Sep 22, 2008 | Posted in Essays, Progress


David L. Weber, 2008

Titusville’s last operating oil refinery, erected in 1903, operated 47 years. This 3500 BOPD (originally 660 BOPD) also included a sister, neighboring 500 BOPD plant - with crude oil gathering pipe line system - constructed in 1911 - 1912. Both were successors to an earlier plant founded in a Standard Oil subsidiary’s former facility.

Pennsylvania Paraffine Works and Bessemer Refining Company were both founded by a remarkable (and forgotten) independent oil man. Here is the story of Titusville’s final chapter as a refinery town:

William “Buckeye” Muir (1851 - 1954) was born in Carbondale, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, April 10, 1851. Muir began his employment as a contractor, carpenter and builder; and constructed a Carbondale oil refinery (Hendrick Oil Works) at age 24.

The Titusville Evening Courier (1906) listed subsequent refineries built and managed by Muir:

“In 1851 he built the large refinery of Clark & Warren at Corry, Pa., and was manager of that institution for the following three years. He next reconstructed the Mutual Oil Company refinery [for Samuel Y. Ramage] at Reno, Pa., and remained as manager of that plant for the succeeding three years. In 1888 he removed to Warren, Pa., and built what was known as the Glade Filtering Works. In 1889 he decided to embark in the oil refining business for himself, and constructed the Muir Oil Works at Warren.”

Muir’s Warren refineries soon included Clarendon / Tiona area oil wells, a pipe line system and natural gas wells with a second line to supply to fuel to both the Glade and Muir plants. Warren & Chautauqua Gas Company eventually acquired the natural gas producing and pipe line system from Muir.

Crew Levick Company, a Philadelphia oil refining and marketing company (founded 1862), acquired an interest in Muir’s oil refineries, 1891. The Muir - Crew Levick partnership then purchased an abandoned Titusville oil refinery, formerly owned by the Acme Oil Company subsidiary of the Standard Oil Trust, 1893. Acme # 3 became the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works.

Edward J. Lesser, who helped found the Warren Refining Company, Cornplanter Refining Company, Muir Oil Works and Glade Oil Works; entered the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works partnership. He became the South Washington Street refinery’s manager, January 1, 1894.

William Muir also founded the Warren Linoline & Gasoline Works, which made fuel for the Warren street lighting system, 1894. This plant was later sold and became the Superior Oil Works, 1901.

Riverside Acid Works, a Warren manufacturer / restorer of sulfuric acid used in the oil refining process - and also a processor of fertilizer from acid restoration wastes - was another Muir business.

Titusville’s Pennsylvania Paraffine Works outgrew its South Washington Street site. Plans for a new refinery were outlined in The Petroleum Gazette, May 1903:

“What will be when finished one of the most complete refining plants in the list of independent refineries is expected to be in operation at Titusville early in the coming fall. The Pennsylvania Paraffine Works have purchased near the eastern limits of the city fifteen acres of land well located for the site of a refining plant and have the construction now under way. This will be pushed as rapidly as compatible with the thoroughness called for in the specifications. The refinery is to have a capacity at the start of 10,000 barrels of crude and 8,000 barrels of tar per month. It will refine all the products of petroleum to the stage at which they have a first - class refinery.”
“The present branch plant of Pennsylvania Paraffine Works at Titusville, which has been crowded for room by the expansion of its business, will be moved and combined with the new works.”

Pennsylvania Paraffine Works’ new refinery was built on the site of the original Titusville Oil Works (New York Oil Refining Company / Frank Von Tacky refinery), East Spring and Main Streets. The old plant site was sold to the adjacent Titusville Iron Company (Titusville Iron Works Company).

Refining operations at the new facility commenced nearly on schedule. Operations of the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works were outlined in the Titusville Evening Courier, 1906:

“The plant of the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works is now located at [the] East End [of Titusville] having built its new plant at that place and moved the old from the foot of Washington and Perry streets within the past two years, combining the two. The concern was established in 1893 and incorporated under the laws of Pennsylvania with a capital stock of $250,000. The grounds on which the buildings are located comprise about 15 acres and are owned by the company. They are built entirely of brick and iron and are fitted with the latest improved machinery, and employment is given to about 50 practical workmen who are skilled in their line of endeavor. The output of the plant reaches enormous proportions and is marketed throughout the whole world. Very few of the people of Titusville have any idea of or appreciate the magnitude of the works conducted by this company. In addition to its paraffine products, it does a general refining business, compounding, etc., it is said to have the largest variety of any independent refining company in the world. The story of the working of the plant is an interesting one. The plant has convenient connections with both the Pennsylvania and D.A.V. & P. [New York Central] railroads. Good water, a requisite in all refineries, is furnished by wells on the grounds. The maximum crude still capacity is about 1,000 barrels per day and the tar still capacity 500 barrels per day. The tankage for various purposes furnishes an aggregate storage of more than 100,000 barrels. Each of the various buildings comprising the group is alike complete in its own arrangement and in its relation to the others of the group…. A historical relation of interest associating with the plant is that it is located almost within a stone’s throw of the original Drake well, and some of its crude supply now comes from that famous lease, which, although not on the lips of the world as it was at this season 46 years ago, is still doing business at the old stand. The officers of the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works are: William Muir, president; E.J. Lesser, vice president, and M.F. Cowden, secretary and treasurer.”

