January 16, 2013
LIMA — For those dreaming big, the Maire family offers inspiration.
Joseph Maire was born about 1827 in Paris. He was at various points a cabinetmaker and farmer. He met his French-born love, Josephine Countess, and married likely in New York, where they lived before moving to Pennsylvania.
The Maires had five children. Julia Josephine was born in New York. The others, born to the family once they lived in Pennsylvania, were Louisa, Frances, Edward and Frank. The trail of Louisa goes cold. Death is plausible, as the four remaining siblings were extremely close.
“A Standard History of Allen County, Ohio,” published in 1921, shares Edward and Frank Maire had a few businesses together. After the death of their parents, the oil boom piqued their interest.
By 1896, the family had relocated to Spencerville. Edward and Frank Maire were listed as co-heads of household on the census, with their professions listed as “oil producers.” Sisters Julia and Frances also lived with them. All were unmarried.
The Lima Times Democrat published a story July 13, 1896, with one of the first mentions of the family.
“So many big gas wells have been drilled in here that the owners have decided to utilize the product, and a scheme is on foot to purchase the abandoned gas mains in all surrounding towns and furnish gas for fuel. It is said that the Van Wert Natural Gas Co. has purchased 14 big wells in the Spencerville field. The Wilson Oil and Gas Co. and Maire Bros., both of this place, are said to be at the head of the scheme to pipe Rockford, Mendon, Delphos and several other towns here. The wells here exceed in production any of the wells in the once famous Mercer County fields and, it is believed, are longer lived. Wells drilled here eight or nine years ago are still giving out a good pressure of gas.”
Edward and Frank Maire were doing business under the Maire Bros. banner, and they did a lot of prospecting in the Spencerville area.
At the time, the newspapers carried many small items on oil, usually listing a sentence or two about the main attempts. The items included who was drilling where and usually included at least a generalization of how the well was doing — and, sometimes, the hole was dry.
Maire Bros. was listed in many of these items. One such from July 23, 1896, reported they had a fair producer on the Monfort farm in Amanda Township.
The Maires hit a “big gasser” later that summer, a Sept. 26, 1896, Delphos Daily Herald story reported. They were working together with Delphos Gas Co. by this time.
“The local members of the company are feeling jubilant today over the well and the prospects it offers for abundant fuel this coming winter. … Maire Bros., who are old and experienced operators, state that this field is the most promising of any that they have opened. It is much better than the Monticello field from which Spencerville and Van Wert obtain their gas supply.”
The Maire family had made their home on South Elizabeth Street in Spencerville. In 1899, the Maires moved to Lima. The brothers continued their work in the area.
The Maires hit what the Delphos Daily Herald called “‘Nother big ‘un’” in a headline published Nov. 23, 1899.
“Word came from Southworth that the gas well drilled in on the Davidson farm, east of that village by Maire Bros., of Lima, is a stunner; that for volume of gas it exceeds the famous Judkins well, which at one time alone supplied the consumers in Delphos with fuel gas. Maire Bros. are stockholders in the Delphos Drilling Co, and their new find will, if it holds out, ensure all kinds of gas for Delphos stoves this winter. The news is certainly gratifying,” the story reported.
With good came bad, however. A big freeze in February 1900 caused big problems in Delphos. The Maire Bros. had installed miles of gas pipeline, strung around among their drilling areas. Of the pipeline that supplied Delphos with gas for heat, about a mile of it was above ground — and the cold split it open.
“’Oh, my poor flowers are all frozen,’ wailed many a housewife this morning, all on account of the pesky gas going entirely out at about 2 o’clock and leaving residences to become as frigid as Iceland,” a Feb. 1, 1900, Delphos Daily Herald story reported.
The Lima papers were eager to list their accomplishments: They and another firm called Roth and Argue bought 220 acres in Jackson Township for $10,000 in 1900. The next year, they bought one half interest in 1,700 acres of leases (42 wells) in Amanda and Marion townships for $30,000. They and another firm called Devonian Oil Co. sold their interests in Monroe County for $360,000 in 1901. It was such an outlay that it took three firms working together to come up with that kind of cash.
And they continued to prosper, sometimes finding gas and oil.
“Maire Bros. of Lima are drilling for oil in the Marion Township field, near the Mennonite Church, about five miles southeast of this city, and have struck a big vein of gas on the Wright farm. The well is a dandy if it holds out. The well was capped and a 200-pound gauge put on to test it. A local machinist who was in the Marion Township field Wednesday reports that the pressure of gas whirled the hand around to the 200 notch on the gauge with such violence as to almost break it,” a Jan. 2, 1902, Delphos Daily Herald story reported.
Edward and Frank Maire expanded their interests to Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma. This brought a cashflow that bumped them almost immediately to the uppermost social circles in the area. While the Maire brothers worked — and enjoyed some leisure trips — the Maire sisters tended to the proper socializing of the day.
A May 17, 1902, Lima Times Democrat story reported a social outing: “Spencerville was the mecca toward which the following ladies traveled a few days ago: Mrs. Thomas Morrison, Mrs. M.P. Colt, Mrs. Frank Fry, Mrs. W.H. Leete, Mrs. A.E. Clutter, Miss Mabel Thrift, Miss Helen Leete and the Misses Maire, going over on the morning train for a 12 o’clock breakfast at the delighful home of Dr. and Mrs. Welsh, the breakfast being one of the four dainty courses served on an enclosed porch which was beautifully decorated with boughs of dogwood blossoms. The afternoon passed quickly away and at six o’clock the hostess served a perfectly appointed dinner of six courses, her Lima guests returning home on the evening train.”
Mrs. Welsh and daughter, Mildred, visited the Maires in Lima also.
“Miss Maire and Miss Frances Maire will entertain Thursday evening at the home, 564 W. Market St., in honor of Miss Wood,” a July 7, 1903, story reported. Their friend, Wood, was of Pittsburgh. “The porch and trees were gaily decorated with Japanese lanterns, and easy seats were conveniently placed on the lawn. … Roses were used profusely in the beautiful rooms, and at the rear of the house, flags and bunting were draped around a platform where six musicians made inviting music for the dancers who kept their engagements on novel souvenirs, fans for the ladies and clay pipes for the men.”
In 1904, Frances Maire went to New York for an art course. It may have just been a few weeks, as she was back in time to visit St. Louis with Mrs. Welsh and Mildred in May.
Sometimes the sisters would travel with friends of the family, and sometimes the brothers joined in. Frances and Edward often traveled together.
“Mr. Frank Maire and sister Miss Julia left Friday for Asheville, N.C., to join Mr. Ed Maire, Miss Frances Maire and Mr. and Mrs. Halfhill, who are sojourning at this southern resort,” a Sept. 17, 1904, story reported. Halfhill was a lawyer.
Edward and Frank had drilled 27 times in the Lima area before they found oil, but by the turn of the century they were wealthy enough to buy the four-story Faurot Opera House in downtown Lima. The seller? John D. Rockefeller.
See next Wednesday’s Reminisce for part two of this three-part story.