Concerning Oil in Ritchie County.
December 5, 1864
Concerning Oil in Ritchie County.
Cairo, Ritchie County, West Va.
November 24th, 1864
Dear Sirs – Thinking that in these days of oil excitement, a brief account of the vast mineral resources of this country might prove acceptable to your readers, and having had ample opportunities of acquiring a practical knowledge of them, through being engaged here for the last four months in engineering, I venture to send you a description of the “Vertical Bitumen Lode,” which must be, when generally known, one of the scientific wonders of the world, both on account of its singular vertical position, and its being the only instance at present discovered of so large a deposit of that mineral. This lode is situated on McFarland’s run, which is a small tributary of the south fork of Hughes’s river, and is about eight miles in an air line, running south 4 degrees west from the Cairo station on the Parkersburg branch of the Baltimore and Ohio railway making it about twenty miles south east from Parkersburg. The mineral has been traced for one and a half miles in a line running south 76 degrees east, and outcrops on McFarland’s run, where it was first discovered. The lode is nearly five feet wide, and lies between two vertical yellow sandstone rocks; it is without the least trace of impurity, and is divided into two district parts by an irregular vertical joint or seam, one portion of it being fibrous and the other granulated. The mountains on the two sides of McFarland’s run rise with a gradual slope about four hundred feet high, and the fissure in which the mineral is deposited extends right through the, and to within from five to eight feet of the top surface.
A pump or wire shaft was sunk in the ravine with the idea of testing the depth of the deposit, but after going down nearly forty feet, water came in so rapidly that it was suspended, but enough was seen to prove its entire uniformity. Of course there are numbered theories broached to account for the production of so remarkable a mineral deposit, but the most responsible one appears to be, that it is the result of the gradual oxidation of liquid petroleum, that has been forced up and injected into this fissure by some violent convulsion of nature. If this be the correct theory, (and I believe it to be so,) beneath this substance there must still exist an enormous deposit of petroleum yet in a liquid state, and such being granted, it would not be unreasonable to conjecture that the petroleum found in the neighborhood of the Burning Springs, on the Little Kanawha river, which lies south, together with those on Bull and Cow creeks, so near the Ohio river, lying north of this lode, vast and extensive as they are, will be found to sink into insignificance with those of this county, and to be merely the drippings from this the fountainhead. I am not singular in this idea, for some of the soundest and most practical oil operators are rapidly securing the lands adjacent to the Bitumen Lode, and steam engines are already upon the ground to test the matter.
There is now almost ready for opening a branch railroad from the Ohio station to the mine, and as the mineral has been found to contain one hundred and sixty gallons of oil to the ton, even should the lode be no longer or deeper than at present proved (which is highly improbable,) there is still enough of the bitumen to yield a million barrels of petroleum.
If I were not afraid of making this communication too lengthy, I could mention in detail the magnificent timber and valuable deposits of iron ore that exists in this region, as also a famous saltpeter cave, from which in days gone by, large quantities of that material was collected, and which I should think in these gunpowder times could now be worked to advantage, but enough I think has been said to prove that in no portion of this favored continent, can capital or industry be brought to bear better than in this hitherto neglected part of what was once a portion of the “Old Dominion.”
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: Undated: December 1864