Black Creek’s Black Gold

A pumpjack in Indiana, about 4 miles from Chattanooga (2011)

Black gold, devil’s tar, earth oil, flowing gold, fossil oil, rock oil–these were all terms for what we now call petroleum or crude oil that were used in the early part of the 20th century.  Ohio led the nation in oil production for several years around the turn of the century and Mercer County helped make that possible. There is oil beneath the ground in Black Creek Township, in the surrounding Chattanooga area and in neighboring Indiana. In fact, my great-grandfather, Jacob Miller, had seven working oil wells on his Black Creek Township farm in the early 1900s.

Ohio has a rich history of oil and gas production that began over 150 years ago. The first discovery of oil from a drilled well was in Ohio in 1814, when a saltwater well driller discovered oil at a depth of 475 feet in Noble County. The first well drilled in the state was in Trumbull County in late 1859.

Oil and gas were discovered in Findlay, in northwestern Ohio, in 1884. It was found in Trenton Limestone at a depth of 1092 feet. That started a 20-year oil and gas boom. The Lima-Indiana oil and gas fields extend in an arc across Lucas, Wood, Hancock, Allen and Van Wert Counties and into northeastern Indiana. In 1896, 6,456 wells were drilled in Ohio and more than 23 million barrels of oil were produced, making Ohio the leading oil producing state in the nation from 1895-1903. John D. Rockefeller became involved in the oil business at this time through ownership of oil and gas reserves.

Black Creek oil fields, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Oil and gas were produced from more than 30 individual geologic formations, primarily of limestone, dolomite, shale, and sandstone. Depths range from 50 feet to as deep as 9,100 feet. Oil and gas are generally believed to have formed through geochemical alteration of decayed organic remains of plant life and marine organisms that have been deeply buried and subjected to high temperatures and pressures.

Wells could be shot as soon as they were drilled. The method of “shooting” a well began by lowering a torpedo (a long cylinder) into the well and very carefully filling it with liquid nitroglycerin. Water was poured into the well to keep the explosion force downward and outward. To detonate the nitroglycerin a squib with a stick of dynamite or something called a “go-devil” (a heavy piece of metal shaped like a cross) was dropped into the well and exploded the nitroglycerin on impact. The go-devil got its name because the person wanted to “go like the devil” once it was dropped in the well.


Koch well, north of Chattanooga, Ohio. Ohio Oil Company.

A device called a pumpjack brought the oil up from below the ground. On the Miller farm all the pumpjacks were driven by a powerhouse which was located on the west part of the farm. The powerhouse consisted of a large iron turntable with rod-lines that ran to and powered the wells. My dad and my uncles talk about riding back and forth on the turntable when they were kids. The oil from the wells was stored in several large oil tanks at the powerhouse. From there the oil drained into a pipe that ran eastward under the ground and drained into another pipe at State Route 49. The oil went through this pipeline and eventually ended up in Lima.

The pumpjacks on the Miller farm were taken down before I was born, but I remember seeing a pumpjack on the Caffee farm when I was a child. The Caffee farm was just west of the Miller farm and their last pumpjack was taken down about 1964. There is still a pumpjack and several large oil containers across the state line in Indiana, about 4 miles southwest of the farm. I took the above photo of that pumpjack a few days ago. It was not running at the time.

My dad has the geological surveys and logs of the Miller oil wells. Below are the results of the drilling by the Ohio Oil Company:
Well #1: Started 11 April 1901, completed 27 April 1901; depth of 1196 feet; produced 40 barrels/first 24 hours.
Well #2: Started 23 July 1901, completed 5 August 1901; depth 1188 feet; 23 barrels/first 24 hrs.
Well #3: Started 13 Sep 1901, completed 1 Oct 1901; depth 1196 feet; 87 barrels/first 24 hrs.
Well #4: Started 21 Oct 1901, completed 16 Nov 1901; depth 1173 feet; production not given.
Well #5: Started 22 Nov 1901, completed 7 Dec 1901; depth 1202 feet; 30 barrels/ first 24 hrs, 20/second 24 hrs.
Well #6: Started 11 Aug 1902, completed 28 Aug 1902; depth 1234 feet; 40 barrels/first 24 hrs.
Well #7: Started 16 June 1903, completed 26 June 1903; depth 1145 feet; 30 barrels/first 24 hrs, 20/second 24 hrs.

Location of Jacob Miller oil wells on 80 acre Black Creek farm. Thanks to my dad for drawing this map.

