Search

The End of the Gas Boom & The Coming of the Automobile

By 1907, the great gas boom in east central Indiana was over and workers were taking up mile upon mile of pipe lines which would be sold for scrap. The boom

lasted barely 20 years before the wells gave out, but it brought glorious times to many towns in that part of the state and attracted 300 factories to what was known as The Gas Belt.


The oil wells and the gas wells lay in what was known as the Trenton Field, an area of Ordovician Age limestone found in about 21 counties. The field had the shape of what might be described as a reversed question mark running westward from Jay County, Blackford County, and Delaware County to Howard County and then southeastward through Madison County , to Rush County. The Trenton Field supplied gas to many glass companies and other factories in cities such as Muncie, Marion, Elwood, and Kokomo.

A tiny sliver of Wabash County sat on the very northern fringe of the Trenton field, and natural gas from wells near LaFontaine was piped to Wabash to heat homes and to supply gas for illumination. A group of local investors formed a company to supply natural gas to Wabash, but that firm apparently sold out to the Wabash Valley Gas Company shortly before the boom ended.


Many of the industries in The Gas Belt were union shops, and as such they banded together each Labor Day for a celebration and parade which moved from year to year to major cities which were in the belt.


Even though Wabash was not truly in The Gas Belt, the city was host to the celebration in 1902. The parade that year was probably the grandest parade this town has ever known. There were many bands, many floats, and a multitude of other marching units. The parade wound through part of the residential area, through the business district, and then west along Hill Street to City Park where celebrants staged a great picnic.


The Coming of The Automobile


Automobiles were few and far between in Wabash in 1907, but those folks who owned one were enthusiastic about the new contraptions. About two dozen people here owned autos then, and in early July they gathered at the Indiana Club to form an automobile club.


The car owners elected Dr. Aaron Kern as president of the group. Later, in what can be described as a fit of enthusiasm, the club voted to buy property and erect a clubhouse at Pearson’s Mill near Somerset on the Mississinewa River.


Only a few days after the club was organized, Dr. G.M. LaSalle went to Indianapolis by interurban to buy a new car. Somewhere on the way home, Dr. LaSalle put his car into a ditch, suffered some cuts and bruises, and extracted his auto with extreme difficulty. He vowed to friends that he would never again leave Wabash.


But these new machines were not universally popular. Some folks in Urbana objected to the commotion caused by automobiles passing through their little town, and they took steps to block the road, then known as Manchester Pike. This attracted the attention of an Indianapolis newspaper, The Sun, because a number of wealthy Indianapolis families had places at Lake Wawasee, and their automobile journeys to the lake took them through Urbana.


“In Wabash County there seems to be a deep-seated prejudice against the automobile. Obstructions have been placed in public roads by reckless persons with an evident intention of inflicting damage and injury on motorists. It is well for such angry citizens to remember that the highway is the path of all the people,” said the newspaper.

31 views