Timelines - Events - Places - Personalities
By: Neil and Lois McElwee
The Drake Well was the discovery well in August 1859 of the great Pennsylvania Oil Field. The Pennsylvania Oil Field produced over 90% of all crude oil found in North America through 1885. The Pennsylvania Field still produced 50% of all North American crude as late as 1895.
(1859) Drake Well, Cherrytree Township.
The Drake Well was the Discovery Well of the great Pennsylvania Oil Field. The Pennsylvania Oil Field produced 95 % of all the crude in North America through 1885. In the first twenty-five years of the industry, nine Northwestern Pennsylvania Counties and New York’s Southern Tier formed the producing heart of the North American Oil industry. In 1895, the Pennsylvania Field was still producing half the crude oil in North America.
The Drake Well was drilled on the old Hibbard Farm straddling Oil Creek just below Titusville. This Farm was owned by the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Co. whose primary investor was George Bissell of New York City. Bissell was a Wall Street attorney who moved to Franklin after the Drake Well came in and resided there for several years in the early 1860’s. Other investors in the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Co. included Bissell’s law partner - Jonathan Eveleth of New York, the principles of the timber firm of Brewer and Watson of Pittsburgh and Titusville, and a handful of investors from New Haven Connecticut. The New Haven investors formed the Seneca Oil Co. in March 1858 and devised to grant the Seneca Oil Co. the lease to drill for oil on the Hibbard Farm site. Seneca Oil sent Edwin Drake to Titusville in the spring of 1858 to arrange to drill for oil on the site. Edwin Drake and his drilling crew brought this first well in late August 1859 from a shallow depth of less than 70 feet. It was a good early producer pumping from 20 to 30 barrels a day and sold for $20 a barrel for a short time. Within weeks, the Oil Creek Valley filled with men seeking oil leases down the creek to the Allegheny River.
Today, the site and a replica of the Drake Well is honored and maintained at the Drake Well Museum and Park site. Edwin Drake is honored with the impressive Edwin Drake Memorial in Titusville’s Woodlawn Cemetery. George Bissell is honored with a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical marker in Franklin at Liberty and South Park.
(1859) Evans Well, Franklin
James Evans, a Franklin blacksmith, brought in the second oil well, the one after the Drake. The Evans Well was drilled at the foot of High Street, today’s 12th Street, where it crosses Otter and reaches the bank of French Creek. The Evans Well caused quite an excitement in Franklin when Evans and his son struck oil in November 1859 after drilling down 70 ft. through an old water well. Within months, over a hundred wells were drilled in front yards, back yards and alleys. Ten, or so, of those wells proved to be modestly successful pumping wells. The Evans Well found the southern edge of the Franklin Heavy Crude District located primarily across French Creek in Sugarcreek Township between Two Mile Run and Patchel Run. The Franklin Heavy Crude District produced a unique, very heavy crude oil, well suited for railroad lubrication.
Today, the site of the Evans Well is a church parking lot.
(1859) George Bissell, Franklin.
With the success of the Drake Well, an oil well George Bissell had a substantial royalty interest in, Bissell moved from New York City to Franklin in 1860 to pursue new oil ventures. With wealthy local Franklin investors and several large investors who were his acquaintances in New York and Connecticut, Bissell purchased promising oil lands around Franklin and up along Oil Creek. His ventures, ultimately involving millions of dollars, proved particularly successful for him, his partners and the early oil industry. The largest of these Bissell ventures were the Central Petroleum Co., a corporation that developed Petroleum Centre on Oil Creek, and the United Petroleum Farms, a Bissell corporation that developed the commercial and residential property of Oil City where Oil Creek met the Allegheny. Bissel’s early banks in Oil City and Petroleum Centre were financial bulwarks for the volatile young industry.
Today, the site of Bissell’s residence in Franklin, the old Rural House Hotel, is the present location of the Galena – Signal Building on the corner of Liberty and South Park. The Bissell historical marker is just across South Park. The foundation of the Bissell Bank in Petroleum Centre can readily be seen today in Oil Creek State Park where old Washington St. meets the Plumer – Cherrytree Road. Bissell Ave. in Oil City was named in Bissell’s honor.
(1860) Hoover Well, Brandon Farm, Sandycreek Township.
The Hoover Well located a few miles below the mouth of French Creek on the west bank of the Allegheny River in Sandycreek Township came in just days before Christmas 1859. It was the third producing well in the Pennsylvania Oil Region. Initially flowing at 100 barrels a day, the Hoover settled in at 40 barrels pumped a day and produced for years. This crude oil from the Hoover was of the light, volatile variety very suitable for refining illuminating oil and of the same character as found on Oil Creek. James Hoover of Franklin and Vance Stewart of Cranberry Township were the principal owners of this venture. In January 1860, George Bissell and Jonathan Eveleth invested in this very successful early producing partnership. The Hoover Well early on demonstrated the Venango Oil Field extended far beyond the Oil Creek valley.
Today, the site of the Hoover Well can be seen by traveling south on the Allegheny Valley Bike Trail in Cranberry Township about a mile below the mouth of Lower Two Mile Run and the Brine Plant. At a point on the trail and river where the lower end of the first island below French Creek is reached, an interested visitor can easily see on the far western side of the river some river-side cottages where the Hoover Well property was located.
In 1860, James Hoover was one of Franklin’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens. Today, his home can be seen on 12th Street as it comes up to Liberty. The old Hoover residence exists now as the renovated Franklin Public Library.
(1860) Albion Well, South Oil City.
A week or so after the Drake Well came in, William Phillips, a river man coming down the Allegheny from Warren, noticed a slick of crude oil on the water near the south bank of the river across from and just above the mouth of Oil Creek. Phillips joined with Charles Lockhart and William Frew of Pittsburgh to lease the Thomas Downing Farm at this point. The men formed a partnership, Phillips & Frew, and established a camp on the river to drill for oil at the site. Oil was found in March 1860. The well, the Albion, pumped an impressive 40 barrels of crude a day when oil was still selling for over $10 a barrel. That month, the first shipment of crude to Pittsburgh from what would be Oil City was sent down-river by steamboat to Pittsburgh. The Albion not only inaugurated the immense river trade in crude oil in the 1860’s, but like the Hoover Well demonstrated the limits of the Venango Oil Field were far beyond the upper Oil Creek Valley.
Today, the riverbank site of the Albion Well can be readily observed from Justus Park in Oil City.
(1861) A. B. Funk’s Flowing Well, Funkville, Cornplanter Township.
A. B. Funk was a steamboat owner and captain on the Youghiogheny River in Southwestern Pennsylvania when in 1850 he moved north to Warren County. Just outside of Tidioute, he built a steam-powered sawmill at a place called Steam Mills. Funk enjoyed financial success in his milling and timber ventures throughout the decade. When the Drake Well struck oil in late Summer 1859, Funk almost immediately bought two farms on Oil Creek about 8 miles below Drake Well, farms which belonged to David McElheny. In February 1860, Funk set his son to drilling a well on the Lower McElheny close by the creek where it completes a sinuous turn before traveling south. The younger Funk commenced drilling with a spring pole. Sixteen months later in May 1861, Funk’s son, drilling with a steam engine provided by his dad, hit the Oil Creek producing Third Sand strata at a depth of 460 ft. The well commenced flowing without pumping at 300 barrels a day. Funk's Flowing Well caught the attention of the Oil Creek drillers, and soon, those who could afford a steam engine were commonly drilling down 460 ft. and more in search of the Oil Creek Third Sand. Other successful flowing wells were drilled close by. One, the Empire, produced 3,000 barrels a day. A small post office village, Funkville, was built around the wells.
The great flowing production of the Funkville wells and others that followed on Oil Creek later in 1861 dramatically altered the early oil industry in several ways. Immense production numbers beyond the ability of early markets to absorb crude oil crushed the price to below a dollar a barrel. The pumping wells in the Oil Region with their small production could not afford to operate. The pumping wells shut down. The established coal oil refiners in Pittsburgh, New York and Boston realized an abundant, new, cheap American resource was available. They could build a refining industry around crude oil.
