Because MissPres readers have found the Friday is a Gas series fascinating, you will understand why I was hooked when I stumbled upon this news item about the Humble Camp near Brookhaven. Mississippi, or at least one Mississippian, had a role in the Humble Oil and Refining Company of Texas. Because information about the Mallalieu Production Camp was quite limited, I have relied on sources from other Humble Camps and oilfield camps in order to fill in some of the blanks about “company housing.” As always, I hope if anyone reading has more information, clarification, or memories of this part of Lincoln County history, you will share that with us in the comments.
The Mississippi connection to Humble Oil began in 1901 when William Stamps Farish graduated from the University of Mississippi law school, where he was President of the Blackstone Law Club, and set up practice in Clarksdale. A few months later, he headed to Beaumont and joined the rapidly growing oil and gas enterprise that would shape the future of the Gulf Coast oil industry.
Farish was born in Mayersville, Mississippi. After heading to the Texas oilfields in 1901, he partnered with the founding team for the Humble Oil and Refining Company. By 1922, he was president of Humble Oil, and later, president of Standard Oil of New Jersey, a position he reluctantly accepted. Farish helped establish the American Petroleum Institute, and was influential in developing policy and regulations to govern the growing oil industry.
In the early years of oilfield work, men were housed in bunkhouses or tents. By 1920, the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey piloted the idea of building homes for their employees who worked at the Elizabeth, NJ plant. Houses were sold at cost, and Standard even assisted with the down payment (“Unique Housing Idea Tried”, Petroleum Age, 7(1), 1920).
Humble Oil, like its counterparts, would also begin supplying company houses in a camp near the oil field site. This was necessary not just because the oil fields were located in rural areas, but because the large influx of people who migrated to an area when oil was discovered taxed local housing options.
…Married supervisory employees were early supplied with small houses, as were also some of the skilled workers, but others had to shift for themselves. After the middle 1930s, the company increased its building of attractive and comfortable camps. (History of Humble Oil and Refining Company: A Study in Industrial Growth, H. M. Larson and K. W. Porter, 1959)
Humble used a standard design for their field camp houses. A typical oil-company camp contained a dozen or more houses, usually 3 or four room buildings arranged in rows.
The post-WWII economy, a time of boom and expansion, spelled the beginning of the end for places like the Humble Camp. …Humble Oil & Refining Company began closing the camps in the 1950s. (Humble Camp at Monroe City was unique to the time, Kevin Ladd, 2012)
By the 1950s, the advent of better roads and transportation coupled with affordable housing and more available jobs meant workers could travel further, and most of the camps were dismantled and workers moved to towns. According to Bobby D. Weaver, Oil-Field Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society, most workers were given the opportunity to buy their house and move it to a new location. Mobile homes replaced the lease house or the camps, and many drilling crews began to utilize them, just moving them to a new town when an oil field was ready for production.
The oil field camps’ culture and isolation from town brought a particular camaraderie in the lifestyle. Likely because of the rowdy element of lawlessness in the early ‘boom towns’, the local folks sometimes looked down on the residents of the field camps. Most were just family men, simply doing a job and raising their children, hoping for a better future because of the oil business.
Eleven families lived in the Mallalieu Camp near Brookhaven in 1955. Mallalieu Field lies within the area bounded by Mt. Olive Road SE, 583, and Shell Oil Lane SE. It is around 8 miles to the Mt. Olive Road SE, so it would not have been far from town, but close to the work for the supervisors and skilled workers. I have found nothing that indicates the exact location, or what happened to the houses and when or if they were moved or demolished. In 1952, the McComb Enterprise indicated the new picnic grounds were completed near the recreation center, and 13 houses were located at the camp.