Van and the Oil Industry

Van Zandt County

Taken from Van Zandt County Texas Biographies 1848-1991 Vol. II. Thanks to Kitty Wheeler for the original information and for permission to use it on the web site. The information that is included in this document is transcribed portions of information that appear in the above referenced book. Additions, corrections, comments, complaints and compliments concerning this page should be submitted to Betty Miller and Patsy Vinson.

Van, Texas

Van is located in the east section of Van Zandt County about two miles west of the Smith County line on State Hwy. 110.

This community was at one time called Swindall. In 1880, George Swindall donated the land to build a school. The school and community for a time bore his name. Tradition holds that it was also known for a time as Who'd-a-Thought-It. For some reason when James H. Vance filed the application for the establishment of the post office in the blank provided for the proposed office name was written Gano. This is marked through and beside it is written Van.

Two families of Van were mentioned in an article in the Wills Point Chronicle, 1 Dec 1904: PIONEER VAN ZANDTERS - R. L. Howell and Wm. Tunnell of Van-Old Settlers of County-Every Neighborhood has its old standbys, its old patriarchs, to whom everyone looks with love and veneration. It is well that it is so, for they have met the deprivations, toil and dangers of frontier life. Their labors have been a potent factor in the social, moral, religious and physical development of the county. I had the pleasure, while at Van, of meeting with two of these old settlers who have acted a noble part in the early settlement of the county. I write of R. L. Howell and William Tunnell. When with them I think of what Christ said of Nathaniel "Behold an Israelite is whom there is no guile."

"William Tunnell is the son of Enoch Tunnell, who was one of the first settlers in the eastern part of the county, so the subject of this sketch has been mostly reared in the county. He was a Confederate soldier and served east of the Mississippi.

"Mr. Howell was also a confederate soldier. Mrs. Howell, who is now sixty-nine years old, was not of the clinging vine variety of women. she had a mind of her own and the nerve to act upon her own convictions. In a week after Mr. Howell had left for the army she took a horse that she did not want to keep and a lot of Confederate money and bought the farm upon which they now reside and upon which they have made a good living and reared their family. They have been blessed with nine children, five of whom are now living and reside in the same vicinity. They have seventy grand and great-grand children.

"We of the present can scarcely realize the hardships undergone by those who possessed the temerity to leave civilization and cast their lots upon the frontier among savage beasts and more savage men. There were no schools then, no churches, no mills and no store; in fact, there was nothing to make life comfortable and convenient.

"Both couples are in good health and we trust to see them here at the Old Settlers' Reunion next summer. Both couples are active and honored members of the Methodist Episcopal Church south and have been for half a century, if I mistake not. O. Rice."

Richard Lawrence Howell was born 10 mar 1830, in McNairy County, Tennessee, the son of Walter and Nancy Ann Lawrence Howell. Walter married Nancy Ann 13 Oct 1823, in Jefferson County, Tennessee. Nancy was the daughter of Richard and Jane Hammond Lawrence (or Larrance). The Lawrences were Quakers.

Walter and Nancy Ann Howell both died circa 1836, leaving five orphans. These five children, along with an uncle and their grandmother, came to Texas about 1840. here he would meet Celia Little, who was born 15 Apr 1835, daughter of Robert H. and Catherine Self Tunnell Little.

On 14 Aug 1851, Richard married Celia in Rusk County, Texas. By 1860, they were living in Van Zandt County with their first three daughters.

On 10 May 1862, Richard enlisted in the 25th Regiment Texas Calvary at Marshall, Texas. This unit was also known as 1st. Regiment Texas Lancers; as Randal's Regiment Texas Lancers; and as Randal's Regiment Texas Calvary. Richard became a corporal in Company F.

After purchasing a farm for $600 in Confederate money from Hugh Berry, the son of Celia's half sister Mahulda Tunnell Berry, Celia moved her family into the 16' x 16' log house with a lean-to on the back. This house was built of hewn logs with pegs used instead of nails. This farm was on what is now State Hwy. 110 just west of the Smith County line.

When Richard returned home from the war, he enlarged the house by adding a long hall, another large room and lean-to and a porch across the front. The house was on the north side of the road, the barns and corrals were on the south side. Here Richard and Celia raised their family. There were eight children born to this union.