Today, the former site of this historically critical little village can be seen on the Oil Creek flats just below the Oil Creek Bike Trail Bridge at the old Pioneer railroad crossing. A variety of historical Funkville photos exist and its location is identified by a wayside marker on the bike trail passing by. A. B. Funk sold his Warren County property and moved to Titusville where in 1864 he built a fine home suitable for an oil baron. The home is gone, but both illustrations of it and photos survive.
(1861) Phillip’s Well, Tarr Farm, William Phillips, Heman Janes, Phillips & Frew.
The small James Tarr Farm sat on the east bank of Oil Creek down the creek from Funkville and below the toll bridge on the Cherrytree – Plumer Road. Producers with leases on the Tarr Farm feverishly drilled for oil hoping to find the third sand crude. William Phillips for the Pittsburgh firm of Phillips & Frew (refer to Albion reference) completed a 300 barrel a day flowing well in the summer, Phillips No. 1, and was drilling another, Phillips No.2, in October. On October 19, 1861 shortly after midnight, the Phillips No.2 erupted with an immense flood of oil estimated at 4,000 barrels a day. The well was ultimately brought under control but not before flooding the creek and surrounding country. Crude oil buyers bought directly from the wells in late 1861. Tarr Farm set the price of crude at fifty cents a barrel, sometimes even less. In April of 1862, the Phillips No. 2 was accurately gauged at 3660 barrels a day, a record for one day's production in the Pennsylvania Oil Field that lasted until 1884. Today, the site of the Phillips No.2 can be seen in the brush and scrub just north of the eastern end of the O. C. & T. Rail Road bridge at Tarr Farm.
Prior to the Phillips No. 2 coming in, Heman Janes of Erie bought the half of the Tarr Farm the Phillips lease was located on. Heman Janes came to own half of the Phillips Well output. Janes would be the first land owner – producer to control ground water flooding by the field wide use of well casing and synchronous pumping.
Charles Lockhart and William Frew purchased the Tarr Farm interests of William Phillips and several other Phillips & Frew partners in 1863. Lockhart and Frew used their prodigious Tarr Farm production to supply the crude oil needs of their seven refineries in Pittsburgh, known in the next decade as Standard Oil of Pittsburgh.
Not just an oil producer, Heman Janes developed his Tarr Farm property into the post office village of Tarr Farm. Janes built a large wood framed and clad home at Tarr Farm. The village at its peak had several thousand residents. (See Erie County Heman Janes reference.)
Today, the village is completely gone, consumed by the woods. The site can readily be seen from the park road across the creek or by riding the Oil Creek & Titusville R. R. excursion train. Numerous historical photos of the old Tarr Farm and the Phillips No. 2 Well exist.
(1861) Oil City Shippers, Jacob Vandergrift.
In the early years, crude oil was transported out of the Oil Region primarily by water. Wagons were used to haul crude oil in barrels to the rail station at Corry or to early refineries in Erie. (See Erie County references.) These wagon shipments, however, were relatively small. The first railroad, the Oil Creek R.R., to reach the Oil Creek Valley arrived in Titusville in November 1862. The Oil Creek was always a single track through the Oil Creek Valley and limited in capacity. For the first six years of the industry, the bulk of the crude oil shipped out of the Pennsylvania Oil Region went by way of water and the majority of that flowed through Oil City. By 1863, twenty Oil City crude oil shipping firms had warehouse facilities on the north bank of the Allegheny just below Oil Creek. The firms would send buyers up Oil Creek and its tributaries to purchase crude at the wells. This would be shipped by barge or by wagon to Oil City where bulk barge shipments were assembled for the trip down-river to Pittsburgh.
Jacob Vandergrift, an Ohio River steamboat pilot and captain of some celebrity, and the Pittsburgh coal tycoon, Daniel Bushnell, were partners in the two most prominent shipping landings at Oil City. The partners also owned and operated a large boat yard across the river in South Oil City. Oil City and South Oil City were riverman’s towns as much as oilman’s towns at the time. Vandergrift moved to Oil City with his family, lived on Colbert Ave., and prospered greatly in early river and shipper operations. He would buy large lots of crude on Oil Creek in the spring when the price was historically low and resell it in Pittsburgh in the fall at a much higher level when the Pittsburgh refineries needed the crude to make illuminating oil for the winter. Vandergrift invested his considerable fortune into early railroads and even more so into the Oil Region’s gathering pipeline systems. He was the most prominent of the early Oil Region men involved in the transportation of crude by water, rail and pipeline.
Today, the site of the Oil City shipper’s boat landings can be seen well from a point half way out on both the Petroleum St. Bridge and the Veterans Bridge. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical marker honoring Jacob Vandergrift stands in Justus Park at the mouth of Oil Creek. A half dozen or more excellent historical photos exist depicting early boat activity at the mouth of Oil Creek. Also, an excellent 1864 stylized line drawing exists, depicting boat activity as seen from where the Spilling the Beans Coffee Shop now stands on the South Side.
(1864) Central Petroleum Company, Petroleum Center, Cornplanter Township.
The George Washington McClintock Farm on Oil Creek about midway between Oil City and Titusville was purchased by George Bissell, Frederick Prentice and James Bishop for $385,000 in August 1864. The land was transferred in 1864 to a newly organized New York corporation, the Central Petroleum Co. This corporation was formed to make money as a joint stock company by selling stock in the market as well as to make money in the production of crude. The firm drilled its own wells and later leased land to independent producers. The company made millions for its investors,
The Central Petroleum Co. built the village of Petroleum Centre, one that rivaled any town in the Region. At its peak in the late 1860’s, Petroleum Centre had some 5,000 residents, perhaps more.
Today, the Petroleum Centre site in Oil Creek State Park is grown over. Wood boardwalks exist to give the visitor a feel for the place. A number of excavated foundations with old stone rubble can be seen along the walk. An excellent diorama of Petroleum Centre is located in the reconstructed railroad station, a stop on today’s Oil Creek & Titusville Rail Road.
Plentiful historical photos of the nineteenth century site exist.
Pithole on Pithole Creek in Cornplanter Township was the quintessential oil boom town. Oil was discovered in January 1865. Throughout the year, Pithole dominated crude oil production in the Region. Some 15,000 people moved into Pithole, a town with little water, little housing and no sewers. Thousands of Pithole’s inhabitants were Civil War veterans recently discharged. Millions were invested in a frenetic commercial district featuring numerous hotels, some very nice and respectable, some not. By November, Pithole’s big flowing wells were on the pump and quickly going dry. The masses began to leave. The bars dried up. The hotels and streets emptied. By spring 1866, the drillers were gone, the teamsters were gone, the merchants were gone. Fires, some accidental, some deliberate, were devastatingly common. Pithole slowly burned to the ground. Buildings were dismantled and moved elsewhere. What was left was a new railroad, several new pipelines and very little oil to move.
Today, the ghostly Pithole historical site exists over acres of cleared and tree-covered land owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. An excellent diorama of the Pithole site exists in a modern museum building on the site. Pithole was amply photographed and numerous photos exist.
(1867 – 1868) Shamburg and Pleasantville.
In 1867, crude oil production became centered on the headwaters of Cherry Run in Oil Creek Township. Several small post office villages were created, all connected by boardwalks. The first of these villages was called Shamburg and the locale is known by that name today.
In 1868 oil production moved east to the farms south of Pleasantville. Many of the Pithole drillers and most of the Pithole pipeline activity migrated north to Shamburg and Pleasantville. The big pipelines were the Titusville Pipe Co. and Abbott and Harley’s Pipe Line. Samuel Q. Brown and his brothert-in-law, Dr. John Wilson, were particularly successful as both Pleasantville producers and bankers.
Today, the Shamburgh area is criss-crossed with umimproved dirt roads serving tree covered oil and gas leases in the nearby woods. Some historical photos exist. Numerous historical photos of the Pleasantville activity exists. The nineteenth century Italianate homes of Samuel Q. Brown and John Wilson still stand in Pleasantville.
