The Richburg "Discovery Well"
as told by John P. Herrick*
" The great oil boom at Richburg resulted primarily from the growing conviction in the mind of Crandall Lester, the owner of a shoe shop in that village, that if there was oil at Petrolia and Allentown, it was quite possible that there was oil in the Richburg area. Inspired by a visit to Taylor's Triangle No. 1 Well at Petrolia and the Campbell, Taylor & Allen well at Allentown, Lester returned to Richburg determined to persuade two of his Grand Army comrades, Edwin G. Bliss and Albert B. Cottrell, to join him in an oil venture. His glowing descriptions of what an oil strike could mean to them personally, and how it could transform and revitalize their sleepy little village, was argument enough, and the partnership was formed. They agreed that to drill two or three wells was a risky proposition, but they were convinced that the stakes were high enough to warrant the action.
Lester agreed to contact land owners and secure a block of leases. He found his neighbors eager to have a test well drilled at Richburg but willing to lease only a portion of their lands. One man would lease only forty-six of his 300 acres. Twenty-two leases were secured, the smallest encompassed five acres and the largest 46 acres, with a total of 458 acres--all at one-eighth royalty and with a proviso that a well must be started on one of the leases within 45 days. Cottrell interviewed Asher W. Miner, Col. Abijah J. Wellman, and Herman and Ward Rice, of Friendship, O. P. Taylor of Wellsville, and Riley Allen of Allentown, to interest them in the wildcat well, and they all agreed to "go along".
The site selected for the first test well was on the Jeremiah K. Reading farm, in the southeast corner of Lot 33, Wirt Township, 125 feet north of the Richburg Hill road, and 150 feet north of the Bolivar town line. Professor William H. Pitt of Friendship, a geologist and scientist, is credited with suggesting the farm location. One day in February, a group of stockholders met on the Reading farm hillside to select a site for the derrick. Crandall Lester picked up a stone the size of his fist, handed it to Herman Rice, and told him to toss it over his left shoulder. The location stake was driven where the stone fell. The lease, dated January 1, 1881, called for the drilling of a well to a depth of 1500 feet unless oil in paying quantities was found at a lesser depth.
The contract for drilling the well was written in long hand and was dated February 7, 1881. The contractor, John Moran, an experienced driller, was to furnish boiler and engine, drilling tools, and fuel and casing. He was to receive fifty cents a foot for drilling, $100 for use of the boiler and engine, and sixty cents a foot for the string of 5-5/8 inch casing if it was left in the hole. If oil was found, the contractor agreed to tube the well without cost. (Story of John Moran from eyes of his wife)
Edwin S. Bliss and Albert B. Cottrell, who signed the drilling contract for the lease owners, agreed to furnish the drilling rig, "board the hands," pay for the teaming, and pay $200 on account when the well was 500 feet deep and the balance when it was completed. The crew "rigged up" on March 4, the day President Garfield was inaugurated.
The well was drilled with a twelve-horsepower Farrar & Treft steam engine and boiler. The water ran by gravity to the boiler and derrick floor from a spring on the Reading farm. After casing was set, drilling proceeded steadily until the gas sand was tapped and gas began to blow. The driller lighted the gas and it blazed up to the walking beam with a loud roar and threatened to destroy the derrick. A visitor rode his horse rapidly down the hill and awakened Martin Moran, the head driller, who was to go on tower at midnight. Moran found a horse saddled and bridled at a hitching post, and without asking who owned it, mounted and galloped to the well, ran the bailer in the hole, put out the fire, and saved the rig.
On the night of Thursday, June 21, at 1204 feet, the drill tapped a chocolate sand that showed a lively green oil. The well was shut down, the owners were notified of the strike and the crew was sent home. The well was to be completed 200 barrels a day, and Mrs. McCaffery remarked, "Mind you, I don't say I believe in dreams, but that one came true anyway."
*(Source: "Empire Oil" by John P. Herrick, published by Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1949.)
If you enjoyed this story, consider buying the book; available at the Pioneer Oil Museum of New York - Bolivar