Early Entrepreneur: James Roylance

Grandpa (George) and Grandma (Margaret) Roylance in front of their home

James became one of the earliest well drillers in North Ogden, with wells producing 40 gallons of water a minute.


Entrepreneurship came easy to James Roylance because his father also ran his own business. His father, William, was born in 1819, in Cheshire, England. In 1841, the family was ready to embark on a trip to America. The Roylances set sail on the ship Echo. Meanwhile, William’s future wife, Mary, also embarked on a journey to America from England, with other Latter-day Saints, on the ship Alesto. The two met and married in the Burlington neighborhood of Des Moines, Iowa. There, William supported his family as a self-made shoemaker, butcher, farmer, tanner, and surveyor. During this time, James was born.

James Roylance drilling Lomond View Dr. in 1920

Eventually, the family followed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the plains. First, they lived in Salt Lake City but then moved to North Ogden. William took a second wife, Martha Jennet Smith. The two lived in Ogden, while Mary and her family were left in North Ogden to struggle alone. So, James had to step up to provide for the family.

James became one of the earliest well drillers in North Ogden. He used a horse-powered drilling machine that could drill down to 100 feet. Steam-powered drillers were available in about 1905, and machines with gas engines came later. James was 50 years old before he traded in his horse and buggy for a car. According to the North Ogden Museum, even the horse-powered wells were known to produce 40 gallons a minute.

The family occupation became mostly dairying, as it was the most consistent income. They milked the cows by hand and set the milk in large pans for the cream to rise. Then, they skimmed the cream off and made butter. They sold what they didn’t need to customers in Ogden. Combined, the two occupations made James enough money to support his wife, Georgina Ann Mariah Barnett, their thirteen children, and his mother. Mary lived with James after she divorced his father for leaving her stranded.

Grandpa Roylance (George) at homestead cabin at Cutler Creek

In the early 1930s, James’s well-digging legacy lived on via “The Stump” drinking fountain in North Ogden. He died in 1930, but his descendants kept digging wells. Originally a cottonwood tree stump from Frank Campbell’s yard near 2580 North 400 East, it was chiseled into a giant drinking fountain. The artesian well water was tapped into by George Roylance, Jamess’ nephew. George was named after William’s father, the first of the Roylances to leave England. The stump deteriorated over time and later burned, leaving a concrete base for the crystal clear, refreshing, spring water fountain. A fiberglass replica of “The Stump’’ was added in 1998, after the stump rotted. Now, it’s surrounded by North Ogden City’s beautiful Centennial Park.

Today, Matt Roylance, George’s great grandson, designs drill bits for oil and gas well drilling. There are wells all over the city, providing enough water, oil, and gas for all of North Ogden. It became an industry all on its own, providing careers as well.

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