William Muir, Pennsylvania Paraffine Works president, helped organized a second, allied Titusville refinery in 1911 - 1912. The Bessemer Refining Company’s plant, complete with its own crude oil gathering pipeline system, was erected at the rear of Pennsylvania Paraffine’s fifteen - acre property.

Fayette B. Dow recalled in 1927 how Muir founded the Bessemer Pipe Line as a result of a dispute with the National Transit Pipe Lines (Standard Oil Company):

“ Independence was the very warp and woof of [Muir’s] being, as sturdy a man as the old oil country ever produced. Deep down inside was the love of a good fight.

“Did [Muir] plan to build a refinery at Titusville? Did the Old House [National Transit subsidiary of Standard Oil] send word to him that he would get no crude? ’Tell the Old House I will get all the crude I want.’ When he planned to build a pipeline to get it, did the Old House intimate that they would get him? Well, the Old House could go to the devil with all his compliments.

“He built his refinery and the pipeline and he got his crude.”

Muir’s Bessemer Refinery partners included Franklin residents Orrin D. Bleakley, John A. Wilson (a first cousin of President Woodrow Wilson), and Charles H. Sheasley (the latter also one of the Angell Manufacturing Company and Producers Supply Company / Franklin Valveless Engine Company owners). Pennsylvania Paraffine Works and Bessemer Refining Company shared the same office building!

Bessemer Refining Company got its name from the Bessemer, Lawrence County, PA oil field, which supplied the refinery with some of its crude oil (via the United States Pipe Line / Producers & Refiners Pipe Line and Bessemer Pipe Line).

Bessemer Pipe Line served oil leases in Crawford, Venango and Warren Counties. Major pump stations on the 1000 BOPD crude gathering system were located at Pithole, Rouseville (Waitz Flats, Cornplanter Township), Reno and Cochran Flats (Deep Hollow, Cranberry Township).

Muir and the other Bessemer Refining stockholders were involved in a Franklin manufacturing plant during World War I. Charles Babcock highlighted this firm, 1919:

“The Macy Engineering Company is located at Twelfth and Otter streets. William A. Muir is president; John A. Wilson, vice - president; O.D. Bleakley, secretary and treasurer, C.H. Sheasley, general manager. The concern manufactures aeroplane controls and automatic altitude adjusters.”

Crew - Levick Company, which already owned an interest in the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works, acquired full control of both Muir companion refineries in Titusville’s East End, 1915. One year later Cities Service Company purchased Crew Levick (with its three Titusville and Warren refineries, and pipeline systems).

The Petroleum Gazette described this transaction, August, 1916:

“One of the largest deals in the recent history of the oil industry was completed in Philadelphia Monday when the Crew - Levick Company was sold to Elkins, Morris & Co. of Philadelphia and Montgomery, Clothier & Tyler of New York. The sale involves $5,000,000.…

“Recently the Crew - Levick company purchased 50 acres on Petty’s Island, which strip of land in the Delaware river near Philadelphia, was taken over by a company headed by George C. Priestley, vice - president of the Crew - Levick company. It is understood this property will be developed by the purchasers and a large refinery will figure prominently in the industry of the island….

“The real purchasers in the deal above reported are the H.L. Doherty & Co. interests of New York, representing the Cities Service company. The Doherty interests have been making large investments in oil and gas properties in the Oklahoma - Kansas fields, to which they recently have added extensive holdings in the New Augusta and Eldorado pools.”

William Muir supposedly sold out his oil refining and pipeline interests for health reasons. He recovered from the unknown illness and served on the National Oil Emergency Board, under Assistant Secretary of the Navy (and future President of the United States) Franklin D. Roosevelt, during World War I.

Other Muir holdings included the First National Bank, of Warren, PA (of which he was president, 1912 - 1941); and the Princess Martha Hotel, St. Petersburg, FL. He was also a founding member and subsequently president of the National Petroleum Association.

