Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Albion Recorder, April 21, 1997, pg. 4

One major economic enterprise that was active in the Albion area during the 1950s and 1960s were the numerous oil an gas wells located here. Oil was discovered south o town and soon the Albion-Scipio field was producing thousands of barrels of oil. Even today some wells still remain, mostly south of Albion.

This was not the first discovery of oil in the area, however. An incredible discovery was made in the early 1840s during the digging of the water raceway behind the East Side of South Superior Street in the downtown area. This was dug in preparation of the erection of the Stone Mill, now the building housing City Bank & Trust Company. The discovery was reported in the April 2, 1864 issue of the Albion Union-Herald which quoted the Detroit Tribune: "Some twenty-two years ago [1842-43] says the Detroit Tribune, Daniel Compton, who was employed by Jesse Crowell of Albion, in sinking a tail race for a grist mill, discovered a black oily substance oozing from the sand rock, several feet below the surface of the ground. Mr. Crowell’s attention was called to the fact, but he thought the black looking liquid was valueless. Mr. Compton and his comrade gathered two pailfuls of the crude oil and used it in lamps, and it burned freely. But the water was let into the race, and the matter was forgotten."

The 1864 article related how numerous area residents at the time of the Civil War noticed that their wells had a funny taste, or that something greasy was floating on their brooks. Shades of Jed Clampet!

Oil was "rediscovered" in this area in 1864, which prompted the 1864 article and the recollections of 1842. The Louisville Journal picked up the story and made the following observations: "The Albion petroleum easily deodorizes, and when refined, makes a clear white oil that burns freely, and is non-explosive. It yields but a little naphtha, and stands a fire test of 140 degrees. It is certain that oil exists in that locality in large quantities, and it only needs capital and labor to develop a mine of untold wealth. There is little doubt that these oil deposits are spread over a large portion of the Interior of the United States."

At least two persons made a substantial amount of money in 1864 as a result of the discovery. Most notable was banker Samuel V. Irwin (1823-1890), president of the National Exchange Bank of Albion, after whom Irwin Avenue is named. Irwin sold the oil rights on his 130-acre farm on the southwest portion of town for $50,000. The purchaser was a New York City ol company which intended upon drilling. Mr. Irwin retained a one-eleventh share of the stock. Today this land lies west of South Superior Street, south of Mechanic Street, all the way to the Kalamazoo River encompassing Irwin Avenue, Crandall, River, Edwards, and Adams Streets.

Another citizen, Job Spencer, leased his farm of 118 acres two miles south of the village for ninety-nine years to two oil speculators. One was B. L. Harsell from New York and the other Isaac N. Patterson, of Oil City, Pennsylvania. Spencer reserved a one-eighth share in the well profits. The paper reported, "For the last day or two there has been a strong flow of oil from the drain into the river where the first discovery was made."

Is that why Albion’s water tastes so bad, because it’s got oil in it? Imagine a gushing oil well in the Market Place where it was first discovered, located on top of the contaminated spring in Stoffer Plaza! Imagine this well pouring thousands of dollars into the city coffers! We could name this well "Jesse" in honor of Mr. Crowell. No more city income tax. No more school millages. Our roads would be paved with brick, and our pot holes filled. Albion would be the envy of the state.

Pictured here is "Albion’s Greatest Benefactor," Jesse Crowell. We could wish that there would be an oil well to solve our problems, but instead it takes leaders who have a vision for the future of Albion. Our community is fortunate to have public servants and volunteers who are all helping in their own way to make Albion a better place to live. It is these persons who leave a lasting mark on the present generation and upon our future generations. That’s something an oil well cannot buy.

Jesse Crowell


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