(1870) Oil City Crude Oil Buyers.
By 1870, the industry’s big refiners and most of the shippers and oil brokers were no longer buying crude out in the country side at the wells. Buyer’s offices were established in Oil City on Center Street near where the railroad tracks crossed. These Oil City buyers offices became the center of commercial activity in the Oil Region. Lockhart & Frew (see Tarr Farm reference) maintained such an office to buy crude for their Pittsburgh refineries and their new Atlantic Refinery in Philadelphia. Lockhart & Frew had their own building on Center Street. Across the street in the Mercantile Building several large Cleveland refiners maintained their buyers offices. The largest Cleveland firm represented was that of Rockefeller, Andrews and Flagler, the firm that had just reorganized as Standard Oil of Ohio. The Oil City – based partnership of Jacob Vandergrift and George Foreman was in the Empire Transportation Co. Bldg. located immediately on the other side of the tracks. Vandergrift & Foreman bought crude as shippers and soon after for the large Imperial Refinery they built in nearby Siverly.
These buyers were so close they could, and would, shout across the street to one another. An informal oil exchange formed out on muddy Center St. where oil producers, buyers and brokers would buy and sell pipeline oil certificates representing 1,000 barrel lots of crude oil. The back room of the Lockhart & Frew office served as a makeshift meeting area for the “street exchange”. The Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Co. maintained an office in the Lockhart & Frew Bldg. Western Union was in the building next door.
Today, the wood-framed and wood-clad buyers offices are long gone. A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historical marker honoring Charles Lockhart stands on Center St. where the old Lockhart & Frew office once stood and where the “street exchange” once met. A nice selection of excellent historic Alvin Drake Deming photos depicting this venue exists.
(1870) Galena Oil.
Charles Miller and John Coon of Franklin bought the old Dale Refinery in Franklin’s Third Ward in 1870 after a fire destroyed their first refinery located below Point Hill on French Creek. With local investment partners from the wealthy Plumer family, Miller and Coon’s refinery was reorganized as the Galena Oil Co. The Galena refined the Franklin Heavy Crude found nearby in Sugarcreek Township. The partners purchased the patent for a product called Hendrix Lubricator. Mr. Hendricks’ patent involved mixing a soap containing lead ore, galena, with the refined local heavy crude. The resulting product was an excellent lubricant for heavy-duty railroad car journal bearings and a vast improvement over the previously used animal fat-based lubricants. Charles Miller was a consummate salesman and used his great talent to sell Galena Oil to the railroads across the country.
Charles Miller’s brother-in-law was Joseph Sibley. Sibley developed a refining technique to produce a high-grade lamp oil suitable for railroad use. This product was called Signal Oil. Sibley was a gifted salesman, also. He sold Signal Oil to railroads across the country. Standard Oil bought a controlling interest in both Galena Oil and Signal Oil in 1879 –1880.
Today, the Galena Refinery is gone. Mr. Miller’s home still stands proudly high above Franklin in the architecturally splendid Miller Park section of Franklin. Mr. Sibley’s first grand home in Franklin is gone. His second home, a sprawling stone mansion, sits on the old Sibley estate in Cranberry Township and looks down on the Allegheny River. The impressive 1902 Galena-Signal office edifice still stands on Liberty St. in Franklin.
(1874) Eclipse Lubricating Oil Co.
The Eclipse Lubricating Oil Co. was established by Dr. Albert Egbert and other Franklin investors in 1874. The firm’s first years were troubled, and it closed. The small plant was located just north of Franklin on the road to Oil City and close to the Allegheny River. Sitting idle for several years, Standard Oil bought the property and reopened it in 1878. Henry Rogers for Standard Oil bought a huge tract of land just to the north of the old site in Sugar Creek. By the mid 1880’s, the Eclipse Refinery spread for miles along the Allegheny and was the largest refinery in the Pennsylvania Oil Region. S. C. Lewis was the President of the great Eclipse Lubricating Oil Co. during these years and among Franklin’s most prominent residents. His large Victorian home stood on Liberty where the K. of C. parking lot now exists. An outstanding stained glass window in Franklin’s St. John’s Episcopal Church was placed there by Lewis as a memorial to his wife. Lewis’ assistant was Duncan McIntosh whose large stone home still stands across the Allegheny on Route 322 in Cranberry Township. Standard Oil assigned the Eclipse plant to their Atlantic Refining group in 1892. The Atlantic’s Eclipse plant closed in 1937.
Today, nearly all of the structures of this once great refinery are gone. However, the building that was the plant office remains standing in excellent condition on Route 8. Numerous 19th and 20th century historic photos exist. Joseph Sibley’s second home, River Ridge, can readily be seen today across the river from the old Eclipse plant site.
(1874) Oil City Exchange.
The Oil City Exchange was formally organized as a corporation in 1874. It was one of a dozen or so oil exchanges in the country where refiners, brokers, producers and speculators bought and sold pipeline oil certificates representing 1,000 barrels of crude oil. In the latter 1870’s, the Oil City Exchange was the largest oil exchange in the country and remained so till 1884. In 1877, it was the third largest financial exchange of any sort in the country, behind just New York and San Francisco. During this period, the Oil City Exchange set the price of crude oil throughout the world. A grand Oil Exchange Bldg. was opened in 1878 on Seneca St. between Center and Sycamore. The building was a place of business, recreation, gambling and socializing for its wealthy members.
The building no longer exists. In its place, stands the old Mellon Bank building. Several excellent historical photos of the Oil City Exchange building exist.
(1877) United Pipe Lines, Oil City.
By 1870, the transportation of crude oil from the well to the railhead was all done by a collection of separate and independent gathering pipeline companies. In 1877, the major gathering pipeline companies agreed to merge under a new corporation charter and name, United Pipe Lines, Inc. This vast pipeline organization extended throughout the Pennsylvania Oil Region from Butler County to the Bradford Field in McKean County and into southern New York. The President of this new corporation was Jacob Vandergrift of Oil City. United’s corporate offices were located in the Oil City Trust Bldg. at Sycamore and Seneca in Oil City.
The United Pipe Lines owned thousands of miles of two, three and four inch pipe and over a hundred pump stations along pipeline right-of-ways. It operated an extensive telegraph system across its network. The United provided iron tank storage for its customers and issued over 80% of the pipeline oil certificates in circulation. It acted as a reserve bank for the industry’s stored oil. The United gathered from the wells and delivered crude oil to the big trunk railroads for transport out of the Oil Region through 1879. Beginning in 1880, the United gathered and delivered crude for transport to a system of trunk pipelines United built to pipe the crude rather than ship it by rail to distant lake and tidewater refineries.
The elaborate Oil City Trust Bldg. was demolished as part of urban renewal. A one story Pennsylvania State Liquor Store stands today on the former Oil City Trust Co. site. What survives of the United Pipe Lines are miles and miles of 19th century wrought iron pipe scattered across old fields, the graded sites of old iron storage tanks and the once beating heart of the entire system – Bear Creek Pump Station just south of Parker in Armstrong County. (See Armstrong County Bear Creek Station reference.) A few historical photos and illustrations of United pump stations and offices throughout the Region exist.
(1878) Oil Well Supply.
John Eaton’s small oil goods supply company was renamed Oil Well Supply in 1878. Eaton leased an office on Sycamore St. in Oil City and built a manufacturing facility across the tracks on Sycamore where the Salvation Army property is now located. The firm prospered and purchased the Innis Mfg. Co., a respected maker of gas engines for oil field use. In 1900, Oil Well Supply bought the property formerly occupied by the Imperial Refinery in Siverly. Numerous buildings were erected on the sprawling site. Oil Well also had plant sites in Pittsburgh and Bradford. Each plant produced products unique to the site. Oil Well Supply became part of United States Steel in 1930. The Oil City plant remained in operation until 1982.