The torpedoes used to shoot the Miller wells contained from 160-200 quarts of nitroglycerin. That really sounds like a lot of explosives! What a dangerous job that would be to bring in and detonate that amount of explosives. My dad said they brought the nitroglycerin in by wagon and it was hung from the top frame of the wagon. This method worked like a shock absorber so the ride would not be so rough and set off the explosives.

May dad has some papers that accompanied oil checks sent to Jacob Miller. They were from Oil City, Pennsylvania, and it is interesting to note the price of oil in the early 1900s. On 30 October 1908 Jacob received a check for $22.03 for 22.25 barrels of oil at $.99/barrel. On 16 Aug 1909 Jacob received a check for $12.12 for 14.96 barrels of oil at $.81/barrel. The oil wells on Jacob Miller’s farm produced oil until some time in the 1940s. Well #4 was the last working well on the farm.

I grew up on what used to be called Wildcat Corner. It was once the location of Wildcat School, a one-room school house a mile north of Chattanooga. The school was used in the early part of the 1900s. I have heard that the school got its name from the many oil wildcatters in the area at that time. My aunt Ruth went to Wildcat School.

Wildcatters from the Ohio Oil Co., a mile north of Chattanooga, Ohio.

Some oil well terms as defined by the Oil & Gas Dictionary of Historical Terminology:
: Aka “flowing well”, named because natural gas under the oil was released when the exploring drill struck the pocket. The gas rushed to the surface, carrying the petroleum ahead of it, causing it to flow spontaneously, often throwing it high in the air over the derrick and into the sky.
: One who shoots oil wells with nitroglycerin to loosen or shatter the sand and to increase the flow of an oil well.
: A device used to explode the nitroglycerin in shooting an oil well, so called because after dropping the Go-Devil you were to “go like the Devil.”
: A worker who transports nitroglycerin. The name comes from the dangerous nature of the occupation. Many men lost their lives in this profession, and because of the danger were not allowed to carry life insurance, thus leaving their families in dire straits.
: aka nodding donkey, pumping unit, horsehead pump, beam pump, sucker rod pump (SRP), grasshopper pump, thirsty bird, jack pump, is the overground drive for a reciprocating piston pump in an oil well. It is used to mechanically lift liquid out of the well if there is not enough bottom hole pressure for the liquid to flow all the way to the surface.
Derrick: A lifting device composed of one tower or guyed mast.
: One who drills for oil in unproven territory in the hopes of striking it rich.

Ohio remains a leading producer of oil and gas, ranking in the top half of all oil producing states in the nation. Commercial quantities of oil and gas have been found in 76 of Ohio’s 88 counties. More than 275,000 productive oil and gas wells have been drilled in Ohio and 64,378 are still in operation, most in the eastern third of the state. Most of Ohio’s production wells are referred to as “stripper” wells, which means that they produce less than 10 barrels of oil per day. Ohio ranks 4th nationally behind Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in the number of wells drilled. In 2010 Ohio wells produced more than 4.78 million barrels of oil and more than 78 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Market value for oil and gas production totaled nearly $718 million dollars.

Sources of information:

Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Interactive gas and oil map 

ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management—Oil and Gas

Oil & Gas Dictionary of Historical Terminology   

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, Oil Boom History

History of the Petroleum Industry in the US: Wikipedia 

Indiana Gas Boom: Wikipedia



Tombstone Tuesday–Maria M. Hofmann

Tombstone of Maria M (Schinnerer) Hofmann, Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, Van Wert County, Ohio.

This is the tombstone of Maria M Hofmann. The stone is inscribed HOFMANN, Maria M., wife of Christian Hofmann, 1857-1934, John 5-24 [text]. The tombstone is located in row 2 of the Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, Harrison Township, Van Wert County, Ohio.

Maria Magdalena Schinnerer was the sixth child of Frederick Schinnerer and his first wife, Margaretha “Mary” Deier. Maria was born 16 November 1857 in Dublin Township, Mercer County, Ohio. She was baptized at home three days after her birth. The sponsors at her baptism were Mrs. Maria Schumm and Mrs. Magdalena Schumm. (source: records of Zion Lutheran, Schumm, Book I:56)

Maria married Christian Hofmann on 16 November 1879 at Zion Lutheran Church, Schumm, Ohio. (source: Van Wert County Marriage Book 5:199)

Maria was enumerated as Magdelena Hoffman in the 1900 US census, Monroe, Allen County, Indiana, with husband Christian and their eight children. She was enumerated as Marie M Hofmann in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 US censuses in Pleasant Township, Van Wert County, Ohio. According to the 1910 US census Maria had 9 children and they were all living. In 1920 she was a widow, still living in Pleasant Township with her children Adolph C, Otto J, Herman, August R, and Pauline. Marie was living with children Otto J and Paulina A in Pleasant Township in 1930.

