwin C. Bradley of Bradford, who was elected president.  Justin B. Bradley continued as treasurer, and Nelson L. Williams continued as secretary.

                The first town to be piped for gas was Allentown.  Early in 1882, a line was laid across the hills from Allentown to Richburg and down the valley to Bolivar.  Both boom towns were piped for gas, and a two-story building was erected in Bolivar for the new company headquarters, which was supplemented by a branch office in Richburg.  A five and five-eighths inch gas line was completed from Allentown to Wellsville, March 25, 1882, and an office was opened in the latter village.  Gas was turned into the Wellsville line on the morning of April 13, and that night Main Street was brightly lighted by blazing gas torches.  The Wellsville Democrat reported that 150 dwellings and stores were connected to the line by May 10, and that William P. Decker was the first Wellsville citizen to use natural gas for lighting.  Before the year ended, the line was supplying 800 consumers.  The flat rate established for heating and cooking stoves varied from $2.50 to $4 a month, according to the seasons, and from 25 to 40 cents a month for gas lights.  The charge for gas for well drilling varied from $1.25 to $1.50 a day.  Fifteen years later, when the company installed meters, the rate was 22 cents per thousand cubic feet.

                On May 17, 1882, the Empire Gas Company was supplying gas to 2000 residences and business places, and delivering gas to 210 drilling wells.  On that day, the capital was increased from $100,000 to $1,000,000.  Before nightfall, the sensational news of a thousand-barrel well at Cherry Grove in Warren County, Pennsylvania caused a sudden shutdown of drilling.  Within a month, the number of drilling wells connected to the company’s lines dropped from 210 to ten, and the exodus to Cherry Grove also decreased the number of domestic customers.  It was during this temporary depression that the company began to purchase oil and gas properties at low prices and on easy terms.  The first big oil well drilled by the company was located on a six-acre triangle-shaped lease on the eastern edge of Bolivar village.  It started off at 300 barrels a day and flowed through three lead lines.  The four wells drilled on the tract paid for themselves a dozen times.

                The Empire Gas & Fuel Company, Ltd., was incorporated July 31, 1885, with a capital of $1,000,000, to take over the business and properties of Empire Gas Company, and the headquarters was moved from Bolivar to Wellsville.  Two years later, the company owned 102 oil and gas wells scattered over 50 different leases in five townships, and owned more than 125 miles of gas lines.

                In 1898, a gas line was laid from Hallsport to Hornell and Canisteo in Steuben County, to market surplus gas from 6000 acres of Empire leases in Potter County, Pennsylvania.  The company then purchased an interest in the Hornell Gas Light Company, which had been supplying the city with manufactured gas, and acquired complete control of the Canisteo Gas Company, which had been served for some years by a coal-burning plant.  In 1914, the entire ownership of the Hornell Gas Light Company passed to Empire interests, and the late Justin B. Bradley, eldest son of George H. Bradley, assumed charge of the Hornell and Canisteo division.  In 1926, a manufacturing gas plant was erected in Hornell and operated as a standby until 1931.

                In 1928, due to changes in public utility laws, the Bradley Producing Corporation was incorporated with 6000 shares of no par stock to take over and operate the Empire oil properties—the division becoming effective January 1, 1929.  Harry Bradley was elected president and secretary;  George H. Bradley, vice president and treasurer.  A long range development program was projected and a competent geologist was employed to direct operations to develop new and improved methods of bringing oil to the surface, and to appraise properties on which options had been taken.  The corporation is now one of the most aggressive crude oil producers in the Allegany field with more than 2100 producing oil wells and many thousands of acres of oil lands in ten townships in Allegany County, two townships in Steuben County, and one township in Tioga County.  The corporation has been successful in its repressuring operations with a top recovery exceeding 10,000 barrels per acre from leases in Alma and Bolivar townships.  George H. Bradley died February 5, 1938, and Harry Bradley died March 23, 1938, and were mourned by many friends.

                The present officers of the Bradley Producing Corporation are John C. Bradley, president and treasurer; George W. Holbrook, vice president and secretary; Clarenden E. Streeter, assistant secretary and treasurer.  The rule established by the founders of the company was to increase gas and oil reserves from year to year.  This policy has been continued by the Bradley Producing Corporation.  The first lease sale made by the Empire Gas Company is recorded in the Wellsville Democrat of August 3, 1882.  It consisted of 40 acres in the towns of Genesee and Clarksville, which were sold for $22,000 to the Polar Oil Company.