Today, several original Oil Well Supply foundry and machining buildings as well as two impressive administrative buildings still stand in the Oil City Industrial Park. A good variety of historical line drawings and photos of Oil Well Supply, as well as early product literature, exist. A brass sidewalk plaque on Seneca locates the old Innis plant. Kenton Chickering, Oil Well’s first finance vice president, built a big home on West Third that still stands. Chickering became the Oil Well executive responsible for the Oil City plant’s operations and business. William Innis built a large Victorian up on West Fourth and Innis St. which still exists. An Oil Well Supply historical marker stands at the south end of the Veterans Bridge.
(1881) National Transit Co.
The National Transit Co. was organized by Standard Oil in Philadelphia in 1881. All of the assets of the existing United Pipe Line Co. were acquired by the new National Transit Corporation a month after organization. The United represented over 80% of the assets of the new National Transit Co. and was represented as a distinct operating division in 1885. The National Transit Co. built a new red brick, four story edifice in Oil City to house the pipeline operating management and staff; Standard Oil’s new production Co., South Penn Oil; and Standard’s Purchasing Agency in the field – the Joseph Seep Agency. Fortunately, the 1890 National Transit Bldg. and its 1896 Annex remain standing. It is a proud symbol of Standard Oil’s one time immense presence in the Oil Region. (See South Penn Oil reference and Quaker State Reference.)
(1889) South Penn Oil.
South Penn Oil was organized by Standard Oil in 1889 with corporate and management offices initially in Oil City in the National Transit Bldg. Noah Clark of Oil City was the first President of South Penn. South Penn Oil was Standard Oil’s sole crude oil production company in the Appalachian Field including all of the Western Pennsylvania producing counties as well as West Virginia and the New York Southern Tier. At the turn of the century, it was the largest crude oil production company in the country. In 1902, William J. Young, formerly of Oil City, was named Vice President of South Penn Oil. John D. Archbold in New York was President of all Standard's production companies at the time. South Penn’s corporate offices were moved in 1902 to Pittsburgh where Young had offices in the Vandergrift Building on Fourth Ave.
When Standard Oil was broken up in 1911, South Penn Oil became a stand-alone production company. Joseph Seep was named President that year and served as President till 1918 and Chairman from 1918 to 1928. South Penn assumed the Joseph Seep Agency after Standard’s breakup in 1911 and maintained that agency’s address in the National Transit Bldg. in Oil City until 1931.
South Penn purchased 51% of Pennzoil in 1926 to ensure a refinery outlet for its production.
In 1929, South Penn successfully employed tertiary recovery methods using water flooding throughout the Bradford Field achieving impressive crude production numbers once again. During this extended period of tertiary recovery production in the old Bradford Field, South Penn moved its corporate office to Bradford. When South Penn completed its decades long program of acquiring all of Pennzoil in 1955, the firm moved its corporate offices back to Oil City.
When South Penn relocated to Oil City, it moved into the existing Pennzoil offices in the Drake Bldg. on the corner of Duncomb and Seneca. The firm also rented offices and computer space in the National Transit Annex. Charles Suhr was named Chairman of the Board of the South Penn Oil Co. in 1955. George Hanks was named President of South Penn and was succeeded by John Selden in 1957. Mr. Suhr at the time lived in his residence on West Third, a house that still stands. Noah Clark’s home still stands on West Third St. in Oil City. Several generations of Selden homes exist in Oil City and Selden descendants live in the Oil Region.
In 1963, South Penn was bought by Hugh Liedtke and William Liedtke of Zapata Petroleum and Stetco Petroleum, two Midland, Texas oil firms. After the Liedtke purchase, South Penn Oil was renamed Pennzoil, and the corporate offices eventually moved to Texas.
(1898) Penn Refining, Germania Refining, Pennzoil.
Several nineteenth century refining enterprises were the seeds of the Oil City refining enterprise that came to be known as Pennzoil. The Penn Refining Co. was formed in 1886 by Henry Suhr, Samuel Justus and Lewis Walz, and located just north of Oil City on the old Clapp Farm along Oil Creek. In Rouseville the same year, the Nonpareil Refinery was built. This refinery fell into financial difficulty and was sold at Sheriff’s sale in 1893 to Suhr, Walz and other investors. This Rouseville firm was given a new name, Germania Refining. Germania and Penn Refining merged in 1914, keeping the Germania name. The Germania name was dropped during World War I for a new name, Penn-American Refining Co. In 1922, Penn-American assumed the Pennzoil name, taken from a brand used by one of its California subordinate marketing firms. In 1925, Pennzoil sold 51% of its stock to South Penn Oil. (See South Penn Oil reference.)
Pennzoil purchased several refining companies, including the Oil City – Reno based Wolf’s Head, in the ensuing decades. The Rouseville Refinery was substantially improved several times, the last effort in the 1990’s. Pennzoil’s corporate offices were in the Drake Bldg. on Seneca St. for many years. After the Liedtke purchase, corporate headquarters were moved to Houston.
Today, the art deco Drake Bldg. survives. Henry Suhr’s late nineteenth century home still stands on West Third in Oil City. Two homes Samuel Justus resided in stand on East Bissell. Several Suhr descendants still live in the Oil Region.
(1931) Quaker State.
The Quaker State Oil Refining Co. was organized by merging 20 firms on July 1, 1931. Among the firms pulled together were Quaker State Oil Refining of Oil City, Emlenton Refining of Emlenton, Sterling Oil of Emlenton, Independent Refining of Oil City, J. B. Berry sons of Oil City and McKean County Refining of Smethport. H. J. Crawford of Emlenton was the first President and Samuel Messer and James. D. Berry of Oil City the Vice Presidents. Charles D. Berry of Oil City was the Treasurer.
Quaker State maintained its corporate offices in Oil City in the old Chambers Bldg. on Center and the National Transit until 1977 when it moved into its new headquarters on Elm St. Lee Forker, Quentin Wood, Roger Markle, Jack Corn and Conrad Conrad were the chief executives of Quaker State in later years. Quaker State moved its corporate offices to Texas in 1995.
The Harry Crawford home in Emlenton still stands as do the Berry homes in Oil City. Lee Forker’s house stands on West Third in Oil City close by those of the Berry’s. The Quaker State Bldg. on Elm St. in Oil City is now a Penn DOT District Office. The nearby Wachovia Bldg. on Elm St. was once a grand Quaker State gasoline station.
Abundant historical photos of Quaker State and Sterling Oil subjects exist in the Venango Museum of Art, Science and Industry. Notable family groups still living in the Oil Region include Elizabeth Gilger and Pamela Forker of Oil City, the Breene family of Oil City and Arch and Scott Newton of Emlenton.
(1859) Titusville, Edwin Drake.
Abundant resources and venues at the Drake Well Museum. (See Venango County Drake Well reference.)
(1861 ) Meadville, Atlantic & Great Western R.R. This nineteenth century railroad provided early rail access to the Oil Region. An excellent replica of a nineteenth century A. & G. W. R. R. locomotive is on display in the Meadville downtown mall. The James Tarr House on the old Courthouse square still stands. After selling the Tarr Farm on Oil Creek, Tarr moved his young family to Meadville. George W. McClintock’s widow also built several homes in Meadville after selling their farm on Oil Creek for $385,000 in 1864. A grand Victorian McClintock home still stands on Chestnut St. (See Venango County Petroleum Centre reference.)
(1863) Townville, Orange Nobel and George Delameter, Farel Well.
Orange Nobel and George Delamater were village merchants and small businessmen in Townville when the Drake Well came in. They leased the Michael Farel Farm on Oil Creek in 1860 for $600 and a one fourth royalty. The well was considered dry after drilling down to 134 ft. in 1860. Another effort was made. The well drilled deeper in 1863. In May, the Farel Well came in at 3,000 barrels a day when the price of crude was on the rise. Both Nobel and Delamater became very wealthy with this well’s production. Nobel moved to Erie where he invested in a big iron furnace, opened a bank and became the Mayor of Erie. Delamater moved to Meadville and built a large Victorian house on the Courthouse Square. The Farel family moved to Titusville where Sadie Farel’s impressive home still stands. Today, the crossroads in Townville still look and feel like the midnineteenth century when Nobel and Delamater were young merchants.
