(Transcribed by Mary Rhodes-from "Writings of Emma Lou King", Town of Alma Historian, 1969; Submitted by Sidney & Sandra Cleveland)


By Emma Lou King

Three people who lived in Allentown in 1882 became presidents of major oil companies.

James C. Donnell developed an Allegany County oil lease and served for many years as president of the Ohio Oil Company over eleven states.  His son, Otto Dewey Donnell, who was born in Allentown, became president of Ohio and Marathon Oil Companies.  James C. Donnell II succeeded his father Otto and has sent a book “A Portrait in Oil”, by Hartzell Spence, spanning the history of the Ohio and Marathon Oil Companies histories.  The Donnell family had ties with May Allen Boyd and when the church was remodeled, the Donnell family gave a donation to the Allentown Methodist Church.

William Keck, a shrewd contractor, controlled the highly successful Superior Oil Company of California.  He attended school in Allentown in 1882 where his father, Wm. Keck, was engaged in drilling oil wells.

Albert Hochstetter sold his leases near Allentown and located in Marietta, Ohio.  Later with his son Ralph of Buffalo, they developed oil leases North of Marietta.  Following the death of his father, Ralph Hochstetter sold the West Virginia leases and, in company with George V. Forman and David Gunsburg of Buffalo, developed oil properties in the Midwestern states, which they later sold to the Texas Company at a substantial profit.

Benjamin Pyle, who drilled many wells at Allentown in 1883 to 1884 moved to Lima, Ohio.  He later developed a large lease at the Mount Zion pool in Indiana.  He bought a large home near Montpelier, Indiana and was one of the founders and directors of a Bank of Montpelier.

Van Welch, a son of John Q. Welch an early operator on White Hill town of Alma, engaged in leasing and contract drilling in Illinois, Oklahoma and New Mexico.  With Louis C. Wilson and others he built an oil refinery and developed profitable oil properties near Artesia, New Mexico.  Van Welch had found oil in Canada and 15 states.

Van Welch was born August 15, 1880 in a log cabin.  Van was the eldest son of James Q. Welch of White Hill, Town of Alma.  Van’s father, James, had been the youngest Captain on the Genesee Valley Canal when the Civil War started.  After the war, James Welch sold his boats and began hauling oil in the Pennsylvania oilfield.  Later he became a producer.  Van Welch rough necked for his father at the age of 12, and later when his father became ill, he returned home from his studies at Lincoln and Jefferson College in Hammond Indiana to take over.

At age 19 he personally drilled in his first well in New York State, Town of Alma, getting seven barrels a day. By oil industry standards with its hulking roughnecks, Welch was not a large man, but his energy was legendary.

In 1905 a big oil play lured him to Casey, Illinois.  Setting up an operational base in Robinson, Illinois.  In 1909 Welch expanded to eight mid west states.  Welch lived in Artesia off and on for several years making it permanent in 1930.  When he died in his 80’s he was referred to affectionately as “Pappy”.

Welch had close ties with the first use of “Wildcat” to describe an exploratory well.  Near the Welch homestead in the infancy of the oil industry, a tough luck driller named Ben “Dry Hole” Thomas sunk several unfruitful attempts.  Later hard luck Thomas worked for Welch.