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Andrew Carnegie and the Columbia Oil Farm
William Story Farm
The New Pittsburgh Owners
Columbia Farm
Carnegie's First Visit to Oildom
Carnegie's Pond
The Columbia Oil Company
Brass Band
The Earnings
Wells and Operations
Carnegie's Departure
Trivia (?)
Concluding Remarks

William Story Farm

The Story Farm consisted of 501 acres, all but 100 acres being on the west side of Oil Creek, Venango County, Pennsylvania. It was composed of extensive bottom flats and the hillsides of the valley flanks. The western tract was the prime area, especially for access and for the oil operations which later took place there.

The first owner, a Cranberry Township pioneer named James Story, settled there in the early 1800’s. He had two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, and two sons. Of his two sons, William and Robert, William stayed on the farm, married, and was there when the oil frenzy broke out. Robert had moved away and the father, James, had drowned in an accident in the Allegheny River. William’s wife became the principal objective in the maneuvering of brokers for the purchase of this key farm in the fall of 1859.

In late 1859, during the first oil excitement brought about by Drake’s discovery upcreek on August 27 of that year, the Story Farm was a major choice for acquisition. George H. Bissel, an attorney who was invested in the Seneca Oil Co. and Drake’s well, was in New York at the moment of Drake’s discovery. After reading an account of the strike, he quickly perceived the opportunity in oil leases and immediately left for Titusville. Bissel became a major player in leasing oil rights and buying property. However, he didn’t win them all. Money talks, but his offer didn’t talk well enough at the Story Farm and it was evident that Mrs. Story was peeved.

We don’t know exactly what William Story was doing or thinking at this critical moment. In any case, all references point to the fact that the deal would hinge upon Mrs. Story’s view of the matter. Selling a farm was a big event, and she had her say-so in the negotiation.

While Bissel was reviewing his tactics, a gentleman representing the Pittsburgh firm of Ritchie, Hartjo & Co. knocked on the back door and soon negotiated the purchase with Mrs. Story. He had seen that something extra in addition to the offer of $30,000 ($40,000 by some accounts) was needed. A revelation struck the broker. It was evident to him that this farm was in a rough, wilderness area and that something fancy might be appreciated by the lady. The broker, anxious to get her signature on the deed, promised a choice of finery as a bonus. She chose a colorful silk dress (some sources say that it was a petticoat). Both could picture it in their mind’s eye, and the deal was struck.

Neither of them, or anybody else at the time, could have imagined that a few years later, the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, would make a whistle stop and deliver a speech at this site which then had become a model oil field community, one of the biggest sustained producers on Oil Creek. It had produced millions of dollars of oil and was still under production.

Bissel returned the next day with a fresh offer in mind. He was dismayed to learn that a dress or petticoat, not even then in hand, had turned the tide at the Story Farm.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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