I was able to determine the names of Maria and Christian’s children as well as estimate their birth dates and places of birth by using the 1900 and 1910 censuses:  Julia A (Jun 1881), Fredrick J (Aug 1883), Amelia L (1884), Henry C (Nov 1886), Otto J (Nov 1889) Adolph C (Sep 1891), Herman J (Apr 1893), August R (Aug 1897), and Pauline AC (c1905). Their first eight children were born in Indiana and Pauline was born in Ohio.

Evangelical Protestant Cemetery, Harrison Township, Van Wert County, Ohio

Maria’s husband, Christian Hofmann, (1854-1914)  is buried in row 5 of the Evangelical Protestant Cemetery.

Schumm Parochial School

Zion Lutheran Parochial School, Schumm, Ohio (brick building built in 1899)

It is almost time for school to start again and that made me think about school photos. School photos are wonderful snapshots of the past. I have access to some old school photos and will share them in some blogs. This blog features the Schumm Parochial School east of Willshire, in Van Wert County, Ohio. Most of these photos are from my mom.

The congregation of Zion Lutheran Church, Schumm, Ohio, was established in 1846 and the first parochial school was started there in the fall of the same year. For a number of years the log church also served as a school room. A frame school was built in 1857 and a brick school was erected in 1899.

Below is a 1907 photo of the Schumm Parochial School. I believe that my grandfather, Cornelius Schumm, is in the back row, to the pastor’s immediate right. The pastor was most likely W. Giese, who served Zion from 1905-1908. I cannot identify anyone else in the photo, although my grandmother, Hilda Scaer, was probably somewhere in the photo, too.

Schumm Parochial School, 1907

[note: The names of those in the photos below are listed from left to right. ]


Zion Lutheran Parochial School, Schumm, 1936:

Zion Lutheran Parochial School, Schumm, 1936

Front row: Vera Handweck, Louis Allmandinger, Elmer Schumm, Roman Schumm, Henrietta Moeller
Middle row:
Virginia Schumm, Hildegard Schumm, Betty Baker, Amy Schumm
Back row:
Pastor Alfred Moeller, Amos & Milton Schumm, Henry Dietrich, Richard Schumm, Herb Hoffmann, Lola Schumm, Ellen & Helen Schumm, Elmer Schumm.


Zion Lutheran Parochial School, Schumm, 1938:

Schumm Parochial School Hot Dog Roast, 1938

Front row: Jr Roehm, [?], Amy Schumm, [?], Henrietta Moeller, [?], William Allmandinger, Virginia Schumm
Back row:
Florence Schumm, Ellen Schumm, Elmer Schumm, Louis Allmandinger, Hildegard Schumm, Lois Schumm, Helen Schumm, Betty Baker, Roman Schumm.


Zion Lutheran Parochial School, Schumm, 1939:
[This photo was published in the most recent history and genealogy of the John George Schumm family. However, none of the children in the photo below were identified in that book. The 2010 Schumm history and genealogy was distributed at last year’s Schumm reunion. Copies of this book are still available. Contact me if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the book.]

Zion Lutheran Parochial School, Schumm, 1939

Front row: Elmer Schumm, William “Bill” Baker, ___ Scare, Ernie Roehm, William Allmandinger, Emmanuel Roehm, Edgar Allmandinger, Frederick Schumm, Esther Schumm
Middle row
: Hildegard Schumm, Florence Schumm, ___ Scare, Paul “Jr” Roehm, Ella Roehm, Amy Schumm, Henrietta Moeller, Phyllis Gunsett
Back row
: Pastor Alfred Moeller, Betty Baker, Lois Schumm, Helen Schumm, Ellen Schumm, Louis Allmandinger, Roman Schumm, Elmer Schumm.

