Hardesty's History of Wirt County


Many years ago - the exact time cannot now be fixed - but
early in the present century, a well was drilled on the bank of the 
Little Kanawha river, nearly opposite the town of Elizabeth, for
the purpose of obtaining salt water.  The well was drilled to the
depth of 200 feet or so, and petroleum oil was found.  It has been 
claimed by those who saw the well that there was an abundance
of oil in the well;  in fact, so much that the person drilling the 
well supposed it would ruin the well for the purpose for which it 
was designed, and it was abandoned.  The old inhabitants of the 
county have been known to say that this well stood full of oil, 
and that they frequently drew it out by lowering bottles tied to 
strings, and used the oil for medicinal purposes; that so wonderful 
was the effect of the oil as a medicine, that people came miles to 
obtain it.

All trace of this well has been lost, and none are living to-day
who can locate it.  In the year 1861-2 an effort was made to find
it, and large quantities of earth and debris were removed from its 
supposed location, but without success.

Years afterward (the writer cannot fix the time), probably in 
the decade of forty (40), oil was found on the banks of Hughs 
river, near what is now known as the "California Home." It 
was found in beds of sand, and was then called sand oil.  It was 
found by digging holes or pits from three to five feet deep.  
Digging through the surface a vein of sand would be found, which 
contained water and oil; the water would rise in the holes or pits, 
and the oil settled on top of the water.  The manner in which the 
oil was gathered or secured at this place was to take a woolen 
blanket and spread it on the surface of the pool, and when it 
became saturated with the oil, take it up and wring the oil out of 
it into barrels.  This of course was a slow process, and not many 
barrels could be obtained annually, as the work could only be 
done in warm weather.  Such oil as was gathered, however, 
brought wonderful prices, for it was sold as a medicine.  Mr. B.
W. Creel was the gentleman that managed the enterprise.

Subsequently, and early in the decade of fifty, Amos H. Gay
commenced boring a well for the purpose of obtaining salt water 
near the mouth of Burning Springs run.  Upon this run, and 
within about one half mile from its month, was located a natural 
burning spring.  Mr. Gay bored the well to a depth of about 250 
feet, and he found petroleum oil (name of it was then unknown) 
in such quantities that he also abandoned further work, and the 
well was left standing.  It remained so for many years, and was 
regarded as a curiosity by the people of the vicinity, especially 
the peculiar smell emitted from the well at times.

In the month of February, 1860, Gen. Samuel D. Karns, of 
Pittsburg, Pa., found his way to Burning Springs, and after 
making some examinations, became satisfied that a valuable oil 
could be obtained from the well, and on the 20th day of February,
1860, he obtained from Wm. P. & J. C. Rathburn a lease for the
property known as the old "salt well," together with the engine
and fixtures used in boring it.  Mr. Karns returned home,
and immediately sent his brother Francis Karns to take charge of
the well and commence operations.  He repaired the engine and 
fixtures, tubed the well, put up some rough buildings, and in the 
early spring commenced pumping "the oil." From this time the
production of oil from wells in Wirt county dated.  Just how 
much the well would produce per day at that time cannot be 
estimated, for their facilities were very limited in which to pursue 
it. Later the same well produced fifty barrels per day.

Mr. Karns continued to work the well and ship the oil, the best 
he could until the beginning of the year 1861, before there
appeared to be any attention paid to the matter worthy of note.  
It was then stated that all the oil he had shipped in the preceding 
year had been sold for fabulous prices, and soon Burning Springs 
became a living, seething mass of fortune hunters, and the one 
object seemingly was to obtain a "lease" in that vicinity (if it 
only contained enough ground to stand on) at any price.  Fortunes
were lost and made rapidly. Well after well was sunk - the
average depth being about 200 feet, and nearly all of them "found
the precious fluid." The whole face of the earth at Burning
Springs soon became saturated with oil, and oil was everywhere
and in and on everything.  Many wells were sunk that would 
"flow" 1500 barrels per day, and a well that produced less than
20 barrels per day was regarded as too contemptible to waste time
on. The number of wells bored in the vicinity of Burning Springs
Springs, and on the river bank, and Burning Springs run, cannot
be ascertained; but there were many hundreds, and nearly all of
them were at one time paying wells.

About the year 1867 a tremendous gas well was found on the
run, above all other producing wells. So great was the flow of
gas from the well that its proprietors, Meir, McConaughy & Co.
succeeded in casing it, and they finally succeeded in utilizing the
gas to the extent of supplying hundred of families with both light
and fuel, besides supplying all the furnaces with fuel, of which
there were many in the place. The well finally caved and tilled,
so that the gas was lost, and one would hardly believe now that it
was once the mighty roaring monster it was in 1867.

Early in 1861 efforts were made to develop various portions of 
the county in the hope of finding oil in other localities, and many 
wells were bored promiscuously, but without success, and no oil 
could be found outside of the Burning Spring basin.  In 1865 four 
venturesome young men procured a lease of a small lot of land on 
Robinson fork of Standing Stone, at what is now called Oil Rock, 
and commenced to drill a well for oil. They worked the well by 
hand power, using the old-fashioned "spring pole," and at a depth
of about 200 feet struck an immense vein of oil, and the oil gushed
forth at the rate of many hundred barrels per day, which again 
caused great excitement, and ere long the little basin at Oil Rock 
and the hillsides were full of derricks, all having in view the one 
object, to see who would "strike ile" first, and who would be the 
procurer of the "biggest well," for nothing but a "big" well 
was counted in those days. Very soon all the operators reached the 
basin, the "big well" first struck ceased to flow, and finally dried 
up, the presumption being that by reason of boring so many wells
in such a small area a great body of water was let into the oil 
basin and forced the oil to disappear.  How this theory is we 
cannot say, but we are certain of one thing -- Oil Rock very soon 
afterwards ceased to be paying oil territory, and it was abandoned.

About the same time in 1865 John Jennings bored a well on 
Parish fork of Standing Stone creek to the depth of something 
over 100 feet, and found oil; but it was in such small quantities -
probably eight or ten barrels per day - that not much of a search 
was made to that point. However, several leases were taken, 
and several wells bored, but not more than three small-
producing wells ever existed on Parish fork, and strange to say 
that among that number there was one well that produced an 
excellent article of lubricating oil, but its yield was very small,
not over two barrels per day.  As a paying oil territory it was
shortly abandoned.

The prominent oil operators have a theory concerning the 
location of oil, and that is that there is what is known as the
"break;" in other words, a visible line running north and south; 
and they claim to be able to trace this "break" from the great 
oil fields of Pennsylvania to this county; from this county to 
White Oak, in Wood county ; from thence to Horse Kick, in 
Pleasants county, and from thence to Duck creek in Ohio.  Oil 
Rock and Parish fork, of this county, are said to be within the 
limits of this "break." So is Volcano, Hour Neck, and Duck 
creek.  Strange to say, no oil has ever been found, upon the 
southern portion of this "break," after leaving Burning Springs.

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