Thursday, April 10, 2008

Life of Enos, Part 13

Early settlers in this area dug wells to reach brine water, which provided them salt, a valuable commodity. Natural gas and oil were occasionally found when digging these wells, but it was not until 1882, when the Niagara Drilling Co. struck gas at 2,300 feet near Hickory that the extent of the reserves could be guessed.

That well became known as the Mighty McGugin. The roar of the gas escaping and burning could be heard as far away as Washington, and it would not be successfully capped and put to use for four years.

Inspired by this discovery, Enos Christman and four other Washington businessmen decided to drill a well closer to the city in hopes of using that gas to heat and light their businesses and homes. Some of the men remembered as boys swimming in the Old Kettle Hole in Chartiers Creek. They would often amuse themselves by lighting the gas that bubbled up from the creek bottom. They formed the Peoples Light & Heat Co. and chose a site near there on the Hess farm, west of Jefferson Avenue behind what is now Ann's Feeds, and began drilling in March 1884. They struck a pocket that would prove to be as productive as the McGugin.

Laying pipe moved with incredible speed. By July 1, the first connections were made to businesses in the borough of Washington. By the end of the month, 46 homes, including that of the Christman family, had gas service.

It was the availability of natural gas that attracted industry to Washington, with the first of several large glass factories started here in 1888. The gas strike inspired other drilling and the discovery of large reserves of oil. At one point, 18,575 barrels a day were being pumped from the Washington field.

Washington became a boomtown. Many became millionaires and the population exploded. The Peoples gas company grew and became Manufacturers Light & Heat, which eventually became the Columbia Gas System. And Enos Christman, pretty much forgotten these past 100 years, had much to do with that.

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