The Schumm Parochial School existed  for over 100 years. Zion Lutheran, Schumm’s 100th Anniversary booklet says that nineteen children were enrolled in that first class in 1846. I have a copy of the old Schumm church records and among the records is a list of twenty school children. This list of children is not dated, but it is a very early enrollment list. The list also gives the birth dates of the children:

Joseph Billmann, born 2 Oct 1833
Georg Schueler, b. 1 May 1834
Heinrich Billmann, b. 26 Dec 1837
Friedrich Schumm, b. 12 Jun 1839
Daniel Schumm, b. 2 Mar 1840
Friedrich Billmann, b. 16 Feb 1840
Wilhelm Schumm, b. 16 Sep 1840
Ludwig Schumm, b. 25 Nov 1840
Samuel Leininger, b. 27 May 1838

Maria Catharine Dietrich, b. 6 Apr 1832
Isabella Billmann, b. 4 Oct 1835
Elisabeth Pflueger, b. 28 Jul 1835
Magdalena Schueler, b. 3 Nov 1835
Catharine Stoker [?], b. 11 Jul 1836
Rosina Schueler, b. 17 Aug 1837
Caroline Scheck [?], b. 15 Sep 1837
Haeberle, Rachel [?] b. 16 Oct 1835
Maria Schueler, b. 17 Feb 1840
Susanna Haeberle, b. 10 Sep 1841
Catharine Roth, b. 16 Jul 1832

Tombstone Tuesday–Catharine Muller

Catharine Muller (1886-1895) Zion Lutheran Cemetery, Chattanooga, Mercer County, Ohio

This is the tombstone of Catharine Muller, located in row 7 of Zion Lutheran Cemetery, Chattanooga, Mercer County, Ohio. The inscription on the tombstone is: Hier ruhet in Gott [Here rests in God] Catharina, tochter von [daughter of] Jakob & C Muller, gest [died] 7 Mar 1895, alter [age] 8 jahr [years], 5 mon [months], 2 tag [days].

Catharine was the third child born to Jakob/Jacob and Christina (Rueck) Muller/Miller. Jacob and Christina were my great grandparents.

According to her baptism record Catharine Muller was born 5 October 1886 and was baptized 5 November 1886. Her parents were Jacob Muller and Christina, born Rueck.  The birthplace of her father was Bierbach, Rheinpfalz, Bavaira, and the birthplace of her mother was Steinbach, Oberamt, Brailsheim, Wuerttemberg. The sponsor at her baptism was Catharina Rueck, sister of the mother. Substitute sponsors were both parents. (source: Records of Zion Lutheran Church, Chattanooga, Book I: 154)

According to her burial record Katharine Muller died 7 March 1895, aged 8 years, 5 months, 2 days. She was buried on 9 March 1895.  Survivors were the parents, Jakob Muller and wife.  (source: Records of Zion Lutheran Church, Chattanooga, Book II: 338)

Catharine Muller’s death was also recorded in the Mercer County probate court: Catharine Miller died 7 March 1895, age 6 years, 5 months, 0 days.  She was born and died in Black Creek Township. The cause of her death was typhoid. (source: Mercer County Probate Court Death Records, Book II) Note that her age is incorrect in the probate record.

My aunt Kate recalls the family talking about one of Jacob & Christina’s daughters who died of typhoid fever. Aunt Kate remembers hearing that Catharine developed typhoid from drinking the water from one of the wells on the farm that had gone bad. She believes it was a well on the west side of the farm. Perhaps my aunt Kate was named after Catharine Muller.

Jacob Miller was predeceased by five of his children. Jacob’s first wife, Sophia Goelzer, died in Germany during the birth of their first child. Their child also died. This was about a year before Jacob came to America in 1871.Christian Miller (1880-1911) was one of two sons born to Jacob and his second wife Margaretha Strobel/Strabel. The first three children born to Jacob and Christina Rueck, Jacob’s third wife, died before their parents. They were Maria Regina (1884-1905), Jacob Jr (1885-1913), and Catharine (1886-1895).

Jacob Jr, Christian, Maria, and Catharine are all buried very near each other in row 7 of Zion Lutheran Cemetery.   Below is a photo of row 7. Jacob Jr’s tombstone is to the far right and Christian’s tombstone is to the left of his. Maria Regina’s tombstone is the fourth from the right and Catharine’s is the seventh one from the right, the small stone to the left of the largest tombstone.

Jacob Jr, Christian, Maria, Catharine Muller, row 7, Zion Lutheran Cemetery, Chattanooga

Three of Jacob and Christine’s other children are also buried in Zion Lutheran Cemetery. They are Caroline (1893-1988), Carl (1896-1973), and Clara (1899-1997). Jacob and Christine are buried in the Chattanooga Mausoleum, located at the cemetery.

Another John Bryan Family Photo

John & Hannah (Huey) Bryan family in front of their Jay County, Indiana, home (c1883)

This is another photo of the John and Hannah (Huey) Bryan family. This photo was taken in front of their home in Bear Creek Township, Jay County, Indiana. I believe this photo was taken on the same day as another photo of the John Bryan family that I blogged about a couple months ago. I have re-posted the other photo at the end of this blog.

