This oil well is located in a field south of Ohio City. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
This oil well is located in a field south of Ohio City. (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

OHIO CITY – The discovery of oil in the Ohio City area near the turn of the 20th century in 1902 worked like economic magic to the new small community. Within a short time there was a decided increase in the small town south of Van Wert.

The Van Wert Historical Society History notes that in 1902, William Exline, who had knowledge with the workings of an oil field, was instrumental in the drilling of the first oil field in the area.

The first two wells, the history observes, had to be started with nitroglycerine, but the third one was considered a “gusher.”

“When three wells proved to be gushers, the procession of liquid gold prospectors started,” stated the history. “Oil men from all parts of the county rushed here to see the new oil fields and to secure lessons from them. Over 200 wells were drilled in a very short time.

“All oil produced in the Ohio City field was received at the Standard Oil’s pumping station at McKee,” continued the history. “Three eight inch pipelines stretched from Lima to Chicago. Farmers whose land had pipes running through were paid twenty-five cents per rod by the pipeline company, and they were reimbursed for any damages caused to crops or timber by the laying of the pipelines.”

The surge in Van Wert County was part of a discovery chain of bubbling oil that also stretched into Adams, Jay and Blackford counties in Indiana. The economic boom that Ohio City experienced was also experienced by an oil boom in Geneva, Bryant, Pennville and Gas City, near Marion, Indiana. There are still spots in those counties where there are remainders of the equipment that drew there wells. Scattered small oil wells are still active in Adams and Jay counties.

The history states that during those days the influx of newcomers in Ohio City was overwhelming and new businesses moved in to meet the needs of the increasing population. First teams of Belgian work horses kept the two blacksmiths busy and the livery barns did a lively business.

Within a short time, the quiet little community had jumped to a population of 1,300 and the mood of the town was rough and boisterous with the emergence of eight saloons.

Following the closing of the wells, two men walked the lines every day from the Indiana line to Spencerville to look for any leaks in the lines. That work was eventually taken over by airplanes.

“Today, because of the ecological emphasis upon our environment, most of the oil wells in our vicinity lie dormant. The salty, watery residue from the processing of the oil is now considered harmful to the soil,” states the history. “Hence, in spite of the many years these oil wells were in operation, there is no longer even the faintest odor of crude oil in the air.”