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Friday, January 30, 2015

S. D. Hoag: Ice Capades on the Muskingum River

S. Durward Hoag was the long time owner of the Hotel Lafayette in Marietta during the 1940-1970 period. He was an astute businessman, Marietta area promoter, and local historian. Many credit him with helping add I-77 to the interstate highway system. There was no I-77 in the original plan.

He ran a weekly Marietta Times advertisement which featured his "Round and Round Below the Railroad Tracks" column. It was a clever mix of Hotel promotion, community interest, history, and commentary. The column always featured Marietta photographs - many he took himself and others he collected over the years. His collies (one was named "Yampa") were often featured, usually with a goofy photo. 

I marvelled at his writing output. How could he manage the hotel while producing a full column with several in depth topics and photos each week, I always wondered. He also kept prodigious scrapbooks on area happenings. They are housed in the Washington County Public Library Geneology and Local History branch.

It is winter now, as you've probably noticed. In researching a recent blog post about the winter of 1977, I came across the photo below in one of Hoag's articles, dated December 4, 1962. The photo and his caption tell the story of one severe winter in 1905. The photo and caption appear on the website label which appears as "Ice Scenes- Wiki of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County."

The photo is viewed from Harmar with the Williamstown Bridge in the background. Look at the highest part of the building in the upper left part of the photo. To the right of that rectangular tower is a smallish looking spire. That was part of the Hotel Lafayette at the time, before it later burned and was rebuilt.

Icecapades of 1905: Mariettans in January of 1905 watched the thermometer drop below zero for an extended spell. Ear muffs, long underwear, galoshes, hand muffs and fur-lined gloves were dug out of the mothballs ready for use. A light snow had fallen but was not heavy enough for good sledding or sleigh-riding. Many Mariettans, wise to the way of the rivers had already broken out their ice skates and had oiled, polished and sharpened them, ready for the day when the Muskingum River ice would be thick enough to hold a body in complete safety. Those were the gold ole days when automobiles, movies, radio and TV as we know them today were unheard of. Local folks made do with whatever was on hand and found a lot of fun and recreation provided by nature such as fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, camping and in winter ice skating. Few people of this generation in Marietta have seen or experienced ice skating provided by nature. It has been 25 years or more since the rivers froze sufficiently to provide one of the most exhilarating and healthful of outdoor sports. There was no age limit for ice skating and anybody from tots, age two to oldsters, age 75, danced, frolicked, played tag, cracked-the-whip and other games. Few feelings compare to the thrill of gliding silently across the ice with all the freedom of movement that only ice skating can provide. Here was provided good clean fun and healthy exercise. Ice skating is an excellent aid for posture, a straight back and graceful movements of the body as well as providing a healthy glow from exercising the whole body. Either figure or speed skating, Mariettans enjoyed the Icecapades of 1905 as shown by the above pictures, the upper along Muskingum Park and the lower at the mouth of the Muskingum River. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Winter of 1977

The recent cold snap was pretty impressive for our normally mild winter climate. There was nearly a week of subfreezing temps, including a few days with high temperatures below 20. Average high temperature in January is about 40. That is at least a 2 sigma standard deviation event, in statistical lingo. Meaning, it's really unusual.

The ground was frozen solid, making for uneven footing on the hiking trail where we walk the dogs. One section of our driveway heaves up with that kind of cold. I was forced to dig out a seldom used ski mask for cold protection. The waterfall in the creek below our property was frozen into a bridal veil filigree. We were able to walk on water (frozen, that is) where the trail crossed the creek. Tess, our smaller and more skittish old english sheepdog, stopped at the icy edge of the creek, afraid to cross. Gabbie, the other old english sheepdawg, skidded back and forth across the ice, unfazed. There is a definite beauty in the snow-covered frozen tundra. But it's still damn cold.

Frozen waterfall near our home

On one of the dog walks, my thoughts went back to winters past. There was day in 1963 when the temp never rose above zero. We rode a toboggan sled down the 18th fairway at the country club. Halfway down we upset in a blizzard of freezing powder. I laughed so hard I wet my pants - which soon froze into a yellow crust.