Wuite possibly one of the first business enterprises in the Van area was the stage stop at the Howell farm. Horses were kept ready and waiting to take their turn in pulling the stage coaches. When the coach topped the hill at the present Union Chapel Church, the driver would start ringing a bell. A signal to let the Howell's know to get not only the horses ready but food for passengers as well. It has been said that when more passengers than Celia was expecting came in on the stage to eat and she was afraid she would run short of food, she just added a little too much salt. The passengers didn't eat so much...but they did drink lots of water.

The Howell farm was also on the trail for cattle drives. Pens were built to hold cattle overnight for rest, water and feed. One large herd stopped overnight and the Howells provided lodging and food for 21 cowboys. Celia and the older girls were up the next morning making biscuits for the hungry drovers plus the Howell family.

Sometime around 1870, Richard donated a tract of land for a school The Spring Hill School was formed and was designated as no. 62 on a list of appropriation for each school in Van Zandt County for the scholastic year commencing 1 Sep 1887. Spring Hill was to receive $118.40 for the year, J. W. Sweet was the teacher in October 1888, G. J. Montgomery taught from December 1888, until January 1889, and T. W. Slaton taught in July 1889.

In October 1899, there were 29 children enrolled and Spring Hill was Apportioned $145.

The one room school was about one-half mile north of the Howell home site near a spring. That is where the school obtained their drinking water, one bucket and two dippers for the whole school.

The Howell girls rode horseback to church each Sunday to the Old Dover Church near Carroll. This was about a twenty mile round trip. The girls were all excellent horsewomen.

In 1873, the Union Chapel Methodist Church was founded. Richard Howell, O. N. P. Thomas, J. W. Swain, J. A. Tunnell and Amplias Smith were trustees. Amplias Smith donated 3 acres of land for the church and cemetery. The Howell family attended church there for many years.

One of Richards sons, Thomas Jackson would sometimes catch the stage as it came through and ride to the next stop, then catch the next stage back home. Sometimes, he even rode as far as Dallas. he remembered going to Dallas, about seventy-five miles to the west, when everything was open range. There was not a fence between the Howell farm and Dallas.

It is said that a Mr. Towns opened perhaps the first store in the community in the 1870s, and later sold it to A. R. and Josh Tunnell. If this is so, perhaps that was where the post office was located.

The following was taken from the Wills Point Chronicle, 7 Nov 1904: THE COUNTY ON THE WING-Newt Maxfield owns and runs the gin at Van and is one of the best gin men in the county, and the man who is cleverer than he will have to be avoirdupois. He is also the proprietor of one of the two stores in town, which is managed by my special friend, Joe Robinson. Dempsey Tunnell is the gentlemanly postmaster and a successful merchant. Dr. Head is their overworked physician and he has had to cover territory sufficient for two as, we regret to state, Dr. Jesse McMahon, a very successful practitioner, has been unable to ride for the past three months. Everyone seems to be pleased with both Drs. Head and McMahon.

"I want to give a word of warning to anyone passing through the Van country. You will be safe in calling every man Tunnell, as it will either be a Tunnell or some of their kin. This accounts, in no small degree, for the good morals and energy so manifest.

"Bro. Saxon of the Garden Valley circuit is located here. The church has recently bought a comfortable parsonage.

"One thing is prevalent on every border of this county and that is carrying produce to and doing much of their trading in towns outside the county. Mineola gets a good trade from this vicinity. This trade goes to swell the volume of trade and production of other counties and raise the price of their real estate and decrease that of their own county. We were riding with a very successful business man from another part of the state the other day when seven wagons crossed the road ahead of us. He wanted to know what that meant. On being informed that it was Van Zandt farmers returning from marketing their cotton at kaufman, the gentleman exclaimed, "How shortsighted."

The cotton gin, owned at one time by Levi Wells and for a while by John Goode, was located west of the corner of what is today Fm. Rd. 16 and State Hwy. 110. Glover Tunnell's grocery store was on the north side of the street (Fm. Rd. 16) west of the gin. The drug store, owned by Arthur Kidd, was across the street.