The photo to the right shows the 7 Bryan children with spouses (if they were married) and some children. The other photo (end of this blog) is a close-up of John and Hannah and their 7 children and is the background photo of this website. If you look closely you will see that the women are wearing the same dresses in both photos. Both photos show John and Hannah sitting in their rockers, holding their massive Bibles.

The photo above was published in a recent Jay County Historical Society publication, When Grandpa Farmed. Joe purchased this 2 Volume set of books for me as a Christmas present last year. There was an article about the James family in Volume II and this photo was included with the article. From the article I learned that Mr. James, the contributor, and I share common ancestors—John and Hannah (Huey) Bryan. Mr. James descends from John and Hannah’s daughter Alta Jane Bryan and her husband Ernest Schmidt. I contacted Mr. James and we have been sharing information and photos. This is working out very well because he has several photos that I have never seen and I am able to supply him with information about the family.

Mr. James also shared this copy of a 16 x 20 pastel of John and Hannah (Huey) Bryan that  looks like it was made about the same time as the other two photos:

John & Hannah (Huey) Bryan, copy of 16 x 20 pastel

Mr. James thought the group photos were taken about 1880. I have been thinking about the photo taken in front of the Bryan home and studying it. My great-great-grandparents, William and Emily (Bryan) Reid were married in 1878 and they traveled to Kansas soon after their marriage. Their first two daughters, Pearl and Laura, were born in Kansas in 1880 and 1882. Their third daughter was born in Jay County March of 1884. The Reids would have been in Kansas from 1880-1882. Alta Jane was married in 1894 and she does not have a spouse in this photo. The photo was likely taken sometime between 1882 and 1894.

Everyone in the photo is dressed in their fine clothing. Even the children are dressed up. What could have brought everyone together for such an occasion? People dressed up for funerals and weddings. Could this possibly have been a wedding celebration?

I believe the photo in front of the Bryan home could have been taken as the Bryan family gathered to celebrate Byantha Bryan’s marriage to George Saxman on 28 September 1883. I also believe the two little girls on the far left are William and Emily Reid’s daughters, Pearl and Laura. That would mean that the little girl that is standing and holding her mother’s hand is my great-grandmother, Pearl (Reid) Brewster.

Mr. James was able to supply the names of most of the adults in the photo. I have been gathering information about John and Hannah’s grandchildren from census records and my theory just might be correct. I believe these folks are in the first photo, from left to right:

William Reid, holding daughter Laura; daughter Pearl Reid holding her mother’s hand, Emily (Bryan) Reid
Mary (Reid) Bryan and her husband Peter Bryan
An unidentified couple
George Saxman and Byantha (Bryan) Saxman
Lewis Bryan, s/o Mary (Bryan) & George Reid (standing in front of Byantha)
Hallet Bryan and his wife Mary (Chapman) Bryan (standing behind John Bryan)
Alta Jane Bryan and her brother William Riley Bryan (standing behind Hannah Huey Bryan)
Mary (Bryan) Reid and her husband George Reid
An unidentified woman standing at the far right

I am not sure about putting names with the children that are sitting in front of John and Hannah. There are a total of 9 children in the photo, 4 boys and 5 girls. However, by using census enumerations I can only come up with eight Bryan grandchildren in 1883. According to census records these would have been John and Hannah’s grandchildren in 1883:

Mary (Bryan) & George Reid married c1874; children: Lewis, age 8; Loraine, age 6
Peter & Mary (Reid) Bryan married in 1876; children: John, age 5; Irena, age 3
Hallet & Mary (Chapman) Bryan married in 1879; children: James, age 4; Riley “William”, age 1
Emily (Bryan) & William Reid married in 1878; children: Pearl, age 3; Laura, age 1½

Perhaps one of the younger children was born and then died between census enumerations. Or one of the children could have belonged to the unidentified couple. The unidentified person to the far right also looks like a fairly young woman.

Who is the unidentified couple? Perhaps they were Bryan, Huey, or Saxman relatives. We may never know who they were.

I have had a copy of the photo below for quite some time. The names under the photo are as I received them. However, Mr. James thinks that William and Hallet’s names should be switched, but he is not sure. I would appreciate hearing from anyone that can correctly name the Bryan children in this family photo.

John & Hannah (Huey) Bryan, children Emily, Peter, Mary, Hallet, Alta Jane, William Riley, Byantha (c1883)

We may never know for sure what occasion prompted these photos. I just know they are wonderful photos and I thank Mr. James very much for sharing family photos with me. He has given me permission to add them to this website, so look for more Bryan family photos here.