Several former Pennsylvania Paraffine Works supervisors (Dennis McGraw, Frank McGraw and Maurice Woods) joined with local oil producers and industrialists (led by Joseph Fleming, John Harvey, James Wilbur, William Moyar and John T. Dillon, Jr.) in the Oil Creek Refining Company, 1919. Titusville’s last “home - owned” oil refinery, with an Erie branch grease plant, remained in existence until 1941 (present Oil Creek Plastics, Inc., Baillie Lumber Company / American Hardwoods Lumber Company and Third Day Gardens florist shop site, East Titusville).

The Pennsylvania Paraffine Works and Bessemer Refining Company plants were combined into a single unit by Cities Service, c. 1920, although both filter houses were retained by the new owners (the Bessemer filter house for processing bright stock and low pressure grease, Pennsylvania Paraffine for neutral oils). A new office building (still standing, 2008) was constructed, the 1903 office then became the refinery process laboratory (destroyed by fire, 1972).
Crew Levick / Cities Service Northwest Pennsylvania refining operations were consolidated in Titusville. The National Petroleum News, March 2, 1927, carried the following:

“United Refining Co., Warren, has purchased the Glade oil works from the Crew - Levick Co. [branch of Cities Service] and operating it.”

Capacity of the Titusville Crew Levick / Cities Service facility increased to 3000 BOPD, 1930. The Titusville Herald, February 13, 1930, announced expansion plans:

“A representative of The Herald visited the Crew Levick offices yesterday and was told that the Cities Service company will spend $375,000 in its Titusville expansion program. The extension includes both the refining and marketing divisions of the local plant and will be the most extensive development of a refining industry in Titusville within a decade or more.”

Two distillation units with a common fractionating tower were installed, increasing plant capacity to 3500 BOPD, 1930. A second boiler house and an addition to the barrel house were constructed, 1934.

Cities Service Company owned 10 oil refineries (Cities Service Refining Company, Empire Oil & Refining Company, Crew Levick Company / Eastern Oil Processing Company, Louisiana Oil Refining Company), 1932 - 1933. The Titusville facility processed “Koolmotor” gasoline and motor oils, and “Cities Service” petroleum products.

Raw gasoline from the Cities Service plant was piped to Pennzoil Plant # 2 for cracking. Bright stocks, neutral oils, kerosene and naphtha were shipped by rail from Titusville to the Petty’s Island, N.J. refinery blending / compounding plant for processing into high pressure greases, insecticides and solvents.

Aviation lube oils were refined by the Titusville CS refinery, 1930s - 1940s. Cities Service was involved with Pennzoil, Quaker State, Wolf’s Head and Continental Refining Company (Coreco) in the operation of the Pennzoil Plant # 2 “cat cracker” and related Plant # 3 high octane Navy gasoline reformulating plant (present Merisol, Ltd.), 1943 - 1945.

Shortages of Penn Grade crude began affecting the local Cities Service refinery, 1940s. Former National Petroleum Corporation oil leases (Warren, Venango and Forest Counties) were purchased by CS from Northern Ordnance, Inc., 1945. A new lubricating oil refinery, Cit - Con (which used technology originally developed for World War II production of high octane gasoline and synthetic rubber), was erected at Lake Charles, LA by a Cities Service - Continental Oil Company (Conoco) partnership, 1949.

Quaker State Oil Refining Corporation purchased Cities Service Company’s Pennsylvania Oil Region leases, pipe line system and refinery, June - July, 1950. The 3500 BOPD Titusville refinery closed down, November 18, 1950. Trans Penn Wax Company took over part of the former CS site, November 30, 1950.

International Waxes, Ltd. (former Trans Penn Wax Company) now operates a blending, distilling and packaging plant at the former Cities Service refinery location. Some raw paraffine / microcrystalline waxes processed in Titusville come from the Citgo (Cities Service) petrochemical complex in Lake Charles, LA!

Oil Country Federal Credit Union and Northwest Bus Service also occupy old Cities Service refinery structures, East Main and Spring Streets, Titusville.

Titusville’s connections to the global oil industry ceased when the town’s last refinery closed, November 15, 1950. The Queen City was a vestigial - or nominal - oil town by the time of the 1959 Centennial.

Charles Kinder, the last manager of the local Cities Service refinery, joined with the former Pennsylvania Refining Company Titusville (closed 1948) plant manager, Warren W. “Shorty” Tarr, in founding Trans Penn Wax Company, 1950. W. Alton Jones, Cities Service CEO in 1950, played a major role in the successful Presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952.