Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 13, 2004, pg. 5
In the 1840s when the Stone Mill was being built by Jesse Crowell on S. Superior St. (this is now the Citizen’s Bank building), workers noticed an oily substance in the ground when they were digging. In fact, they were able to light their lamps with the substance--it was oil. Although the technology was not available at the time to access this particular natural resource, the oil remained for harvesting at a later date.
It was in the late 1950s that Albion experienced an oil boom. In 1957 it was determined that there was a large pool of oil underground stretching from Albion, southwards to just east of Jonesville. This formation was given the name of the Albion-Scipio Oil Field. Within a short time there were over 700 oil wells dotting the landscape in our area, particularly in Albion Township. There were even wells that were drilled and operated inside the city limits. These included the well on the Behling farm on W. Erie St., and wells in the vicinity of St. John’s School off of Irwin Avenue. Oil was so abundant in the Albion-Scipio Field that some wells were free-flowing and had to be restricted to manageable levels.
With the harvesting of this natural resource came the workers and their equipment. One of the first things that happened concerned the heaving drilling equipment when it was being transported to the drilling sites. The equipment was too heavy for the old bridges over the Kalamazoo River. They collapsed when the equipment trucks road over them. The bridge on D Drive South east of Babcock was one casualty, and the bridge on Newburg Road just east of Albion was another.
A network of oil pipes were laid from well to well, and some flowed to the Marathon Oil plant in Mosherville. From there it was piped southwards for processing in Samaria, Ohio. In addition to the oil, there were other by-products such as natural gas, propane and butane. These were purchased by energy customers such as Consumers Power Company.
There were two spectacular fires from wells just south of Albion. These occurred in March, 1960 (the Rosenau oil well fire), and the other in February, 1962 (the Farley oil well fire). In both cases, the legendary Red Adair and his crew had to be called in to put out the fires. Adair of course, passed away last August, 2004, at the age of 89.
A new concept of the time was the legal term “mineral rights.” People in our area learned that you could own your land but not what was under it. There were various negotiations with land owners, or banks who held the loans, and the property owners regarding how much money they would be paid per barrel of oil drilled on their property. Of course there were legalities concerning oil that flowed underground over property lines to a well located on another property. Some people made out better than others concerning their financial recompense. There were also negotiations regarding by-products such as natural gas, which some property owners were able to have piped to their homes from the wells on their property.
In the Albion area, at least two oil-flow lines were somewhat-shallowly laid across the back of the millpond of the Kalamazoo River (west of Riverside Cemetery) into the muck that had settled there. When the Kalamazoo River millpond dredging project took place in 1978, it was determined that these oil-flow pipes were still imbedded there. Unfortunately as a result, dredging could not occur in the back part of the millpond as was originally planned. Thus that portion of the pond/river remains only a few inches deep and some of that muck has shifted downstream to fill what was dredged in 1978 and 1979. It also has restricted recreational possibilities to just the lower portion of the millpond, as the upper portion is barely navigatible by boat due to the undredged-muck.
For a time, Albion was considered the “oil capital” of Southern Michigan, as numerous oil companies were either located here or did business here. The Parker Inn Hotel, as well as the Gem Motel and the Starlite Motel east of town, often housed oil workers during the week. One of the first highway billboards promoting Albion after I-94 was built, pictured oil wells as part of the landscape of the community.
A look at early 1960s Albion City directories reveal a special category in the business directory. The “Oil Well Service-Drilling” classification listed eleven (11) different firms here. Another classification was “Oil Properties” with two companies listed. Oil was one of our “claims to fame.” Imagine a community motto such as, “Albion--the Oily Community.”
One drilling firm that operated here was the Turtle Drilling Company, from Olney, Illinois. This firm drilled the oil wells out along Irwin Avenue by St. John’s Catholic School/Church. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of their company sign, with four workers silhouetted (actually the light flash was too strong) by their rig on the right. The sign states, “Turtle Drilling Co. Rig No. 1, Olney, ILL. Albion, Mich.” followed by a NAtional-9 telephone number 2629. The local Turtle office was located just east of town at 951 Newburg Road.
Turtle Drilling Company
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic