LIMA — Three years after Benjamin Faurot’s 1885 discovery of oil near his paper mill, Lima was becoming acquainted with the dangers of sitting atop an oil field. When things went bad in the oil field, they tended to go spectacularly bad. Oil wells caught fire, natural gas exploded and nitroglycerine, just coming into use to get the oil wells flowing, often went off prematurely, leaving behind huge holes and widows.
Each new catastrophe drew a crowd.
So, when a column of smoke was seen “arising west of the city in the direction of the Eagle Refinery” just before noon on Feb. 21, 1888, it was “the signal for a general stampede in that direction to see the tanks or buildings burn,” Lima’s Daily Democratic Times wrote. “Everybody on the street said it was the refinery and really it appeared very much like it from the city. Vehicles of all sorts were loaded up with curious sight-seers who wended their way to the refinery, expecting to see it burning and a part of it already consumed.”
Alas, everybody on the street was wrong. The fire was in Dug Run just west of the refinery “into which all refuse matter from the refinery goes.” Like the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Dug Run burned.
Despite making a body of water flammable, the Times concluded that, all in all, the Eagle Refinery was a good thing. “The Lima people have a very warm feeling toward the Eagle, which has done its utmost to make and market first class illuminating oil from Lima crude, and in this they have succeeded.”
Almost as soon as Faurot tapped into oil along the Ottawa River near East North Street, the talk in Lima was that a refinery soon would follow. “An oil refinery will be built here,” the Times confidently predicted on Oct. 21, 1885. In fact, four would be built, including the Solar Refinery which survives today as Husky Lima Refinery. Others were the Lima Oil Co., three miles west of Lima along the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, and the Century Refinery between the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (B&O) Railroad and the Wapakoneta Road.
Before any of those, however, there was the Eagle Refinery, located south of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago (Pennsylvania) Railroad and west of Cole Street on 14 acres of land purchased for $2,000 from Moses and Elizabeth Allen. “At the oil refinery the still has been placed in position and the pipes are now being placed in the condensator,” the Times wrote July 7, 1886, adding that “the first of next week may see the refinery in operation.”
Under the management of John W. Forbes, the refinery expanded rapidly. “The Eagle Refinery is putting in the sixth still at their works today,” the Times reported Oct. 24, 1887. “This refinery has a capacity of nearly 5,000 barrels per day now, and is increasing in this respect all the time.”
Unlike the oil found in Pennsylvania, the oil from the Lima field contained a high amount of sulfur, making it difficult to refine — or even be around. It smelled like rotten eggs. Eastern “oil country” newspapers pounced on the rival field — and Lima’s Democratic Times pounced back.
Under the headline “Green Eyed Envy,” the Times on April 10, 1888, wrote, “With one accord these papers began an era of abuse of Lima oil and all its various products. From their stand point there was no good thing in it, and opprobrious epithets were hurled at it, and its odor was made the subject of many witty (?) articles.”
The Times pointed to the success of the Eagle Refinery to refute these charges. The refinery, according to the newspaper, “had made an honest, earnest effort to refine Lima oil and put upon the market a first class illuminant obtained from it … As a consequence, the Eagle is assailed by enemies of the Lima field.”
Part of this assault, the Times contended, was the spreading of a rumor the refinery was foundering, so a Times reporter “taking his pencil went to look the matter up.”
“A call was made on Manager Forbes at his pleasant office in the Commercial Block, where that gentleman was found busily engaged,” the Times reported.” Forbes assured the reporter the rumor was a “baseless canard” and that the Eagle was making money and “was on the top wave of prosperity.” A banker, the Times added, described the refinery’s credit as “gilt-edged.”
A year later, in April 1889, a reporter from the Pittsburgh Dispatch visited the Eagle Refinery to see for himself and came away with glowing reports. “I saw Lima crude going in and refined illuminating oil coming out,” the reporter wrote April 20, 1889, “and both tank cars and freight cars loading. Furthermore, the barrels were labeled ‘Lima oil,’ leaving no room for doubt it is selling on its merit. There was an air of prosperity and activity about the place suggestive of good profits.”
Not everyone was enamored of the refinery, chief among them German (later American) Township farmers along the occasionally flammable Dug Run, who sought an injunction against the refinery.
“For some time past there has been considerable complaint made by farmers along the ‘Dug Run,’ west of this city, about the condition into which that stream has grown by the refuse matter from the Eagle refinery being dumped into the stream,” the Times wrote July 27, 1888. “The farmers have waited upon the owners of this establishment at different times, and have stated that from a clear stream of good spring water that run has become a place to be avoided both by stock and people.” Deposits of oil in the stream, according to the farmers, occasionally caught fire, endangering “fences and other property.”
The Eagle Refinery would be the target of lawsuits from farmers along Dug Run as long as it existed, which, it turned out, was not very long.
Early on the evening of May 12, 1891, gawkers got the spectacle they were deprived of a little more than three years earlier. In what the Lima Daily Times referred to as “a gorgeous spectacle of ruin that attracted thousands of people,” a fire started by a lamp exploding in a boiler room leveled most of the refinery.
“Everything considered it was one of the fiercest and costliest conflagrations the city has known,” the newspaper wrote the following day. “Boiler house, cooper shop and all the center pile of buildings except the still house were devoured with fierce rapidity by the flames. Great storage tanks of oil … and other products of the refinery added their fiery quota to the terrible conflagration, as did also 20 railroad oil tank cars standing on the sidings.”
A week after the fire, Frank Marble, superintendent of the refinery, told the Lima Daily News that “it will not be long till the Eagle is running along much as it was before.”
A little more than a year after the fire, in June 1892, the Times reported, “The Eagle Consolidated Refining Co. is in the hands of trustees who will liquidate the indebtedness against the concern, and it is probable the works will soon shut down for good. ‘One by one the roses fall.’”
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