January and February of 1977 stand out as the coldest months I can remember. There were days on end with low temperatures in the single digits - above and below zero. The Ohio and Muskingum Rivers were frozen over. Tow boats could not operate. Natural gas pipelines stopped working. Over the road diesel trucks were laid up because the cold turned the diesel fuel into gel. Snow rollers, a rare phenomenon in which high winds blow snow into hollow cylinders, appeared in the field next to the former Children's Home buildings.

Snow rollers photographed in Illinois. Photo credit noted in the image.

The National Weather Service said that the period from January 10 through February 8, 1977 was the coldest on record for Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton. Ditto for most of Ohio. The average temperature for the period was around 11.  There were 28 days with temperatures below zero. The coldest was January 17 and 18 when temperature in most of Ohio dropped to -25 on 2 successive nights. The cause of this cold snap was a polar vortex which wandered too far south and hung out there for quite a while.

It was so cold on January 23, 1977 that people walked across the frozen Ohio River. (Credit: The Enquirer/Tom Hubbard). Photo and caption appeared in article 1/13/2011 by staff

Even in an era of global warning, cold extremes can still occur. Like last year's polar blasts and this year's cold snap. Could the winter of 1977 happen again? Yes, but odds are VERY low, thankyaverymuch.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Nahum Ward to Scottish Farmers: Have I Got a Deal for You

Many readers may know that Nahum Ward was a prominent early Mariettan, owner at various times of 100,000 acres of land and of a showcase home in Marietta. In 1816, he achieved national notice for his exploration of Mammoth Cave and exhibition of the "Fawn Hoof" mummy retrieved from the cave.

Nahum Ward was serious-minded, but he dreamed big. He promoted the sale of the lands he owned with newspaper ads and notices in the eastern U.S. His marketing effort included a trip to Scotland and Ireland in the fall of 1822 to recruit immigrants who would buy his land and move to the Marietta area. The journey itself was quite an accomplishment at a time when travel was complicated, slow, expensive, and sometimes risky. It was also a personal sacrifice, since he left behind his wife and 3 small children for about 1 1/2 years.

Below are excerpts from a broadside (a large poster or handout that was commonly used in that period for publicity or advertising) used to promote the Marietta area to Scottish farmers. Ward, or whoever he used to write this, was quite a wordsmith. This is from a transcription of the original document now at Marietta College Library Special Collections. Spelling and punctuation are quoted from the document.


The undersigned (Nahum Ward), a citizen of Marietta, in the state of Ohio, in latitude 39 north, and about 500 miles west of the city of Washington, the capital of North America, has crossed the Atlantic for the purpose of aiding farmers who are desirous of emigrating to that hospitable clime. The climate is mild, the soil exuberant, waters pure and abundant......The state of Ohio is rapidly increased, and increasing, in population.

Colleges, academies, and schools are encouraged. Lands are given by Congress for the support of religion and schools...1200 acres in each town; also large sums of money for making roads....The political institutions of this state impart to its inhabitants, who are remarkably moral and religious, all the benefits and privileges which freedom could desire....

The population (of Ohio) is about 800,000 free people, who have upwards of 220 post offices already in the state, and between 40 and 50 newspaper presses which (are) diffusing information, almost gratuitously, in every part of the state.

Grain of all kinds is easily cultivated, and is abundantly productive. Fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, pomgranates, wine-grapes, mellons, cucumbers, tomatoes, and numerous others, grow in great perfection, and are cultivated in open fields by every farmer....

The class that takes the lead of all others is the farmer;....he has no rent to pay - no game laws (deer, turkies, pheasants, squirrels, etc. to shoot when he pleases). He has neither timber nor fishing laws - no taxes to pay, except his equal share for the support of the civil list of the country, which is a trifle. He has neither poor rates nor tythes to pay: such are the blessings enjoyed by the American farmer.