(1863) Titusville, Oil Creek R. R.
The Oil Creek Rail Road reached Titusville from Cory in Erie County November 1862 providing the first rail transportation to the Oil Region. The railhead was a center of buying and selling crude oil from the upper Oil Creek Valley, Pithole, Shamburg, and Pleasantville, oil headed for Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia refiners.
Today, the railroad right-of-way still runs through Titusville along Oil Creek. The old Perry Street Train Station exists, and the Oil Creek and Titusville excursion railroad makes runs from Perry St. Station down the Oil Creek Valley. (See Erie County Corry reference.)
(1865) Titusville Shippers.
William Abbott and Henry Harley were prominent early Titusville shippers. They operated an oil gathering pipeline system from Benninghoff Run, Shamburg and Pleasantville in the 1860’s that closely integrated its operations at Miller Farm on Oil Creek with the Atlantic & Great Western R. R. operating on the Oil Creek Rail Road. Both men lost their wealth, but William Abbott’s handsome Victorian home still stands on West Main.
(1870) Titusville Exchange.
The first formally organized oil exchange in the Oil Region. A Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission marker stands in front of the site where the Titusville Exchange built its own building in 1881.
(1875) Acme Refinery, John D. Archbold, Titusville.
John D. Archbold, at the time a Titusville resident, organized Titusville’s largest refineries in 1875 under one new corporation, Acme of Pennsylvania. Acme was a Standard Oil organization. After some devastating refinery fires and the concurrent decline of the lower oil fields, Acme departed Titusville. John D. Archbold’s home still stands on the University of Pittsburgh’s Titusville campus.
(1870’s) Producers: McKinney Brothers, John J. Carter, and Edward Emerson, Titusville.
Titusville was home to many of the most prominent oil and natural gas producers in the early Oil Region. The McKinney Brothers second floor offices can still be seen in the old Reuting Block just across from the McKinney’s early twentieth century bank building now occupied by National City. John D. Archbold sold his home to John J. Carter, a Civil War Medal of Honor winner, who succeeded handsomely as a oil producer in Pleasantville, Bradford and Sistersville, West Virginia. Edward Emerson’s home and those of his sons still stand. Emerson became immensely successful in a natural gas production and distribution partnership with John N. Pew, first in Bradford and then in Murraysville and Pittsburgh.
(1870’s) Ida Tarbell House, Titusville.
The Tarbell House was built from lumber originally used in the Bonta House in Pithole. Ida lived in this house on East Main in Titusville through her school days before leaving for Meadville, New York and Paris. Her parents lived their lives out in this structure. The house is currently targeted for extensive restoration.
(1879) Tidewater Pipe Line, Byron Benson, Titusville.
Byron Benson was the President of the Tidewater Pipe Line in 1879 when the firm built the historic first trunk pipeline out of the Oil Region. Originally, the pipeline ran from the Bradford Field to Williamsport where it connected with the Reading Rail Road. Benson’s house stands today up on Perry near the Emerson’s homes.
(1896) The Titusville Iron Co.
The Titusville Iron Co.was incorporated January 1, 1896 by the following prominent Titusville oil men: John Fertig, John C. McKinney, John J. Carter, and others. The company built Acme Steam Engines and Boilers and Olin Gas Engines. The firm offered a full line of oil industry products for refineries and the general trade including stills, agitators, pumps, blowers, tanks, tank cars, eccentric powers, pumping jacks and brass and iron castings. The firm prospered and claimed to have done more work for refineries and the trade than any similar firm in the country.
(1890’s – early 1900’s) Titusville’s Early Twentieth Century Refineries.
Several smaller refineries operated in Titusville at the turn of the century including the Climax Oil Manufacturing Co., American Oil Works, Ltd., Titusville Oil Works and the Pennsylvania Paraffine Works. Vestiges of these refineries operated throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Generally, they were consolidated under the Cities Service organizational umbrella. The Cities Service family of Titusville refiners ceased operations in 1950. Historical photos exist.
(1859) Corry: Sunbury & Erie R. R., Atlantic & Great Western R. R., Oil Creek R. R., Philadelphia & Erie R.R.
Corry is where all the historic nineteenth century railroads converged and gained access to or exit from the Oil Region. The earliest railroad, the Sunbury & Erie brought travelers and freight from Erie to Corry where wagons could be used for the rough trip south to Titusville. Wagons hauling big barrels of crude from Oil Creek would reach the railroads at Corry. The Atlantic & Great Western made it down from Salamanca on the Erie R. R. in 1861. This was extended to Meadville in 1862. The Oil Creek R. R. was completed from Corry to Titusville in late 1862. The Philadelphia & Erie was completed in 1864 giving the Oil Region shippers direct rail access to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Jersey..
An ample variety of historical photos exist as well as the modern operating railroad right-of-ways.
(1861) Erie, Hammond and Fertig Refineries.
Erie, within wagon distance of the Oil Region and served by the Sunbury & Erie R.R. from Corry, was a very early refining center. The partnership of James Hammond and John Fertig in 1861 built two prominent refineries at Erie to manufacture illuminating oil from the crude oil produced at the Hammond and Fertig wells on the Upper McElheny Farm on Oil Creek. This operation prospered so well so early, both men retired from the business for a while to enjoy the good life. In later years, the Solar Refinery became renowned in Erie. It was operated by Thomas Brown who joined with John D. Archbold to operate Standard Oil’s big Eclipse Refinery in Franklin.
(1862) Corry, Samuel Downer Refinery.
The Samuel Downer organization operated coal oil refineries in Boston and New York City at the time of the Drake Well excitement. Downer knew of petroleum found in Western Pennsylvania. When the big flowing wells on Oil Creek started producing, Downer made the decision to build a large, state-of-the-art crude oil refinery at Corry. Joshua Merrill was Downer’s plant manager and was credited with a number of critical innovations in early refining. Merrill’s achievements are acknowledged with a PHMC marker in downtown Corry.
(1860’ – 1870’s) Heman Janes and Orange Nobel.
Heman Janes was an Erie businessman buying and shipping timber from western Ontario at the time of the Drake Well excitement. He also owned several hundred acres of oil bogs in Ontario’s Enskillen Township. He knew about oil early on and bought half of the Tarr Farm on Oil Creek in 1861. (See Venango County Overview) Janes built the village of Tarr Farm and lived there into the next decade. Early on, Janes was involved with other Erie investors to buy ten miles of the Oil Creek Valley, a scheme that did not work because the outbreak of the Civil War intimidated potential investors. Janes, again with Erie investors, proposed to build and operate an oil pipeline made of hollowed wood logs placed along Oil Creek. The idea had merit but was abandoned when Pennsylvania would not give Janes a charter. The local state representative did not want to put all those Teamsters, all those votes, out of work. Janes returned to Erie sometime in the 1870’s. Historical photos of the Janes House at Tarr Farm exist. (See Venango County Tarr Farm reference.)
Orange Nobel, spectacularly successful on Oil Creek, was subsequently Mayor of Erie. (See Crawford County Townville reference.)
(1860) Tidioute production, Grandin Family.
Samuel Grandin was a wealthy Tidioute merchant and lumberman when oil was found at Drake Well. The Grandins were the nucleus of an early group of Warren and Crawford County investors who drilled for oil just south of Tidioute and found it in the early 1860’s. Adnah Neyhart, Grandin’s son-in-law, joined with the Grandin Brothers to develop excellent producing properties on Dennis Run and Triumph hill immediately above Tidioute. In the latter 1860’s, the firm of Grandin & Neyhart was among the largest producers and shippers of crude oil in the country. Recently, the splendid Samuel Grandin Home was demolished. Photos of the structure exist. Historical photos of Tidioute are abundant.