                Due to the decreased pressure of shallow sand wells, the outlook for a future supply of gas was so dubious in 1928 that the Empire made a survey for a gas-manufacturing plant to be built near Andover.  But before construction began, the picture changed.  On September 11, 1928, the Belmont Quadrangle Drilling Company brought in a deep test well on the Gilbert farm, two miles north of Richburg, with an open flow of 4,500,000 feet of gas a day, which created much excitement.  The well flowed several barrels of distillate daily, which was tanked and sold.  The dark gray Tully lime was topped at 3990 feet and bottomed at 4045 feet.  The hole was later drilled to a depth of 6250 feet.  The following sizes of pipe were used in the hole:  eighteen-inch to shut off the water; ten-inch through the Waugh & Porter sand; seven inch through the Tully limestone; and six-inch to the bottom in the Medina sand.  Hundreds of visitors from near and far circled about the tall derrick when news of the strike leaked out.  The well was located by geologist Paul D. Torrey.  The steel derrick was 122 feet in height.  Clarence Lowden was the contractor, and the cost of the well exceeded $90,000.  The strike led to the drilling of three other deep wells in a circle around No. 1, but none was productive.  The Gilbert well supplied the Empire lines with a large volume of gas for a time, but when the production dropped to 50,000 feet a day and the rock pressure to 1860 to 100 pounds, the well was sold to the Home Gas Company of Binghamton, whose main lines crossed the county within half a mile of the well, and who later used the well for storing surplus gas in summer for use in the winter.

                The Empire Gas & Fuel Company, Ltd., is a combination of six gas companies, which were merged during a period of 56 years.  The assets of the original Empire Gas Company were absorbed in 1885, when the company was incorporated.  The Cuba Gas Company was taken over in 1900; the Manufacturers Gas Company of Wellsville in 1907; and the Mutual Gas Company of Andover in 1909.  In 1926, the Canisteo Gas Company merged with the Hornell Gas Light Company, a subsidiary of the Empire; and on November 1, 1841 (misprint?, perhaps 1941), with permission of the Public Service Commission, the properties of the Hornell company were merged with those of the Empire.  The 152 wells, and the lines, and leases of the United Natural Gas Company in Bolivar, Genesee, and Sharon townships were purchased in 1926 and added to the Empire’s reserves.  The negotiations were under way when the deep gas well on the Gilbert farm came in and brightened the outlook for big gas wells in Allegany County sands below 4000 feet.

                The Empire Gas & Fuel Company, Ltd., and the Bradley Producing Corporation jointly occupy modern office buildings in Wellsville and Bolivar.  Many of the 400 employees of the two corporation have from 20 to 50 years of service with the Empire.  One, James F. Care, a field superintendent, is credited with a half century of continuous service.  Four members of the Harder family – Elton, Bernie, Eli, and Guy – have served a total of 180 years.

                The Boandga Club, located a mile west of Scio on the bank of the Genesee River, is maintained by the company for employees’ recreation.  The Beacon, an illustrated house organ, edited by Charles W. Fuller, is published monthly, and devotes much space to the social activities of employees and their families, local matters of historical interest, and concentrates on improvement of employee-company relations.  In the 68 years that have passed since the company was founded, there has never been a strike or a walkout.

                The life of the deep gas wells in Allegany, Steuben, and Potter counties was much shorter than anticipated, and was not to be compared with the long life of the shallow sand wells that continued to produce a small volume of gas fifty years after they were drilled.  Active competition for the deep gas led to the drilling of more wells than the pools warranted, and resulted in the too rapid depletion of the reserves.  The outlook for the future became so ominous that in 1944 the Empire directors signed long-term contracts with the Columbia Gas & Electric Company, and with a subsidiary of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company, for gas from huge reserves in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas to be delivered to stations in West Virginia through a 1200-mile line.  Connections were made with the Consolidated’s line from West Virginia to Syracuse, and with the Columbia’s line from West Virginia to Binghamton.  About one-third of the company’s present requirements are purchased from these two sources.  With the Empire’s more than 740 gas wells and an assured supply from the southwest, the officers of the company are confident that the 12,700 consumers served by their lines should not face a gas shortage for many years.”

(Note: Empire Oil reprint copies are available from Pioneer Oil Museum of NYS located in Bolivar NY.  See the “Allegany Bookshelf” for information.)

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