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Return to Milestones Vol. 4, No. 1
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In the 1880's and the decades following, Hopewell Township became an important oil and gas producing area. Gringo, in the southern part of the township, was the center of the oil field, which extended down into South Heights. There were also wells in the New Sheffield area; these produced mostly gas.
In those days, South Heights was known by its post office name, "Ethel Landing", or by its railroad station, which the P & L E called "Shannopin". The village of Gringo became a "boom town" almost overnight.
There were four hotels and boarding houses - The White Elephant, Slocum, Vicents, The Petroleum House, as well as two livery barns, a pool room, six speakeasies, blacksmith shops, a movie house. Houses sprang up over night. There were a lot of oil well shacks.
Kane Road wasn't there yet, it was all woods along there. Stories are told about when the buggies or wagons would be coming up Frog Pond Hill especially in the mud; or if they had a load, the robbers would pop out of the woods and rob the passengers.
The Post Office at Gringo was called Zeller-, it was connected with the store.
It was told that Gringo got its name:
Howard Green went with the Nevin girl-, he would always walk fast and they would say, "Look at Green Go," hence Gringo. Also they went into one of the Speakeasy's,- it was so narrow, a fellow got a drink and grinned and went-, so it was called Grin & Go, so "Gringo".
About 1878, there was a school at Gringo known as Frog Pond. Hannah A. McCoy was the teacher. It burned down. George Stevenson of Gringo donated an acre of land to be used for a school-, there was a two-room building known as the Fairview School; this burned down and a one-room school was built. This building is now the Gringo Missionary Alliance Church.
The Thomson Sickle Shop was owned by the grandfather of the late Seward and Frank Thomson. The grist mill at Bocktown was owned by Alexander Morrow. The name "Morrow" came into prominence suddenly when oil was struck about 1885 by the Raccoon Oil Co., on land owned by A. P. Morrow. There was great excitement when a 3,500 barrel a day well came in on the Marks' Farm a few yards from the Clark McCoy house. (Blair Bell's Home now.) Mr. Morrow sold the royalty on his wells for $3,000 to a gentleman who in a few days resold it for $12,000. A man would come around; he knew where they were going to drill so he would lease the property as cheap as he could, then sell it to the oil company for a good profit. It is claimed one could feel a spray from the well at Carnot. There were 69 wells drilled around the Gringo district.
Many oil wells were drilled in Glycerine Hollow and the McCoy Farm, Frog Pond. Three were drilled on the Stevenson Farm where James Buss lives. Then the big one came in on the Marks Farm about 1886 where Blair Bell lives. It pumped 3500 barrels a month. The wells in this area ranged from 1400 to 1800 feet.
Some of the men that worked on the oil wells were John Elliott, Pat Deery, Ed Harriger, Harry and Henry McConnell, and Tom Heppelwhite, who was a Gager and did the testing of the oil in the tank to find the amount of sludge, and the amount of water in a tank. They put a glass gage down as far as it would go; it would fill up with what was down there and then close. That told how much of the contents was oil and water. There was a paraffin substance at the bottom of the tank.
Others were Charlie Marshall, John Douns and some of their sons. Some oil workers came from Coraopolis - Paul Boyd and Bruce Marshall. Jim Miller and Blair Bell started around 1920. Men slept in the boiler house which was fired twenty four hours a day.
Ed Stone, who started about 1890, was burned to death about 1915. They had a heater to heat the office and the water, it had a lid on the top. He brought a bucket of casing head gas in to heat it. He set it down into the hot water to heat and it started to bubble then caught on fire, he started to lift it out; he didn't get it high enough and it spilled on him, caught him on fire-, he rolled on the snow to put the fire out.
They needed glycerine to shoot the wells. They would put the glycering down in a little bottle, then drop a go devil (an iron ball) and it would make it go off. This was called shooting a well. There was a fellow who would haul this glycerine; he hauled it in a wagon in little pockets along each side of the wagon in cotton so it wouldn't jar, as it could go off. The people in Shannopin wouldn't let him come into the Saloon; they were afraid it would blow the town up.
There were two glycerine factories, one just as you come into South Heights up that hollow. This was between the Agnew and the Green Farm. Emmett Agnew saw them making glycerine when he was 14 years old (about 1906). When this blew up, it broke the windows in Ambridge. It blew locks off of doors. They said you would find legs and arms, etc., after the blast. Emmett said he and his dad were moving a Mr. Aldamen and when the Glycerine Factory up Mixter Hollow blew up, it just flipped him right off the back of the wagon.
The second glycerine factory was up Mixter Hollow (new Route 151), near the fork of the hollow. The three Newell girls who worked here were killed. Their younger sisters brought up their lunch at noon; the boss told them not to run around and to take off their shoes. The next day he came with a piece of pipe and accidently dropped it and it all went "Boom".
Today, only a very few wells are still producing; these are pumped occasionally for a small quantity of high-grade petroleum. The Hopewell oil "boom" is now all but a memory.
The last relic of Gringo's oil boom, this pump station at the intersection of PA. Route 151 and the Beaver Valley Expressway draws surprised glances from expressway travelers as its exhaust pipe blows smoke rings high into the air.