Fagundas, located up on the ridge overlooking the Allegheny River about five miles below Tidioute, was the last big producing area in the Venango- Lower Warren Field before production moved south to Armstrong, Clarion and Butler Counties. A crossroads and old cemetery today mark the site where a dynamic, active oil town once stood.
(1874) Jahu Hunter and H. H. Cummings, Tidioute.
Jahu Hunter was a successful Tidioute merchant and lumberman in the early days of oil. H. H. Cummings was a Civil War veteran and a successful merchant in Tidioute. Hunter and Cummings formed a partnership to lease lands in Armstrong and Butler County in search of oil. On the Crawford Farm in Armstrong County between Petrolia and Brady’s Bend, Jahu Hunter and H. H. Cummings brought in a great producing well called the Lady Hunter in 1874. (See Armstrong County Lady Hunter reference.) The firm prospered and invested their great wealth in a vast timber tract in Missouri. Both men lived out their lives in fine homes in Tidioute. These homes still stand. The Hunter home and grounds are a destination for old house buffs.
(1882) Cherry Grove Excitement.
South of Sheffield in what is now the Allegheny National Forest, the first of a series of big flowing wells came in the summer of 1882. These wells were from white producing sands very different than the black sands of the giant Bradford field to the northeast. Producers believed they had found a great new field that would prove to be as prodigious as the Bradford Field. Investors rushed to obtain leases in remote places in the lower Warren County Forest. The place came to be known as Cherry Grove and the phenomena, the Cherry Grove Excitement.
Speculating in the rise and fall of the price of oil certificates on the Oil Region’s oil exchanges had become big sport. The progress and the potential show of crude production of many of the Cherry Grove wells was deliberately “mystified” by their owners in the hope of making a big profit on the oil exchange. Other oil exchange speculators hired a group of savvy men, oil scouts, to observe openly or clandestinely the progress and showing of the mystified wells. The oil scouts became as famous as the secret wells. All the excitement was over quickly!
By summer 1883, the Cherry Grove Wells were on the pump and in rapid decline. Cherry Grove’s production proved a flash in the pan, but a great source for early oil industry stories.
Numerous nineteenth century illustrations of Cherry Grove exist. Sheffield was a departure point for ventures into the forest. William Morton, a tannery tycoon, owned a good part of the land and leased it for a one fourth royalty to interested producers. Morton’s fortune was augmented by events in Cherry Grove. His grand house still stands in Sheffield.
(1890’s) Struthers, Wells & Co.
The Struthers name is an old one in Warren. Struthers, Wells & Co. was a nineteenth century foundry, machine shop and boiler shop serving the needs of the oil industry. It manufactured both stationary and portable engines and boilers including the well known Warren Oil Well Engine and Boiler. It manufactured tanks, stills, tank cars and general castings and boilerplate work for refineries. The Struthers Wells site is still active.
(1890’s) William Muir.
William Muir built and operated for its owners the old Clark & Warren Refinery at Corry and then improved and operated S. Y. Ramage’s refinery in Reno. He left the Ramage refinery and came to Warren where he built the Muir Oil Works in 1889. Muir’s refinery prospered. His firm purchased the Glade Oil Works in 1891. Before the end of the century, Crew-Levick of Philadelphia purchased both of these refineries.
(1890’s – 1900’s) Warren Refineries.
Warren has always been home to oil refineries. Late nineteenth century plants included H. A. Jamison’s Warren Refining Company. The Crew-Levick Muir Refinery and Glade Refinery were prominent Warren refineries in the late nineteenth century. (See reference to William Muir, above.) In the twentieth century, Cities Service purchased Warren’s Crew-Levick operations. Historical photos can be found.
(Latter Twentieth Century – Twenty-First Century) United Refinery.
Warren’s United Refinery is one of just three refineries currently in operation in the Oil Region. Refining asphaltic crude oil piped in from Canada, the United Refinery is the major supplier of gasoline in Northwestern Pennsylvania. It operates stations under its own brand, Kwik Fill, and sells gasoline to other distributors.
(1869) Parker’s Landing, John Galey.
Parker’s Landing was a riverman’s stop in 1869 when some of the early wells in the oil fields south of Venango County first showed real promise. John Galey drilled several wells near Parker’s Landing on Stump Creek Island called the Island King and the Island Queen. Galey was among the first oil men to develop the immediate Parker area.
Parker’s Landing merged with its suburbs, Lawrenceburg and Farrentown, March 1, 1873 to form Parker City. In 1873 it had a population of 4,000.
(1870) William Parker.
William Parker was the eldest son of the large Parker family after whom Parker’s Landing was named. William Parker, William Thompson and Hamilton McClintock formed a partnership in 1863 to buy and sell crude oil at Oil City. The firm prospered. In 1870, or so, Parker and Thompson came back to Parker’s Landing to drill for oil. John H. Haines of the Bradys Bend Iron Company joined with Parker and Thompson. The firm built an early pipeline to Parker called the Union Pipe Line. Several years later, the Union Pipeline was sold to the Empire Transportation Co. William Parker eventually moved to Oil City, residing in a fine home that still exists.
(1874) Parker Oil Exchange.
During the peak of production in the lower oil fields of Armstrong, Clarion and Butler County, an Oil Exchange for trading pipeline oil certificates was established at Parker. For a brief time, it was the largest exchange in the Oil Region. Not just buyers for the refineries, but outright gamblers interested only in wild speculation bought and sold. Fortunes were made and fortunes were lost in Parker in less than a day. Parker was a wild, exuberant, untamed place at the time. Historical photos exist.
(1873) Fairview Pipe Line to Bradys Bend.
Bradys Bend was the river terminal for crude oil shipped from Argyle, Petrolia and Karns City in the South Bear Creek drainage area in Butler County by way of Vandergrift & Foreman’s Fairview Pipe Line. Bradys Bend was also the river terminal for the Vandergrift & Foreman Pipe Line from Millerstown, a town known today as Chicora. (See Butler County.)
(1874) The Boss Well.
East of Petrolia about two miles on the James Parker Farm in Armstrong County, Hascal Taylor and James Satterfield found oil in March 1874. This big well initially flowed 3,000 barrels a day and was called, “The Boss”. David Criswell had an interest in this well and started a small hamlet, Criswell City, to accommodate producers and the curious. The stage between Petrolia and Bradys Bend stopped at tiny Criswell City so travelers could view this natural wonder. Production declined. By the end of ’74, the old Boss was on the pump.
(1874) The Lady Hunter.
Early Armstrong County oil production progressed south from Parker between the Butler County line and the Allegheny River. Two Tidioute businessmen, Jahu Hunter and Capt. H. H. Cummings, put down an oil well on the Crawford Farm between Petrolia and Bradys Bend in 1874. The well was named “The Lady Hunter”. Producing 2500 barrels a day, she was quite the lady. Hunter and Cummings built a pipeline to East Brady to ship their oil by rail. The partners drilled numerous successful wells on the Brady’s Bend Iron Co. property.
(1878) Bear Creek Station.
Bear Creek Pump Station was built in 1878 by the United Pipe Lines after the 1877 mergers of the Oil Region’s major gathering pipeline companies. Located just below Parker on the west side of the Allegheny River, Bear Creek was the principal pump station, the beating heart, of Standard Oil’s national pipeline network, the National Transit Co. The nineteenth century site with structures still exists.
(1872) Petrolia, George Dimick.
Early in 1872, George Dimick leased parts of several adjacent farms where Dougherty Run intersects South Bear Creek. The firm of Dimick, Nesbit & Co. drilled an oil well, the Fannie Jane, at the junction. The nearest producing well was three miles north. In April 1872, the Fannie Jane began pumping 200 barrels a day. The mob of oil men descended on the place. By July, some 2,000 called the new town built around The Fannie Jane, Petrolia. In February 1873, George Dimmick was elected the first burgess. Sketches of George Dimick exist. Numerous historical photos of Petrolia exist.
(1872) Petrolia, George Nesbitt.
