The Heidelberg Oil Boom

By Keith E. Wilkerson

 

As early as 1929, surveyors employed by the Gulf Oil Company recognized the geological signature of oil in the proximity of Heidelberg, Mississippi. In 1933, the Eastman-Gardiner Company established a drilling site on the Morrison lease, but, for unknown reasons, elected not to follow through. Using seismographic and core drilling techniques, Gulf Oil continued their exploration during the following years and outlined what was believed to be a huge underground oil structure. In October of 1943, Gulf established a drilling site on the Helen Morison lease. W.G. Ray, a contract driller, was hired to sink the well and oil was finally discovered on December 23rd.

 

The exciting prospects of wealth saw the value of land soar within the town. Resident lots began to sell at $100 per acre. Within a mile of the well, oil royalties sold for $200 per acre.

 

On January 27th, 1944, the Helen Morison well was completed and the production was recorded as 160 barrels of 23-degree gravity oil per day. Gulf Oil constructed four 500-barrel storage tanks near the well and laid pipe to a rail loading station south of Heidelberg on the Southern Railroad.

 

A second well was drilled on the Helen Morison lease and proved to be more prolific than the first. When drilling was completed, 209 feet of oil-saturated sand was reported. In March of 1944, The Dixie Geological Survey Report, an oil industry trade journal, proclaimed, “Heidelberg may prove to be Mississippi’s largest reserve!”

 

The third Heidelberg well was drilled on the Mack Lindsey lease and, unexpectedly, rather than oil, it produced 20 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Another well was drilled on the property that brought in plentiful quantities of crude. Soon thereafter, independent drillers joined the action and Dixie reported: “Heidelberg, Jasper County, Mississippi, is fast beginning to look like an oil field. Production derricks have been erected on the two producing wells and the derrick is still up on Sun No. 1, Mack Lindsey, which gives a total of about 12 derricks that can be counted from the high hill at Gulf’s No. 1, T.D. Lewis. The oil at Heidelberg was selling for 82 cents per barrel. (May 18,1944)

 

 

Sherman Adkins - Interstate Oil 1946

 

One of the better wells was drilled on the H.W. Husbands* property by an independent, Graham and Lewis. The well drillers employed a perforation technique and the well ultimately flowed at a rate of 1,896 barrels per day. Mrs. Effie Husband, who was reported to be a very poor woman, was soon to become a very rich woman.

-

Mrs. H.W. (Effie) Husbands

 

The oil field development continued at a blinding pace and there were 104 producing wells in Heidelberg by the end of 1945. The extensive effort and investment exerted by Gulf Oil had been rewarded.

 

In January 1944, the pony edition of Time Magazine carried a story about the Heidelberg boom. In February 1945, Collier’s Magazine carried the following article:

 

 

Ole Miss’ Strikes It Rich

By Harry Henderson and Sam Shaw

 

Eleven fields are now in operation and wildcats are being drilled in twenty-five counties. The greatest drilling activity is near the little town of Heidelberg … But the whole state is swarming with geologist, roustabouts, scouts, roughnecks, tool pushers, riggers, drillers, lease hounds, wildcatters, speculators, lawyers, tipsters and gypsters, ant that crowd of fast operators who appear wherever money is made and lost hand over fist …

 

Lease hounds track geophysical crews to try to dope out the area they are converging on, so they can jump into its center and grab some of the leases. The geophysical crews get up in the middle of the night and drive 6o miles in a circle to escape them …

 

The competition is frantic and fantastic not only for leases and royalties, but for everything from a hotel bed to a square meal.

 

All of the major oil companies and several scores of independents are drilling and exploring Mississippi’s substrata. They have unleashed a flood of money, millions in leases and drilling with royalties still to come in what has been one of the poorest sections in America.

 

Southeastern Mississippi, which has become the focal point of the boom, has never known such wealth. Here there were never plantations, but only small farms, worked by farmers who were too poor to buy slaves.

 

Until thirty years ago, much of it was pine forest. Now most of this has been cut off, leaving scrubby, stumpy land almost too poor for cultivation, to be ravaged by erosion …

 

From the oilman’s view, probably the most significant fact about this Mississippi discovery is that the search for oil has now moved eastward.

 

The big change is in people’s pocketbooks – money. For the first time in their lives they all have it.

 

One of the men who will probably end up a millionaire as a result of the discovery of oil is chubby B.C. Burns who runs just about everything there is in Heidelberg to run, namely, a cotton gin, a general store, a cement agency and a trucking firm. Burns came to Heidelberg sixteen years ago fresh out of the University of Alabama’s school of commerce … he managed to build up a profitable business and put the profits back into land. He now owns 700 acres and has two good wells, and has an interest in four others.

B. C. Burns

 

The king size good luck story of Heidelberg is Harry Eddy, a big, slow-footed whittler with a downhill gait, whose cup overfloweth with ironic amusement at his new wealth. He owns 1,805 acres in Wayne, Jones, Jasper and Clarke Counties, with seven wells and more to come.

Harry Eddy (on right)

 

Two young Mississippians named Evon Ford and John Clark from Smith County got in on twelve wells by loading a car with $10,000 cash and pulling farmers in off the street. Then while one offered a farmer cash for his royalty, the other phoned a companion in the courthouse who gave the man’s title the once-over. If it looked clear, they bought it.

 

Mrs. [Effie] Husbands accepted $100 from a strange man for a third of her royalty. A few days later, her son Norman, to whom she had given some land, accepted $280 for a third of his royalties. Not until a sister got $5,000 for a similar share did they realize the value of the rights. (Collier’s Magazine, February 10, 1945)

 

 

Many of Heidelberg's residents achieved great wealth during the oil boom.  A substantial oil field support industry developed in the area as well. Eventually, the majority of the oil reserve was exhausted. The final numbers were impressive. Some 250 oil wells on the Heidelberg field would yield over 175 million barrels of oil. This ranks the Heidelberg field as Mississippi’s third largest find. Even today, a few of the wells continue to produce.

 

Reference:

 

Hughes, Dudley J., Oil in the Deep South: a history of the oil business in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida: 1859 – 1945 / Dudley J. Hughes ISBN 0-87805-615-7 Published for the Mississippi Geological Society and available from the University Press of Mississippi

 

* In the referenced printed articles, Mrs. H.W. Husbands is referred to as Mrs.W. H. Husband. Per a family member, William Henry Husbands was her son. She married only once to Henry W. Husbands.

 

These pages are a work in progress. While every attempt has been made to include accurate historical information, some error may be included. I invite corrections, additional information, additional photographs, and accounts of personal experience. Please contact me at the supplied address. Very little has been documented in regards to the dying towns and landmarks of east-central Mississippi. With your help, I hope to put together a few pages that we all can pass along to our grandchildren. Thanks!

 

Keith Wilkerson

 

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