The market (for farmers' products) is always sure , and at his door, as there are men, both from the cities and country, who make a business of travelling to every farmer's house, who has cattle, swine, sheep, or grain to sell, and will take them off his hands, paying down in dollars for what he buys...others are engaged in collecting butter, cheese, apples, cyder, whiskey, peach brandy, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, and in fact every article that the farmer raises or makes for sale....

The undersigned has the most ample credentials from gentlemen who fill the first offices in the American Cabinet, to show that he is the undisputed proprietor of many large tracts of valuable lands in the district of Marietta...
I found the wording of this document fascinating. The language is flowery and probably exaggerated. Yet he included useful information that sensible, down-to-earth farmers would want to know about. I am not sure how well researched his facts were. For example, did people really come around to area farms to pick up produce that farmers were selling? The narrative is also a reminder of the state of our country in that period: no taxes and no regulations.

Mr. Ward’s broadside also mentions practical details: where to contact him, a description of the land/lot sizes, and a requirement to pre-pay postage – otherwise the letters “will not be attended to.” There is also a post script saying “N.B. (take notice)---- None possesed of means below £25 need apply.” Meaning, unless you have at least 25 British pounds, don’t bother to inquire.

Nahum Ward achieved some success. The History of Washington County Ohio book reports that 175 people emigrated from Scotland to the United States to land which he owned. Many arrived in the summer of 1823. Unfortunately, there was an epidemic of illness going on then. Most of the emigrants were stricken with fever when they arrived; some died. But Nahum Ward helped provide for them with temporary lodging and medical attention. Many eventually settled in western Washington County, forming “one of the best elements of the population of Washington County,” according to The History of Washington County Ohio authors.

This was but one chapter of Nahum Ward’s productive life as a successful business person, Marietta civic leader, family man, and benefactor of the Unitarian Church.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Where it All Began - Oil and Gas Industry in SE Ohio and West Virginia

We are in the midst of an oil and gas boom....again. There have been several cycles of boom and bust in Southeastern Ohio and adjacent areas of West Virginia. The late David McKain, oil industry veteran and local historian, documents in his book Where It All Began that this area truly had a pioneering role in the oil and gas industry.

A few early oil wells highlight the importance of our area in the early oil and gas industry: The Thorla-McKee wells in Noble County OH, and wells near Macksburg and on Cow Run in Washington County OH. In a future article, I will discuss some of the early activity in nearby West Virginia.

First, some background: The earliest reference to oil in America was in the 1600s. Seneca Indians knew of "oil springs" in southwestern New York and western Pennsylvania. There were other references to oil springs in correspondence and maps of that period. One map by the French labels a spring as "Fountain de Bitume."

Locally, oil roots trace back to the late 1700s. Thomas Jefferson witnessed a Wirt County WV burning natural gas vent in 1781. George Washington owned property with oil and gas deposits on the Kanawha River and visited it in 1775. His will described it as being acquired "on account of a bituminous spring which it contains, of so inflammable a nature that it burns as freely as spirits...."

Until the mid-1800s, the search was for salt, a valuable commodity in early America, used for food preservation and flavoring. Salt and brine were usually accompanied by oil oozing out of the ground and by natural gas vents which burned when ignited. These oil and gas byproducts were a nuisance; their value had not been realized yet.

The Thorla McKee well in Noble County is believed to be the oldest producing oil well in North America. The first well was drilled for salt in 1814 using the spring pole drilling method to a reported depth of 200 feet. Silas Thorla and Robert McKee were entrepreneurs who wanted to start a salt works. The well struck the sought-after brine - and oil as well. A second well was drilled in 1816 to a reported depth of 475 feet.

Spring pole drilling method used to drill early salt and oil wells. Worker(s) repeatedly “kicked down” the drilling implement into the hole while the spring pole sapling (appearing as horizontal log in photo) pulled it back up to so it could be kicked down again. From American Oil and Gas Historical Society.