George Nesbitt enjoyed the fruits of success from his investments in the Petrolia area with George Dimick. Dimick and Nesbitt’s first six wells around Petrolia together produced a thousand barrels a day. Nesbitt bought a major interest in the Patton Farm, outside of Petrolia. In January 1874, Nesbitt hit a thousand barrel gusher on the Patton Farm. Oil was selling for $4 a barrel. Nesbitt was an oil prince, a high roller on the Parker Oil Exchange. He lost it all in the panic of 1874. (Refer to Parker Oil Exchange, Armstrong County.)
Sketches of George Nesbitt exist.
(1872) Karns City, Steven Karns.
In 1872, Steven Karns was making $5,000 a day from his oil leases around Parker’s Landing and in Butler County. In May 1872, Karns purchased a half interest in the Cooper Well on the McClymonds Farm, a mile and a half south of Petrolia. Two days later, the well flowed at 100 barrels a day. Just prior to the Cooper Well coming in, Karns purchased in fee a one fourth interest in the McClymonds Farm for $25,000. Within four months, the McClymonds Farm was producing 1,000 barrels a day, adding greatly to Karn’s wealth and reputation. Karns leased the adjacent Riddle and the John B. Campbell Farms. Both farms were developed quickly as very successful producing property. It was on the McClymonds and Riddle Farms the community of Karns City in Fairview Township was built. By March 1873, the bustling little oil town named after Steven Karns was home to more than 2,000 inhabitants. A bank was established and three hotels served the place: the Empire House, the Apollo House and the Exchange Hotel.
Karns laid the first oil pipeline from Parkers Landing, Armstrong County to the Allegheny Valley R. R. across the river in Fall 1868. He was instrumental in establishing the early Union Pipe Line at Parker. (See Armstrong County.) Karns built a narrow gauge railroad from Karns City to Parker. In 1873, Karns purchased several half acre plots near the Jameson Well at what became known as Greece City in Concord Township. Together, Karns’ Greece City plots produced about 3,000 barrels a month. He built another pipeline from Greece City to the railhead at Harrisville.
Old Karns City was heavily damaged by fire and rapidly declined. Today, a number of historical photos exist. Karns built a mansion, Glen-Karns, suitable for an oil prince on an estate he constructed near Freeport. A gambler in the oil exchange and at the card table, Karns was forced to sell his grand country seat overlooking the Allegheny River when he suffered irrevocable losses. Karns went to Colorado in 1880 to manage the cattle ranch owned by a friend and business associate, E. O. Emerson of Titusville. Later, he returned to Pittsburgh.
Sketches of Steven Karns exist as well as nineteenth century historical photos of Karns City.
(1872) Greece City.
On Connoquinessing Creek in the rugged country of southern Concord Township, David Morrison leased the Jamison Farm in 1872. On August 24, 1872, Morrison struck oil. It caught fire but quickly was put back into production at 300 barrels a day. Taylor and Satterfield bought the lease for $38,000 in October. Steven Karns completed a well nearby on Christmas Day and completed another one the first part of January. Karns’ two wells produced collectively 700 barrels. John Preston completed a flowing 200 barrel well nearby on January 12, 1873.
A new community was built about the site. The first building was a drug store completed on the Jamison Farm September 10, 1872. Five hotels, three banks and a number of taverns catered to the population. The population swelled to 1,200 inhabitants. J. H. Collins’ establishment fed 500 people a day. Greece City featured a bank and newspaper and was declared a post office January 1, 1873. Two pipelines and storage tank farms served the site as well as two telegraph offices. The wells quickly declined, buildings were carted off and a fire in December 1873 cleaned the place up.
Today, what is left of Greece City is a road sign and a few residences on Route 38.
(1872) Fairview Pipe Line Co.
Vandergrift and Foreman built an oil pipeline in late 1872 from Argyle, Fairview Township, on the South Branch of Bear Creek through Petrolia and what would be named Karns City down to Brady’s Bend, Armstrong County. The line was called the Fairview after the nearby village of Fairview and the Township the pipeline originated in. The first pumping station was at Argyle, and the firm opened an office in Petrolia to purchase crude and manage the enterprise. Repair shops were established in Petrolia. The first large iron storage tank in Butler County was built February 1873 at Karns City. This great tank held 23,000 barrels of crude. The firm built another line in 1873 from Millerstown to Brady’s Bend. The Fairview Pipe Line in 1874 was merged into the United Pipe Line owned in partnership by Vandergrift and Foreman, Standard Oil, and directors of the Lake Shore and New York Central Rail Roads. Through mergers and acquisitions, this firm would become the existing gathering and trunk pipeline system acquired by a newly organized Pennsylvania corporation, the National Transit Co. in 1881.
A sketch of the pump station at Argyle exists. An historical photo of the office at Petrolia exists.
On March 22, 1873 the Hope Oil Co. brought in a well on the Troutman Farm two miles west of Beuna Vista. The Troutman Farm was and remains a patch of rocks and scrubby trees famous for its unending supply of mud. The Troutman Well flowed 1,200 barrels a day and the nearby lands proved to be eminently productive. For a time, the compact district produced 9,000 barrels a day. A small community, Modoc, was quickly constructed and soon included twenty ramshackle, wood frame and clad structures that housed a saloon, four hotels, several liveries, three merchants, and small homes. At its peak, about 500 people resided in Modoc. A storage tank farm was built and several pipelines ran to and from the place. The wells declined. In the autumn of 1874, Max Elasser’s clothing store caught fire. The fire burned in the wind and cold rain throughout the night. In vain, the Modoc men fought the spreading blaze to save their homes. Women and children spent the night crouched in the fields watching the place burn. By morning, half the small, brave town had burned down. The folks of Modoc left the place and allowed it to pass into oblivion.
The intimate, compact farm site is all that remains today, unmarked and unnoticed. Modoc was not well documented by photographs and seems today more myth and legend than an actual place of early Butler County oil history.
(1873) Millerstown, Barnhart’s Mills, now Chicora.
The first oil well in the Millerstown area was the Shreve Well struck March 1873 on the Stewart Farm. The second well, the Dr. James Well, came in on the Barnhart Farm in May 1873 followed by the Lambing Well on the same farm. Each of these wells produced 100 barrels a day or more. Within the year a number, of even bigger producing wells were developed in the area around the small village of old Barnhart’s Mills, Donegal Township. The Wyatt Well, owned by Col. Wyatt, John Fertig of Titusville and John Hammond flowed at 1,000 barrels a day. The McKinney brothers from Titusville in partnership with John Galey developed a prolific tract on the Hemphill and Frederick Farms with scores of producing wells. At its peak, the Millerstown district produced 10,000 barrels a day.
James McKinney built a fine residence in the growing community. John Galey established a residence also. The United Pipe Line built pipelines to Brady’s Bend and north to Raymilton, Venango County. The Relief Pipe Line built a line from the village. Both pipelines had a buyer’s office in the little town. Banks, merchants and hotels changed the character of this sleepy farm community. By the end of 1873, the vagabond herd of oil men had overwhelmed Barnhart’s Mills, a place they quickly renamed, Millerstown.
Fire swept through the new community of Millerstown in 1875. Disastrous, the fire took seven lives and leveled much of the commercial district. Four people were killed in Dr. Book’s Central Hotel alone, that dreadful night. The Bradford Field development in McKean County called the oil men north in 1877. Millerstown once again became a sleepy hamlet surrounded by quiet farms. Today, we call Millerstown, Chicora.
Historical photos of nineteenth century Millerstown exist. A number of quaint late nineteenth century commercial structures still sit on a Chicora hillside silently, waiting to be appreciated.
(1884) Thorn Creek, Thomas Phillips.
In the Spring of 1884, the Bradford Field was in decline (see McKean County) and Warren County was a disappointment. Gypsy wildcat drillers looked everywhere for new sources of crude oil. On the Marshall Farm, six miles southwest of Butler on Thorn Creek, Col. S. P. Armstrong’s well hit oil and gas on June 27, ignited and burned to the ground. In September, Thomas Phillips on the adjacent Bartlett Farm unexpectedly brought in a record setting 4,200 barrel a day gusher only to be surpassed by the neighboring Christie Well at 7,000 barrels. In late October, Col. Armstrong recovered from his disastrous fire and brought in his second well that crushed all competitors at 8,800 barrels. Thorn Creek became a legend in its own day.
