Thursday 10 January 2013

Black Gold Boomtown

Texas has been associated with oil for decades.  Believe it or not, however, Texans were not the first Americans to strike oil (Pennsylvanians did in 1854).  Ontario was also well ahead of Texas, claiming its first oil well in 1858 (see my blog post titled "Oil Springs", dated February 19, 2012).  So when did Texans first discover black gold?

A man named Patillo Higgins first appeared on in southeastern Texas in 1892 and started a settlement called Gladys City, after a little girl in his Sunday School class.  He was convinced there was oil at a nearby hill that they called Spindletop.  Legend has it that the heat waves made the grove of trees on top of the hill look like they were spinning like a top, hence the name.  Mr. Higgins drilled for nearly a decade, using up all of his money in the process.

Finally, he leased a tract of land to newcomer Captain Anthony Lucas.  On Spindletop, Captain Lucas drilled down 1000 feet and struck black gold in 1901.  Known as the Lucas Gusher, it spouted oil for nine days straight before the wildcatters were able to cap it.  Production reached 100,000 barrels a day.  By 1902, the area boasted 285 wells and 500 oil and land companies including Humble (Exxon), the Texas Company (Texaco) and Magnolia Petroleum Company (Mobil).

Nearby Gladys City's population multiplied overnight from 10,000 to 50,000.  It sprouted a drugstore, photo studio, general store, post office log cabin saloon, barber hop and carriage works.  Land prices skyrocketed:  a man who had tried to sell his property for three years at $150 was now able to sell it for $20,000; the buyer turned around and resold the land for $50,000 within 15 minutes.  Everyone wanted a piece of the land that held black gold beneath its dusty surface.

For an entire generation, oil continued to flow on Spindletop Hill.  Its peak year was 1927 when production hit 21 million barrels.  However, then production started to steadily decline.  By the 1950's, people started mining sulfur rather than oil.  In the 1970's, as part of a Bicentennial Project, they rebuilt Glady City as a pioneer village.  The original residents will never forget the day that Captain Lucas struck black gold.

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