As far as utilities at this time, it was a well about 32' deep, a coal oil lamp, and the privy out back. Two enterprising young men, because of their love of fishing and their want to communicate to plan an occasional fishing trip brought one modern utility to the Van area. Elisha Fowler's favorite fishing partner was Tom Howell, who lived three miles east of the Fowler farm. In the spring when the work was completed, one of them would complete his work for the day and set out on a horse or mule to see if the other could go fishing, only to meet the other coming to see if he could. They got tired of that, got the Sears & Roebuck catalogue down and ordered three miles of telephone wire, enough insulator knobs to go on poles and went to the woods and cut post oak poles, went to farmers and got permission to put poles on fence lines down the road and they built three miles of telephone wire from the Howell house to the Fowler house.

It wasn't long until they had a central at Van. A central is when you have several telephone lines running in different directions and you have a station for them to join to connect with one another. To call someone, you'd ring the crank on the side of the telephone box, a person would plug you in and ask who you wanted to talk to and she'd ring them for you. Everyone had a different combination of rings and all the telephones on the line you were calling would ring, but the one you wanted would recognize their ring and pick up the phone. Like one short and two long rings. Of course, if you recognized someone else's ring and wanted to listen in, no one would be the wiser.

When Joseph Williams filed the application for his appointment as postmaster of Van in 1930, he included this newspaper clipping. TOUGHEST SPOT IS CLEANED OUT--VAN, Tex. 18 Feb (U.P.)-Texas Rangers dashed through city streets and swaggered into speakeasies and dance halls here tonight.

"They came to clean out the "toughest spot this side of hell," and arrested 50 persons, including 15 "Forty-nine" dance hall girls. many were charged with assault to murder, bootlegging, violations of the narcotic laws and petty thievery.

"Six months ago Van was a peaceful, cotton-raising community. Then the discovery of oil nearby brought roustabouts and dance hall girls.

"Led by Sheriff Pitt Nixon, the Rangers quickly silenced music and dance halls and smashed speakeasy doors. Those arrested were whisked out of town and taken to jail at Canton."

Van's Oil Industry

On 5 May 1927, actions were put into motion that would bring major change to not only Van, but all of Van Zandt County. A seismograph reconnaissance was begun to check the significance of erratic dips, surface faulting, abnormal drainage, and topography. After many different kinds of surveys were made their work indicated a definite uplift with its highest point in the vicinity of the town of Van.

Between 28 Jan and 27 Jul 1929, eight core tests were drilled, and information from these exploratory tests confirmed an uplift of great magnitude.

Location of Jarman 37 No. 1 followed a study of all available data. On 14 Oct 1929, Jarman 37 No. 1 was completed for initial production of 147 barrels an hour.

In a short time, Van became a bustling population center - a "boom town". Finding only two stores at a crossroad, the roads were clogged with incoming trucks and automobiles. Tents and rough-board shacks sprang up. Dance halls opened. Beds in the primitive, crowded "hotels" were going for $4. a night. More the 40 "joints" opened to feed the crowd, estimated as high as 8,000 persons, and the price of water soared to 15 cents a bucket.

As a result of this growth, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company extended service, Texas Power and Light Company installed electrical wiring, and local resident, B. H. Castle, provided water and gas lines. To ease transportation problems, executives of the T. & P. extended the Texas Short Line eleven miles from Grand Saline.

Then on 17 Jul 1930, to commemorate this new service, Governor Dan Moody addressed over 700 persons at a barbecue. Within nine months the town had 215 residences and 85 businesses such as a modern movie theater equipped for talkies, hotels, and restaurants. Oh, yes, and a new post office in the back of the drug store run by Mr. Williams

There was frenzied activity as the derricks went up. they prospected for oil in the cotton gin lot, the churchyards, and residential areas. By October 1930, they had completed 131 wells and by April 1931, 236. By June 1932, they had clustered approximately 300 in a seven by three mile rectangle. In all this drilling activity, they had only a few dry holes.

The following was taken from an issue of the Van News dated Friday, 12 Dec 1930: SPECIAL TRAIN IN VAN MONDAY-Monday all day a special train consisting of two private cars and a dining car was on the side track at Van.

"It was a Pure Oil Co. special and among the officials visiting the Van field were Mr. McIlvani, Vice President of the Pure Oil Co., Mr. Sorrelle, Texas superintendent of the Pure Oil Co., and Mr. McDuff, the Land Superintendent of the Pure Oil Co. The nature of their visit was not disclosed.

