(Transcribed by Mary Rhodes-from "Writings of Emma Lou King", Town of Alma Historian, 1969; Submitted by Sidney & Sandra Cleveland)
By Emma Lou King
Allentown New York was a natural site for the third oil boomtown in Allegany County. Located in the northwest corner of Alma township, on a main highway, seven miles northeast of Bolivar and seven miles southwest of Wellsville at the junction of crossroads leading to Petrolia, Pikeville and Richburg.
Before oil was struck, the settlement, consisting of the Allen Tavern, a country store, a pioneer church, and a dozen houses, was known as the “Head of the Plank”, the terminus of a plank road that ran down the Knight’s Creek Valley to the Genesee River.
The townsite, 1849 feet above sea level, was owned by Riley Allen who later became a prominent oil producer. In 1881, he laid out and plotted the village of Allentown which bears his name. Later in 1881, the name of the post office was changed to Allentown following the completion of a narrow gauge railroad from Wellsville to Eldred. That marked the start of the local oil boom.
Two miles northeast, at the foot of Norton Summit, a fork of the road turned north and ran down the valley to Scio, then a lively lumber town on the Geness River and busy shipping point on the Erie Railroad. Two and a half miles to the eat stood the derrick of Triangle No.1, and three miles west, close by a crossroad, rose the derrick of the Richburg discover well. To the north, south, east, and west lay productive oil and gas lands.
Allentown became very prosperous after the discovery of oil, and stores, hotels and shops were rapidly built of wood. The streets were crowded with men, and horses at all hours of the day and night.
A directory of Allentown, printed early in 1882, listed three oil well supply dealers, sixteen stores, four hotels, three saloons, three restaurants, five boarding houses, four billiard halls, three dressmaking and three barber shops, two Nitroglycerine dealers, two blacksmiths, two wagon shops, and two tank shops, two livery stables with horses for hire, a baker, steam laundry, a shooting gallery, two gas companies – The Empire Gas Company and The Allentown Gas Company, a coal and junk dealer and a Express and Western Union Telegraph Office. The town never rated a bank or a newspaper.
The boom did not get into full swing until the spring of 1883 when surrounding oil territory brought $150 an acre. That summer, a man driving from Sawyer’s Station on the Bolivar Road, to the Henry Holtom farm on the Knight’s Creek Road counted 100 rigs being built. The “Leader” stated that a Bolivar dealer sold 90 new drilling cables in one week in April, mainly for delivery to contractors at Allentown. New business places were opened and many new homes were built that spring.
The United Pipe Line Company established an oil buying office in Allentown in August of that year. As good wells came in west, and south of the village, it was believed that the oilfield would extend northwest to Wellsville, but the oil sand petered out near the foot of Norton Summit. Before the end of the year, derricks dotted the landscape from Allentown to Bolivar along the Phillips Hill road to Richburg, along the back road from Allentown to Petrolia, and form Allentown over the hill to Pikeville. Many landowners in the Allentown district sold their farms for what seemed to be a high price, but three wise men preferred to lease their lands on a royalty basis. Benjamin M. Vincent’s 200 acre farm was located on the northeastern edge of Allentown. He leased it on a quarter royalty and his income exceeded $50,000 the first year. The second generation of his heirs were still receiving royalty income from the farm in the 1980’s. Thomas Emerson owned a farm of 120 acres across the road from the Vincent farm, and following Mr. Vincent’s advice, he leased his land for development and accumulated a small fortune from his share of the oil. Fifty years later, his heirs sold the oil right to the Ebenezer Oil Company for $25,000.
The September 25, 1952 edition of the Bolivar “Breeze” read: “ALLENTOWN, N.Y. IN OIL BOOM DAYS HAD 1,600 POPULATION AND 65 BUSINESS PLACES.”
By 1886 the choicest acreage in the Allentown district had been drilled and contractors and drilling crews began leaving for the new oil field in Ohio where drilling was active. Reduced demand for oil equipment caused oil well supply companies to close their branch stores in Allentown and merchants began to reduce inventories and seek locations in town where the outlook was more promising. The decrease in population was gradual until early in 1893, when the narrow gauge railroad was abandoned leaving the town without passenger, freight, express, or telegraph service.
The repressurizing of oil leases surrounding Allentown in the nineteen thirties and forties, and still continuing, brought new life and prosperity to the town as it did to other former oil boom towns in the Allegany field. Some of the richest “flooding” territory in the country was developed within two miles of Allentown with the recovery of 21,256 barrels per acre. The Ebenezer Oil Company, Messer Oil Corporation, and Bradley Producing Corporation, leases developed the largest daily average but numerous individual producers and partnerships likewise increased the production of their flood leases many fold.