Heart of Louisiana: Oil City

From its southern end of Grand Isle to its northern-most reach, Louisiana Highway One is driven by oil and that's the way it's been for a hundred years. But the first over water well drilled in Louisiana was nowhere near the Gulf of Mexico. It was actually along LA-1 in the extreme northwest corner of the state at a place called "Oil City."

Coe Haygood's family arrived in Oil City in 1921 to help run the movie theater in the booming oil town. It was a rough place for families with thousands of men working the oil fields, fast money, a red light district and bar rooms.

"Downtown Oil City they had this big tree in the middle of the street. And what they would do is they would tie 'em up to that tree when they were so drunk they couldn't do anything, and when they sobered up the sent them back out on the job," Haygood said.

The first over-water well in the south was drilled on Caddo Lake after someone noticed gas bubbling to the surface.

"One of the guys that worked for Gulf Oil lit a match they said and followed the flame throughout the lake," Haygood recalled.

To reach the oil, drillers built platforms and derricks.

"The first well that came in was Ferry Lake #1 in May of 1911," she says.

Today Haygood runs the Louisiana Oil and Gas Museum in Oil City, which has it's own well that still pumps about a half barrel a day. But at one time, nearby Caddo Lake was filled with wells.

In the early 1900's, thousand of oil wells were drilled in the area. The population of Oil City soared to 25,000 people. Today, only about 1,200 live there.

Oil City's fortunes have risen and fallen with oil. Today, it resembles a 20th century ghost town. Hundreds of the company-built houses are gone. So are the downtown businesses and the movie theater, but oil wells are everywhere.

"If you live in Oil City you got a well either in the front yard, back yard or side yard. Mine's in the dog pen," says Haygood.

There may be brighter days ahead with the discovery of the Haynesville shale in Northwest Louisiana. The two-mile deep deposits of natural gas may lead to another boom in Oil City.

The U.S.Energy Information Agency reported last Friday that the Haynesville shale became the nation's largest producer of natural gas during the month of February. The North Louisiana fields were producing 5-and-a-half billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

For more information, go to http://www.aoghs.org/pdf/OilCity.pdf

You can also read a newspaper article about the Haynesville shale by going to http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/Haynesville-becomes-leading-gas-producer.html