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Tracing the Fortune That Got Away

Transcribed by Crist Middaugh

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Tracing the Fortune That Got Away Photo 1 of 1

Genesee Reflections

Bill Greene

Tracing the fortune that got away

Before I get in to this column, let it be recorded that in the month of July my rain gauge accumulated at least 10.3 inches of rain.

There may have been a little more because there were some tree branches getting awfully close. I have been keeping record for 19 years now, and this was the single wettest month in all that time. It was probably the wettest since good old Agness. As wet as it was I think the biggie is still ahead of us.

Add this to a week at the fair, and I am just getting back to a normal routine.

I think there is a moral to this story.

I had heard it a lot of years from dad.

If you have ever stopped to read the plaque on the monument by the Richburg school, you will find that it refers you to a second monument. The second monument marks the site of the first well drilled in the “Richburg Field.”

I had heard of that monument all my life, but just guessed that it was probably no bigger than a bushel basket, and that it was probably somewhere deep in the woods. Well, I recently saw a picture of it from the Richburg Historical Society and it’s bigger than a chest freezer, is surrounded by an iron fence and rests in a small open field.

As Dad told the story it was back in 1881 when a bunch of men gave grandpa $10,000 “for a hundred acres that wasn’t worth a hen an acre.” They drilled a well.

When they struck oil they boarded it up, and told everybody it was no good. Next they went around buying up all the land they could get. Then, they bought it and proceeded to take a million dollars worth of oil out of that hundred acres.

I have been trying to research that story for some time. So far, to use an oilman’s expression, I keep coming up with a “dry hole.” So far I have not been able to find any deed from Greene, Coon or Crandall in that neck of the woods. John Herrick’s book “Empire Oil” doesn’t give any such names either.

Further reading was the story of “Boyle’s well” which was drilled about a mile away on the other side of Richburg. The story about the closed well is in the book, and corresponds with the family legend. Still no family real estate deals. One more trail to pursue. When great grandpa William D. Crandall returned from Wisconsin around 1854, he bought a farm near the top of Clarksville notch. There is oil in that area, but still no land deals.

So how did the legend get started?

The oil boom was in 1881-82. Dad was born at Utopia in Wirt on Oct. 21, 1888. Therefore, I am guessing that as a kid, he had some stories about the boom from his father who was there. Dad’s “down on the farm” stories generally check out. In due time, hopefully, this one will also check out.

The moral of the story is that there can sometimes be errors, or flaws in the family legend. At great risk of shooting down a balloon, it is sometimes a good thing to do a little research. It would have been easier had I done it while dad was still alive.

In the meantime, another project I am working on is a little archaeology at lock 85 on the Greenway. Needless to say, it’s been put on hold due to the rain. One wall of the lock is still standing holding up the railroad bed. The other wall is completely gone unless some of it remains under the dirt. The floors of the locks were made of wood timbers. As long as the logs are kept wet, that superstructures will keep standing. I have dug down four feet, but have found no trace of the floor yet.

Most of what I have found is coal and ashes from railroad. There is a substance like wet plaster, and I have a piece of an insulator. I will be clearing some more brush out so a better view can be had. The lock is just across the track from the so called “Irish Cemetery,” which dates from the 1830s.

(Bill Greene is a Daily Reporter columnist)

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