A few weeks ago Diane Whelchel of the newly formed Fishers Historical Society asked if I had any information about the small Fall Creek Township community of Olio. She noted that some Fishers residents called the nearby intersection of 116th Street and Olio Road “Oil Well Corner.”
I was aware Olio once had an oil well, but that was about all I knew, so I decided to see what more I could find.
Holy Cow!
I was surprised to discover that not only were there several oil wells in the Olio area, but at one time this whole county was riddled with them.
It all goes back to the gas boom that took place during the last years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century.
Most of east central Indiana, including Hamilton County, happens to sit, or at least sat, on an enormous deposit of natural gas called the Trenton Gas Field.
After the county’s first commercial gas well was drilled in Noblesville in 1887, many more wells followed. What tends to get lost in the hoopla surrounding the discovery of the gas is that the gas boom was accompanied by a minor oil boom.
When companies drilled for gas, they sometimes also hit oil. This happened often enough that eventually some people began to drill for oil rather than gas — and sometimes they succeeded.
Oil wells were sunk in at least eight of the county’s nine townships. (I’m not sure about Delaware Township. In most cases the wells are simply described as being on “so-an-so’s farm,” which makes it a little difficult to pinpoint exact locations.)
Although some wells came up dry and others ironically hit gas instead, many produced oil in “paying quantities.” The output was usually less than 50 barrels a day, but a few wells yielded more than that — at least for a while. (One near Cicero produced 220 barrels during its first two days.)
Two areas seem to have had more clusters of oil wells than the rest of the county — the Hortonville/Bakers Corner/Deming region, and Fall Creek Township between Olio and Fortville.
I couldn’t help smiling at the name of one of the outfits drilling in the Hortonville area in 1906 — the “Dismal Oil Company.” (Anyone who didn’t know Hortonville sits at the south end of what used to be the Dismal Swamp probably viewed that as a rather pessimistic name for a company.)
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Indiana’s natural gas supply was nearly gone, most of it having been wasted. The resulting drop in gas pressure made it more difficult to pump oil from the wells.
To increase the flow of the oil, wells were shot with nitroglycerin, a common, but extremely dangerous, practice that managed to keep the county’s oil boom going a little longer than the gas boom. Eventually, however, the oil wells, like the gas wells, all but disappeared.
In the late 1930s, a few companies decided to try searching for oil in Hamilton County again. Over the next ten years, wells were drilled in several sites around the county, most of them in the Hortonville area where the earlier wells were located. None of those wells seems to have produced a significant amount of oil, though.
By 1950, the only reminders of Hamilton County’s oil boom that I could find were a few references to Fall Creek Township’s “Oil Well Hill” and “Oil Well Road.” Oil Well Hill was located on the old Kincaid farm, the site of several of the 19th century wells and Oil Well Road was apparently a local name for the southernmost section of Olio Road.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Wednesday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com