The petroleum boom following the news of Col. Edwin Drake’s famous Titusville well and the riches it bestowed on some, inspired many people in surrounding areas, such as Chautauqua County, with interest, obsession, or lunacy. Local interest produced nothing tangible until the Jamestown Journal asked in a front page editorial in December, 1876, “Why can’t we have an oil well in Jamestown as easily as in Warren or Bradford?”
Things moved rapidly from that point. Horace Gifford, Alonzo Kent, Judson Breed, Jerome Preston, Anson A. Burlin, and Samuel G. Love among other prominent Jamestown men became involved. Orsino Jones and Abram S. Prather seem to have been the leaders. Several of the advocates had prior experience of various sorts in the Pennsylvania oil country.
By the middle of March, 1877 $8,000 in stock had been subscribed. On the 14th the well site was picked. It was decided ahead of time that the well would be on Jones’ property across Steel Street from Prather’s Wood Seat Chair factory. Professor Love, Superintendent of the Jamestown Union School and Collegiate Institute, picked the exact spot, probably on the side hill of the later hospital grounds. An American flag was stuck in the ground. Doctor E. H. Danforth climbed on a box and gave a brief speech followed by John Farnham who called for three cheers from the crowd for the Goddess of Liberty.
The derrick was up by the 31st. Large crowds regularly visited the site. Actual drilling began the first week in April. On July 20 drilling was terminated. The well had reached a depth of 1808 feet. They had found little or no oil and only a feeble flow of gas. It must have been a sad day in Jamestown.
However, the well had struck an abundant flow of sulfur water at 68 feet. Someone thought to send a sample somewhere for analysis and by December, 1878 the report had come back. The waters “had medicinal properties.”
Sometime in the next few months the village council decided to pipe the free flowing water into a fountain in Brooklyn Square and build a rather large pagoda over it. The pagoda was built in the summer of 1879.
The pagoda and fountain proved to be a mixed blessing. People and horses congregated there enthusiastically, especially the first thing in the morning. But despite an unwelcoming sign, “rowdies” congregated at the pagoda every evening and constituted a public nuisance. The fountain was a source of uncontaminated water, more than could be said for many of the wells and springs people had been relying on previously. But a private firm was laying the pipes for Jamestown’s first practical public water supply in the early 1880’s so reliance on the fountain was short lived.
In June of 1884 efforts were made to improve matters. The Brooklyn Square merchants purchased a big American flag to fly atop the structure. Also in June, 1884 an artist, E. O. Rohde of Brooklyn – whether Brooklyn Square or real Brooklyn is not clear – was hired to paint the pagoda. Whatever the public may have thought, the Journal was highly displeased. The pagoda was painted “caterpillar green with dark brown trim” and had “yellow stars in many places.”
In January 1891 the Journal led the call to remove the pagoda. After an 1889 fire had effectively destroyed the Ford Building, the oldest major building in the square, the Gifford Building had been constructed in its place. It was the pride of Jamestown which in 1886 had been elevated from village to city. A new state armory was to be built that year (1891) also on the square. The pagoda was passé, unworthy, and had outlived its usefulness.
On June 19, 1891 a motion by Councilman John W. Willard was passed authorizing the street lighting committee to supervise demolition of the pagoda. It seems to have been unmourned and rapidly forgotten.