"...Mr. Frazier, owner of the Star Lumber co., at Mansfield, La., and owner of thirty-five houses in Van, has moved his family here to live. Mr. Frazier will spend his time looking after his houses and other investments in the Van Field.

"C. H. Green and D. Green of Winona, Texas, were in Van Tuesday. C. H. Green rented lots in Tuckertown and announced that in the near future he will put in a lumber yard.

The chaos brought on by the oil boom was brought under control largely through the leadership of the Pure Oil Company. Since they, along with the Sun Oil Co., the Shell Petroleum Corp., the Texas Co., and the Humble Oil and Refining Co. owned and controlled oil, gas, and mineral leases covering the producing area of the Van oil and gas field, it was agreed upon that all leases within the area of the unit operation be owned jointly by all participating companies based on the proportionate amount of acreage which each company held within the unitized area. Thus the formation of the Van Joint Account. The result of this agreement has been the development of over three-fourths of the Van field at a minimum cost and with a maximum recovery of oil.

In 1932, a visitor to Van wrote, "It must be confessed that much of the conventional drama of the oil business is absent at Van. Orderly streets of neat and well painted cottages are laid out with office buildings to house engineers, geologists, bookkeepers and pumpers. There are machine shops, pipe yards, and everything to create a self-contained operation, but the lost motion, the mud-holes, mixed trucks, honky-tonks, and the dissipation in money,morals usually associated with a big flush field are absent."

In the first two years the village of Van had grown from a population of thirty to a town of 1200. It was made up of permanent homes that took the place of the boom town of tents and shacks. A new school house and separate residence for teachers had also been completed.

Springs feeding the head waters of the Neches river about four miles southwest of the Van field supplied water for drilling during the early life of the field. An earthen dam across a small gully impounded sufficient water for early development. However, it became necessary to have a larger water supply so later about three miles southwest of Van a larger dam was built on this same water source and a larger lake was formed to supply water for the refinery, camp purposes, etc. Known for many years as the Pure Oil Lake, it is now called Rhines Lake.

As the wells were brought in, the oil from the Van field was run to the pure-Van tank farm, capacity 550,000 barrels, just northwest of the field and to the Humble Pipe Line Company tank farm (capacity 185,000 barrels) northeast of the field. From the Pure-Van tank farm a 10-inch line having an estimated capacity of 55,000 barrels a day delivered the oil to Smith's Bluff Refinery of the Pure Oil Company. The Humble Pipe Line Co. ran its oil through a 10-inch line having a daily estimated capacity of 35,000 barrels to Shreveport, Louisiana. Oil ran through this line for the first time on 27 Dec 1930. The Pure-Van Line to Chandler, 17 miles southeast of the field and on the St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad, first delivered oil on 14 Dec 1929. Later this line was extended to the Smith's Bluff Refinery of the Pure Oil Co. and oil was first delivered to the refinery by pipe lines on 11 Jul 1930.

A modern gasoline plant was installed in the Van field on 15 Jul 1930, before much development had taken place in the field. Wells were flowed continuously through oil and gas separated from which the gas was taken at atmospheric pressure to the gasoline plant located on the west edge of the field. There by compression and absorption the gasoline was taken out of the gas and loaded into tank cars for sale or shipment to Smith's Bluff Refinery. The residue gas was sold to the United Gas Company which built a gas line into the Van field in May 1933.

In 1965, Pure Oil Company merged with Union Oil Company of California.

On 2 Dec 1935, the following appeared in the Dallas Morning News KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOR - Van, TX. - Van is the site in the Van Zandt County of the discovery well in the East Texas oil field. With fewer than 100 residents before its well came in, it now has grown to a population of 2,000. It is unincorporated. Its leadership is vested largely in O. L. Thompson, shown above, a pioneer merchant.

"Van is the center of a consolidated school district which boasts one of the finest educational plants in the State, including high and grade schools. Its scholastic population is 950. There are six churches of all denominations. The service club is Lions.

"The water system is privately owned. There is no sewer system. All streets of the settlement and the roads within a radius of many miles are paved. There are two hotels, one newspaper and one theater. It is served by one railroad

Your Hosts for Van Zandt County, Texas

Betty Teal Miller Patsy Finley Vinson