Petrolia, a Texas Boom Town

Petrolia is one of several Texas towns that sprang up during the Texas oil boom.  Petrolia took its name from an oil town in Pennsylvania.  It is located due east of Wichita Falls in Clay County, and succeeded a nearby settlement that was named Oil City.


(Image credit: UNT Portal to Texas History)

Above is an image from 1900 of a well coming in near the place that would later become Petrolia.  It was later discovered that it sat on top of a promising gas and oil field.  In 1901, in a scene that was being repeated all over Texas, a rancher/farmer named Lockridge was having a water well drilled about 12 miles north of Henrietta.  Instead of water, he struck oil at at a depth of only a couple hundred feet.  It was said in the early days of the oil business that there was sometimes less science involved than luck.  The legend is that Lockridge took a fruit jar of the oil to a banker and on the basis of it, he obtained financing for his Lockridge Oil Company.

Other interested individuals from the area including Calvin N. Payne came together to form the Clayco Oil and Pipeline Company to develop the oil properties including Petrolia that were located in Clay County.  Calvin Payne was known in the oil business having served as general manager of the pipeline division of Standard Oil.  Payne came to Texas around 1900 when the Navarro County prospect was being developed and served along side Joseph Cullinan as a director of the Corsicana Petroleum Company.

Petrolia’s population fairly quickly reached just under 1,000 individuals and it became a full service town.  It was bolstered by the arrival of the Wichita Falls and Oklahoma Railroad and had a hotel, drug store, a dry goods store, a bank, a barber shop, a hardware store, a grocery store and meat market.  One account said that some of the nearby towns were dry, but liquor could be found in Petrolia.  The story of one individual is likely mirrored throughout the various oil boom towns of Texas.  Our “Uncle Bunk” was not in the oil business.  He never had worked in the oil field in any capacity, but rather opened a tailor shop in Petrolia which he ran for several decades.

Bunk’s father had moved to Texas from Alabama around 1880, eventually settling in Baylor County.  They moved around a little bit after that.  Bunk was born in nearby Red River County around 1890 and married his wife Ova who was from Wise County.  He and Ova made their home in Petrolia for many years as Bunk ran his shop.  It was Uncle Bunk and Aunt Ova who took our dad to see the 1936 Texas State Fair.  Ova was one of the three first cooks at the local school, was built around 1906.  As time passed, nearby Wichita Falls continued to blossom and grow whereas the population of Petrolia, only about 15 miles away, leveled off.  Bunk and Ova eventually moved to to the east side Wichita Falls as Bunk approached retirement.  During their adult lives, Bunk and Ova never lived more than about 25 miles from Petrolia.  They always lived simply and modestly. They were a very generous and giving couple and they were loved and revered by their extended family (which is to say their siblings, nieces and nephews and those descended from this group). They both lived long into their senior years, always remaining connected to Petrolia, and are both now buried there.

Clayco Oil and Gas Company is the same company that later brought in the Clayco No 1, near the border of Wichita and Wilbarger counties.  While the Petrolia field did not appear to compare to the Spindletop find, it was still promising and shortly thereafter, a strong gas field was discovered at about fifteen hundred feet.  Petrolia’s oil was high gravity crude that would lend itself to producing several different products in quantity.

Payne and two other individuals named E. R. Brown and I. H. Kempner founded Lone Star Gas Company in 1909 and it was not long before a 16 inch pipeline was installed and the gas from this field began to supply Fort Worth and Dallas.  Within a few years, the needs of Dallas and Fort Worth outgrew what the Petrolia field could produce and Lone Star expanded to other fields.  Clayco Oil and Pipeline Company appears to have sold out to Lone Star Gas along the way.  Lone Star Gas kept its corporate identity until 1975 when its name was changed to Enserch Corporation.  Enserch operated independently before a majority of its stock was acquired by Texas Utilities around 1996.  So, the large and widely held company now known as TXU Energy, formerly Texas Utilities, can trace its roots back to the oil and gas field at Petrolia.  If you want to look even further back, you could say the company evolved from a fruit jar full of oil sitting on a banker’s desk.

The Petrolia field has continuously generated oil and gas production for over a century.  It and other discoveries in this part of North Texas led to the development of the Wichita Field around 1910, firmly establishing the North Texas oil field.  The oil boom gave Petrolia the foothold that it needed.  Petrolia continued to have a steady population throughout World War II and beyond.  After over 100 years, the town is still supported by the oil industry and agriculture.

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