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Dr. Fred Vernette left a unique legacy when he passed in 1904

This photo, taken by Anna Schnitzlein, shows what is believed to be oil drilling operations on Dr. Fred Vernette’s property circa 1902. The creek in the foreground would have been Minnow Creek, long before the construction of U.S. 61. Near the center of the photo can be seen a triangular oil drilling rig. On the horizon of the hill is the outline of the Vernette home, which was also used as Elmwood Sanatorium. The hillside toward the right of the photo would be where the Fair Oaks Subdivision now exists. The eastern side of the hillside was later carved out for the construction of U.S. 61. Dr. Vernette owned a 5 acre tract of ground fronting James Road. PHOTO / STEVE CHOU COLLECTION


Healing powers

James Christian and a companion named Miss Rubison took the Short Line train from Center into Hannibal in mid December 1904. Both had been bitten, a few days prior, by a dog they feared had rabies. While they were experiencing no symptoms, they decided it would be better to be safe than sorry. Once in Hannibal, they ventured out a half mile west of the city limits, where perched high on the hill lived Mrs. Vernette, the young widow of Dr. Fred Vernette.

Dr. Vernette had lost his life to the effects of paralysis two years before, but Mrs. Vernette remained in possession of a valuable medical instrument he left behind.

A mad stone

An article contained within the 2010 edition of The Old Farmers Almanac explains that a mad stone can be found in the stomach or intestines of cud-chewing animals. “Depending on the animal, the stone may be more potent and valuable; for example, the stone of a brown deer is said to be inferior to that of a white deer.”

A mad stone is believed to have special powers to absorb the poison bit by bit, curing the bites by detoxifying them completely.

A curiosity occurs with a mad stone, because in order to keep its potency, it cannot be bought or sold. It must be retrieved, or accepted as a gift, the article explained.

Even in death, Dr. Vernette was able to practice his healing powers.

Sale of property

Gottleib Digel purchased the Vernette property in 1906, and converted it back into a residence.

Fannie Vernette and her young children lived in Hannibal for awhile after selling the five acres west of Hannibal. Son Paul went to work for the Star Shoe Factory. By 1910, they had moved to Kansas City, Mo., where Paul took a job with the Chicago & Alton railroad. It was in the yards at Kansas City in February 1922 where 25-year-old Paul was killed in a tragic accident. He was brought back to Hannibal by rail, where the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen conducted a memorial service at the gravesite in Riverside Cemetery.

The 1940 census shows Dr. Vernette’s surviving family living at 4114 Windsor, Kansas City: Fannie U. Vernette, 75; daughter Vesper Thompson, 40, and her husband George E. Thompson.

Dr. Z.P. Glass

About a half mile north of the Vernette property was the home of Dr. Zacariah Pleasant Glass, born 1821, who practiced medicine for some 58 years. Like Dr. Fred Vernette, Dr. Glass believed in water cures. Kate Ray Kuhn in her history book wrote: “A large spring back of the house furnished water of mineral qualities that he used. It was said that he ran around his house each morning, rain or snow, barefooted and scantily dressed.”

Dr. Glass died March 16, 1909, at the age of 88, in San Bernardino, Calif. His death notice stated that he was, for a time, proprietor of Elmwood Park Sanitarium in Hannibal, which had been operated by Dr. Fred Vernette.

Oil well activity

The Quincy Daily Journal mentioned its Oct. 22, 1892 edition that Dr. Fred Vernette of Hannibal was having an artesian well bored on the five acres of land he owned just west of Hannibal’s limits near St. Mary’s Avenue. At the time of the writing, drilling had gone 500 feet; and Dr. Vernette had told the reporter he was willing to go to 2,000 feet.

While this story fits seamlessly with the story of Dr. Vernette and his mineral water cures of the day, an article written some 25 years later casts a curiosity on the circumstances surrounding the well.

Edward McMaster, in conversation with a Quincy Daily Whig reporter in late May 1920, told his memories of the drilling operation in 1892.

“The Vernette homestead was located in what was to be known as the St. Mary’s Avenue district. The oil drilling operations were conducted in Minnow branch bottom about two blocks west of the present terminus of the St. Mary’s Avenue street car line,” the newspaper reported. (Note: The 1913 Marion County Atlas shows that the line ended at the intersection of St. Mary’s and Hill streets. Minnow Creek runs adjacent to the east of the current U.S. 61)

“Dr. Vernette, according to McMaster, engaged a man named Tracy from Titusville, Penn., to drill a water well for him. Tracy, it was said, attained a depth of 3,000 feet and according to his story went through five layers of oil sand, one being 40 feet in thickness. There was about 900 feet of water on top of the sands, according to McMaster, who was a frequent visitor to the scene of the drilling. The water was not fit for drinking purposes. It was afterwards sand, and the well was abandoned.”

McMaster then told the reporter that 10 years later, circa 1902, Tracy returned to Hannibal to resume drilling. This time, backed by East Coast investors, they scoped a spot some 250 feet from the first hole.

The newspaper reporter quoted McMaster: “I shall never forget when they suddenly stopped drilling. It was about 10 o’clock at night and I happened to be there. A man named Wanamaker was handling the night drilling, assisted by Jack Tracy, a son of the promoter. Young Tracy was operating the engine and suddenly stopped it and yelled at Wanamaker who was in the outside. The men met at the door and what was said between them I could not hear but there was no more drilling done there. The elder Tracy was hurriedly summoned and the following day a stranger from Indiana came.”

Some efforts were made to lease adjacent ground, because the Vernette property consisted of only five acres. The general consensus of the neighbors was that oil had been found, and property owners balked at the lease requests.

“The well was plugged up in a few days and the rigging removed. I understood that they had reached a 400 foot depth when the well was abandoned,” McMaster said.

An oil craze in Hannibal

Following is an article from the Quincy Daily Herald, published on Jan. 13, 1902.

Are now drilling through limestone

Confident that oil will be struck – are now down over 100 feet – costs $25 a day to drill.

Hannibal, Mo. Jan. 13. The Pennsylvania prospectors, drilling for oil west of the city, are now down to 100 feet, passing through fifteen feet of gravel and 45 feet of blue shale. The drilling is now being done through limestone. As a result, progress is necessarily slow. The expense of the drilling will average about $25 a day.

The boring outfit, as it now stands, represents an expenditure of about $4,000. Mr. Tracey, who is conducting the prospecting, is confident that he will strike oil. Nine years ago he bored for water for Dr. Vernette before striking it at a depth of 1,300 feet, and struck two layers of oil sand.

The boring is being done by a fifteen horse power steam engine. The drilling is similar to that for wells put down for water in this vicinity. Steel bits, weighing 325 pounds each, are used in the drilling. There are ten bits at the well and all are kept in first class condition, a blacksmith’s forge being at hand to heat them so they can be properly cared for under the heavy sledge hammer, or the anvil.

The first 400 feet of the well will be 10 inches in diameter. From that depth down to 900 feet the diameter will be reduced to 7 5/8 inches. Below 900 feet it will be limited to 5 5/8 inches. Commencing with a depth of 400 feet the well will be encased in heavy iron piping, a large supply of which is now on hand.

This is a current-day photo of the old Vernette house, which still stands perched atop a hill on the northwest corner of U.S. 61 and James Road. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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