This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Did you know that black gold was discovered in Jasper County?

Asphaltum seems a funny name for a place in Jasper County. It is a cluster of houses in Gilliam Township at the elbow in the road where 650N turns south to become 250E. Unlike most of the tiny little settlements in Jasper County, it has signs announcing its presence. The one below is on the north side of the "town" going east on 650 North. As you can see, there are a lot of woods along this stretch of road.
You can see a few of the houses in google maps. Someone out there has a sense of humor.
At the elbow of the road is a small garden that is rather an unexpected surprise.
It is a memorial to aborted babies.
Asphaltum, though, was not always so quiet and peaceful. It was for a few years early in the twentieth century a boom town when oil was discovered in the area and a refinery was built. A town was laid out, and a map of it can be found here. There may some ruins of the old refinery, but they are on private property. The town itself seems to have been located mostly east of CR 250E, in an area that is now a cornfield. A picture of the old refinery is here, with a better version here.

The oil was high in sulphur and asphaltum, and though there were over 100 wells that were drilled, they produced only small amounts of oil. The refinery had a short life of only a year or two before it was abandoned, but not before a spur of Gifford's railroad was built from Gifford to Asphaltum. The oil, by the way, was refined into lubricating oil and asphalt for roofing. After the refinery was abandoned, some of the brick was used to build houses south near Bailey's Corner, and one still is standing.

Some more information about the short history of the oil boom in Jasper County can be obtained here and here. A bit more information about Asphaltum can be found in the Vintage View's article on Benjamin Gifford in the Summer, 2009 issue, pages 8-11.

On the south edge of Asphaltum is another sign, this one with the name of a mayor. I assume this is a joke of some kind. Anyone know more?
The refinery closed in 1904 and the rail spur removed soon after. The wells produced a lot of water and not too much oil, and when the cost of pumping exceeded the value of the oil, they were abandoned. So there is still some oil there.

Some of the water wells in the Houston Subdivision south of town had problems with trace amounts of oil, and I think that is one of the reasons that the people there wanted annexation and city water. I wonder if their problems were caused by the same geologic formation that gave Asphaltum its oil boom.

1 comment:

Michael J Oakes said...

Interesting story. Thanks