The salt works at the well site thrived. The brine/oil mixture was placed in barrels, allowing the oil to separate and float on the surface. Oil was soaked up using blankets, then wrung from the blankets. The primitive oil recovery method copied that used by Seneca Indians. Some oil thus recovered was sold for medicinal purposes as "Seneca Oil." The brine was boiled in kettles to recover the salt.

Thorla McKee 1816 well with remains of the original sycamore log casing. From

There was natural gas present, also, which often created a safety hazard. Every week or so, Old Faithful-style, the well would "blow off" gas, creating a 40-50 ft. high geyser of salt water. John McKee told the story of a spectacular night time encounter with natural gas at the well. Robert Caldwell was working the salt kettles one night and needed more brine from the well. Usually that operation was done during daylight. He used live coals for light, placed on the platform above the well. One of the coals slipped through the platform floor and dropped near the well. That ignited the gas, creating a huge fireball and a thunderous noise heard miles away. McKee said "Robert Caldwell was not hurt, but a worse scared man was never seen on Duck Creek." The resulting fire ignited the oil, causing it to flow into the creek, creating the spectacle of a half mile floating inferno with flames reaching tree top height.

The 1816 well survives today, at Thorla McKee Park at the intersection of state routes 78 and 564. On October 7, 2014, the 200th anniversary of the first well was celebrated with a festival and dedication of the park, operated by the Noble County Historical Society.

Ohio's first well drilled exclusively for oil was drilled near Macksburg OH in the autumn of 1860 on land that James Dutton and two others had leased. They struck oil at a mere 59 ft. depth which flowed at 100 barrels per day. Dutton's investment return was astronomical. They had leased the land for 99 years for $100. At 100 barrels per day of oil then worth $10, the well generated $1,000 in a single day. Dutton was so excited that when asked how his sick wife was doing, he exclaimed "flowing one hundred barrels a day!"

Months later, drilling also began in early 1861 on Cow Run in Lawrence Township, Washington County. Why Cow Run? The story goes that John Newton was in his office at the Harmar Bucket Factory reading aloud an article about drilling for oil and gas in Canada. Uriah Dye, a worker at the factory, overheard the reading. He told Newton that he (Dye) had a gas spring on his property on Cow Run. They investigated the gas spring, then sprang into action themselves, so to speak. They formed a business entity, then obtained a lease in February 1861 from Uriah Dye and Samuel Dye. They began drilling using the spring pole method.

The first well on Uriah's farm was dry. Unfazed, Newton grabbed a shovel and said "C'mon boys, I'll show you where to get an oil well!" He walked over to the Samuel Dye lease and picked a spot where gas bubbled out of the ground. He dug a pit with the shovel and the next day it was full of oil. They began drilling again. The well struck oil at 137 feet and yielded 50 barrels per day. That oil was moved to Marietta in barrels by wagon and shipped to St. Louis to a refinery.

Scene from nearby 1860s WV oil field – similar to Macksburg and Cow Run. From Oil and Gas Museum web site.

These finds set off waves of oil rush frenzy. Thousands of people and millions of investor dollars jammed into the areas where new wells struck oil. The Marietta Republican reported on January 2, 1861, that "Since Mr. James Dutton struck (oil)...our citizens are getting wild on the oil subject. The whole valley of Duck Creek being perforated. We learn that several hundred wells are being sunk." Prophetically, the commentary notes: "We should be glad to see all who are engaged in the business succeed, but fear many will lose while other make." At one early boom period at Cow Run, The Ohio Geological Survey Volume 8 said "Derricks were so close together that it was difficult to drive a wagon through the valley.”

Inevitably, though, the boom times faded. But activity has often started up anew as new discoveries or better recovery techniques developed. Today’s current wave of shale oil drilling is a good example of the latter, using horizontal drilling and new fracking methods.

We can be justifiably proud of our local area’s role in the development of the oil and gas industry. It has been a cornerstone of the local economy since the earliest days. Let's hope the current boom moderates into a more sustainable “Goldilocks” activity level rather than becoming another bust.