In 1901, an unsuccessful attempt was made to commercially find oil reserves in an area near Pensacola. No one knows for sure, as there are only small accounts of this wildcatter’s attempt, whether he was following science or intuition. He drilled two test holes, one to 1,620 feet and the second a hundred feet deeper. Both were dry and are now known as “Florida’s first dry holes.”
When America’s oil demand continued to soar twenty years later, oil had still not been found in Florida. While the panhandle looked promising, there was nothing but a growing list of drilling venture failures. With Indian legends and plenty of wildcat stock promoters, one more attempt was made near Falling Water’s Park, 100 miles east of Pensacola.
Using a wooden derrick and steam-driven rig, they drilled down 3,900 feet. It was reported that a gusher of natural gas had been found, which excited the local residents. Even though that report soon proved to be false, it didn’t stop the oilman and they continued to drill down to 4,912 feet. Again, another dry hole which was eventually capped in 1921.
Barron Collier’s Impact
During this same time period, Barron G. Collier, one of Florida’s most revered visionaries and entrepreneurs was busy purchasing land in the southwest part of the state. He acquired about 1.3 million acres, which are now Collier and Hendry counties, and include what is now the Big Cypress Preserve.
With capital from his streetcar advertising sales business, one of Collier’s first visions for Florida was to construct the Tamiami Trail. The plan for the road was to extend 368 miles from Tampa southward along the Gulf coast to Naples, then eastward to Miami. An area that consisted mostly of dense swamps and wilderness infested with snakes and alligators. Men would be working through some of the most difficult terrains in the United States.
The Tamiami Trail was completed in 1928, and with the completion, Collier negotiated his first oil lease in the county with Gulf Oil Company in the mid-1930s, even though Florida still had an unbroken string of dry holes.
Gulf established headquarter in Everglades City, which at the time was the county seat, and brought in 50 men to conduct seismic testing. They used a big-wheeled “swamp buggy” vehicles, the first ever used in the county. After drilling a number of wells, some to 6,000 feet during the next 10 years, seismic tests convinced Gulf that full-scale drilling was not warranted. In 1938, Gulf Oil pulled out.