The Fairmount Web Spot

The Gas Boom

The Discovery of Natural Gas

In the 1880's natural gas was discovered in east central Indiana in a strata of rock called the Trenton Field. The Fairmount Mining Company was formed on March 4, 1887 to search for gas under the town. It drilled at a spot along Washington Street where a wire factory stands today. About two months later, it found gas.

The bore hole produced one humongous column of flame rushing out of the earth. The pressure was so great the gas could be harnessed only with great difficulty. The flame was so amazing that dignitaries travelled by rail to see it. The well was called Jumbo, after an elephant in the original P.T. Barnum circus.

An Age of Prosperity

At first the gas was used to provide the town's residents with light and heat. Then the gas attracted industry with the promise of a larger population and undreamed-of prosperity.

Because natural gas fire is hot enough to melt sand into glass, glass factories tend to plant themselves where the gas is. In this way, factories manufacturing jars, bottles, window panes and other forms of glass sprang up like mushrooms up and down the railroad along the Jumbo gas well.

The prosperity brought by industry showered the town with such benefits as brick-paved streets, interurban trolley service to other parts of the state, a new water works, new schools, and the promise of being in the economic center of the state.

Indeed, the gas boom was responsible for what is today a common crop in the Fairmount area. In 1906 a man named E.C. McKever, wishing to set up a canning factory, prevailed on the local farmers to plant tomatoes. Since then tomatoes have been a profitable crop in this area.

Prodigal Waste—And Its Punishment

Thirteen years of prosperity had made the townspeople fools, and in their foolishness they threw away the wealth under their feet. This extract from the 1917 history of the Fairmount area, The Making Of A Township, says it all:

Foreign corporations, seeing the opportunity presented, began to lease land in the neighborhood. Lines were laid and gas was transported to Chicago by means of great pumping stations erected for the purpose. These stations pulled strongly upon the entire field, diminishing the supply, and finally exhausting the entire territory.

Far-seeing men wisely discouraged people from leasing land to outside syndicates, but the advice went unheeded and the pressure began to weaken and then gradually to disappear.

The discovery which promised at the outset to dot the gas belt with connecting cities eventually came to naught.

By 1900 the gas was all gone. The flight of industry and population soon followed, dealing Fairmount a blow from which it never fully recovered.

Copyright © 2013 by Andy West. All rights reserved. Last updated 11 August 2013.