If you’ve been to Butler on a busy day—say during the summer Community Fest—you know that the small town can fill up pretty fast and it doesn’t take long before it’s overflowing. That’s how it was in the early spring of 1906—the hotels were crammed full and more folks were arriving on every train.
They were coming from all over the country in business suits, but they had on heavy boots as well, for pacing off acreage through the mud. Men from New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh all showed up to elbow their way into the good graces of Worthington Township landowners, and try to cash in on the action.
That was the year that Butler got on the map and into the headlines when they struck it rich at an obscure oil well that came in a gusher.
The famous well was known in the news columns as Mengert#1 because it rose in the lowlands of the Mengert Farm. The derrick stood 80 feet tall and when the drill hit the right layer of prehistoric swamp underground the oil literally shot 100 feet in the air.
Within four days of the first headlines there were 62 leases signed and filed in the County Courthouse for farms in the nearby hills and hollows. Representatives of Standard Oil were quickly on site negotiating with farmers about big bucks, and as the landlady said when the boiler exploded: roomers was flying.
In 1906 there were 800 people living in Butler and for months none of them could get much done because the town was so crazy. They lined up along Union Street to watch the pipeline laid that came down the hill from the oil fields to the B&O depot, and it was a townwide party the first time oil flowed through the pipe into a train’s tanker cars.
The big well started out at 250 barrels a day, and 26 tanker cars rolled out of town heading west to refineries. After the initial big burst Mengert#1 evened off at 75-100 barrels a day, but then in March Remy#1 hit just a few hundred yards down the hollow from Mengert’s. Up and down the B&O tracks folks were speculating that the whole Clear Fork Valley was sitting on top of a great primeval pool of liquid assets, and Richland County was about to live up to its name.
An oil strike is often referred to as ‘black gold,’ and that’s why this Butler strike was so amazing and notable to oilmen all over the US: because the oil coming out of southern Richland was not black at all and appeared almost clear—as if it had already been refined by time and kindly mother nature.
Reporters from Cincinnati and Pittsburgh wrote, “This oil is the highest grade product known in the world and commands $1.70 a barrel.” “It is so nearly devoid of color that one can stand on the top of a 250-barrel tank and, looking down, can see the bottom of the tank.”
It was like one of those intoxicating summer thunderstorms we get here—it starts with no warning, goes crazy for a while with a big fuss and wild to-do, and then just as quickly it’s over and the sun shines again.
When some investors from Pittsburgh arrived in Butler only 18 days after the first oil strike, intending to lease land, they found every piece of property—farm and fen, hilltop or pigpen—already under contract for more than 5 miles to the east and west.
In the ensuing months there were more than 10 wells pounded in the Butler area and that many more in the county as far north as Shiloh. All but 2 of them failed.
Marion McClellan did hit natural gas on his farm, and pipelines from the Butler Oil & Gas Company distributed his good fortune to Bellville and Butler to fuel their stoves and keep the lights burning for a while.
But Mengert#1 closed in November of 1906 and the Butler storm passed quietly into the pages of history.