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Eclipse Refinery

Apr 18, 2007 | Posted in Essays, Places

Eclipse Refinery

Eclipse Refinery

The Eclipse Refinery, located near Franklin, was reported at one time to be the “largest refinery in the world.” While this claim is frequently contested it is known that the refinery turned out every petroleum product known at the time and that it was an important part of the Venango County economy for 65 years.

It started as a venture of oil producers in the Franklin area who sought a local market for their oil. They hired Dr. H. W. C. Tweddle, a British inventor, who had built refineries in Pittsburgh and Kittanning. An eight-acre tract along the Allegheny River was selected as the site and construction was started late in 1872.

It wasn’t long before the company was deeply in debt and the producers were disillusioned by Dr. Tweddle’s abilities as manager. A banker was hired to get the plant back on a sound financial basis and Dr. Tweddle headed for the Baku oil regions of Russia. In June 1874, P. R. Gray was brought in as manager but Dr. Tweddle brought lawsuits against the company and it was forced into bankruptcy. When the refinery reopened in January 1876 Mr. Gray was returned as manager and Standard Oil had taken over the management of the company.

A study of charter papers for the early company indicate it had never been on a sound financial footing with many investors “never fully paid” and crude oil purchases credited at an inflated figure. The properties were purchased at sheriff’s sale in September 1876 by Henry M. Flagler, one of the original incorporators of Standard Oil in 1870.

The Eclipse was realigned with an amended charter in 1879 under the chairmanship of Thomas Brown, who had owned a refinery in Erie which had been previously purchased by Standard Oil.

The refinery in Franklin soon expanded with continued improvements and development and by the early 1880s it was spread over 30 acres. The Eclipse name was used throughout its existence although it was technically a division of Atlantic Refining Company, one of Standard’s early acquisitions in Pittsburgh in 1874. It was in 1883 that a local newspaper tagged the Eclipse as “the largest refinery in the world,” a name that stuck long after that distinction had faded.

The plant contained a barrel house to build, repair and paint barrels, a machine shop, blacksmith and carpentry shops, large warehouses and shipping rooms. The company owned houses, known as Eclipse Row, and a school on the property had an average attendance of 50 students. The plant superintendent was in charge of the Sunday school on the property. Eclipse products were sold under many names and shipped from the refinery on a railroad siding. Paraffin wax was an important product for export. In 1905 “The Oil Well Driller” noted that the Eclipse covered “125 acres and stretches something over 6,000 feet along the Allegheny River. They are handling 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day and make every commercial product manufactured from petroleum. There is only one other place in the world where this is done.”

The Eclipse remained as part of Atlantic Refining following the Standard Oil Trust breakup in 1911. Construction and improvements continued into the 1920s but the dwindling oil production in the Pennsylvania fields and the Depression in the 1930s took a toll and refining operations ceased in July 1937.

Written by Carollee Michener.