Thomas Phillips went on to become the largest producer of oil in Butler County based on a practice he initiated of leasing every farm he could with the novel agreement he would pay an annual rent to hold farms he had yet to drill on. This was totally different than the prevailing lease language that required “due diligence” in putting a well down within a specified period. Phillips, from New Castle, became one of the most prominent producers in the country in the late nineteenth century. His sons, based in Butler, succeeded him in operating the Phillips oil and gas properties in Butler County.
A variety of good historical photos showing the Thorn Creek development exist. The twentieth century Phillips business office and private residences exist in Butler.
(Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries) Refineries at Karns City and Petrolia. Throughout the better part of the twentieth century the Pennsylvania Refining Co. of Butler operated a refinery at Karns City. Today, the old Penreco Refinery is being operated by new owners. In nearby Petrolia, Sonneborne Sons of New York operated a refinery that was assumed by Witco Chemical. The facility is operated as a chemical plant, today.
h3, (1869) Early Clarion and Allegheny River Wells.
The first oil well in Clarion County, the Mead Well, was struck September 1869. The Mead Well was drilled on the Allegheny just south of the mouth of the Clarion River. Another well, the Elephant Well, was drilled close by. Both wells were small producers. Drillers moved north across the mouth of the Clarion and put down a number of wells along the Allegheny River bank up to Foxburg. These wells were along the right-of-way of the Allegheny Valley Rail Road completed to South Oil City in 1867. At the time, Foxburg was only a rail stop with one or two small buildings serving the needs of the Fox Estate and local farmers. The output of these early oil wells along the river was minimal, but it was a start.
Today, the old right of way of the Allegheny Valley Rail Road is all that remains of these early sites and. of course, the natural beauty of the rivers.
(1870) Fox Estate and Foxburg.
The well-known firm of Fertig & Hammond (refer to Erie County) was granted a lease of the Fox Estate in 1870 and began to extensively drill. Throughout the next decade, the estate would become a major producer of crude. Under the management and leadership of William Logan Fox, a pipeline was built, a narrow gauge railroad was built up the hill and inland, the small railroad community of Foxburg grew and was admired as an unexpected jewel on the river, an iron bridge was constructed across the Allegheny. When W. L. Fox sadly died a young man in 1880, the estate was producing 1,500 barrels a day from its 3,000 acres of oil land.
A variety of historical photos of old Foxburg, the Fox Estate and several of W. L. Fox exist. Today, Foxburg is a pleasure to experience. The magnificent Foxburg Episcopal Church stands above Foxburg today, built by the Fox family in memory of W. L. Fox.
(1871) Antwerp, Marcus Hulings.
Marcus Hulings completed a well, the Antwerp, on the Ashbaugh Farm a mile east of St. Petersburg in September 1871. The well produced a hundred barrels a day and caught the attention of producers throughout the oil region. A community was built around the site. The first building was completed in the Spring of 1872. Within two months, the new community of Antwerp boasted three hotels, two hundred small homes, a school, telegraph office, four groceries and uncounted taverns. For a short time, Antwerp was a lively place, but fire completely destroyed it in 1873.
Hulings remained active as a prominent producer in the Clarion Field and was a partner in the Atlantic Pipe Line, a pipeline eventually sold to the United Pipe Lines, Inc.
Nothing is left of Antwerp today. Some historical photos exist. Hulings built a fine home in Oil City that stands this day. Several images of Hulings exist.
(1872) St. Petersburg.
Only a mile from the Antwerp Well, the farms around the long established country village of St. Petersburg proved to be fertile oil ground with productive wells on nearly every farm. Collectively, the St. Petersburg farms produced 3,000 barrels a day in 1872. The place grew quickly with an influx of humanity. Schools, churches, hotels and an opera house were built. Two banks opened for business and a newspaper was published. The place even offered the Pickwick Club for socializing. The St. Petersburg Opera House was the site of heated meetings of local oilmen to discuss how to deal with the railroads and competing pipeline companies.
St. Petersburg was a well-known, prosperous, influential oil community during this period. Several big fires in 1872-1873 could not destroy the place.
Today, St. Petersburg is a quiet, small community that retains much of its nineteenth century appearance and charm. Several hstorical photos exist.
(1872) Edenburg and Knox.
The St. Lawrence Well on the Bowers Farm a mile north of Edenburg came in June 1872. This well called attention to Elk Township as good producing territory. Hundreds of wells were drilled in the vicinity. Several new tiny communities including Knox on the Bowers Farm were built. Knox became a post office village with a dozen dwelling and a hardware store. Edenburg grew in six months from a crossroads hamlet with five houses, a blacksmith shop and a country store to a lively, prosperous oil community of 2,500 inhabitants. Edenburg claimed several fine hotels, banks, upscale stores and a railroad connecting it to Foxburg, St. Petersburg and Clarion. It suffered from fires, but the spunky, resilient citizens always rebuilt.
Today, numerous photos and illustrations of these communities exist.
(1872) Turkey City.
The hills on the sides of Turkey Run proved inviting to drillers in 1872. Turkey City sat on the road to St. Petersburg and offered four stage coach runs a day, a post office with daily mail service and two acceptable hotels. It early on became the focus of oil field activity up on the plateau above the Clarion River. Several pipelines originated or connected with others at the place leading to Oil City or Bear Creek Station. (Refer to Armstrong County.) A large storage tank farm was built in the nearby fields. This was the center of Clarion County pipeline operations for Standard Oil’s American Transfer Co., a pipeline that merged with Standard Oil’s United Pipe Lines Inc. in 1877. These lines became the property of the National Transit Co. in 1881.
Today, nearly everything is gone but the Turkey City Post Office and the inactive pipeline right-of-ways leading to and from the place.
(1875) Tuna Creek Valley.
As early as 1868 there were signs of oil in what would become the Great Bradford Field. Small amounts of oil were found by Job Moses near Limestone, New York at the northern reach of Tuna Creek. No significant development followed until the Butts Well near Tarport, a mile above Bradford, began producing in 1875. Frederick Crocker leased the Watkins Farm about a mile above Tarport. On September 26, 1875, Crocker’s well struck oil at 900 feet and flowed over 100 barrels a day. By November 1875, ten wells were producing oil around Tarport yielding 150 barrels a day. Fifteen more wells were being drilled.
Tarport was just a motley collection of a few ramshackle shacks at the time. Bradford was a sleepy, back woods village with some 600 inhabitants who mostly made their living cutting and shipping timber. A single-track railroad spur north to Carrolton on the Erie Rail Road connected Bradford with the outside world. The Empire Transportation Co. completed a pipeline from the Tuna Creek wells to Olean in late November 1875.
Early historical photos of Bradford and Tarport exist.
(1876-1886) Great Bradford Field.
By September 1876, the oil wells around Bradford were giving up 1,400 barrels a day. By July 1877, the number of producing wells in the Bradford area increased to 663 yielding 4,500 barrels a day. Crude, unable to find markets sufficient to absorb it, accumulated in the producer’s tanks. Finding refining markets, storing and transporting Bradford crude would prove nearly overwhelming for the next ten years. At the end of 1877, the field was producing 6,000 barrels a day. That amount increased to 26,000 barrels by end of ’78 and 50,000 barrels by end of ’79. Bradford’s immense numbers dominated the Pennsylvania Oil Region. By 1880, the Bradford region was producing over 80,000 recorded barrels a day, possibly another 20,000 unrecorded. All available storage tanks around Bradford and throughout the Pennsylvania and New York Oil Region swelled with the unused crude inventory that reached more than 34,000,000 barrels in 1882 and remained at that level through 1886.
Bradford constructed hundreds of wood-framed structures that were used as hotels, taverns, banks, churches, homes, groceries, mercantile stores, hardware stores, theaters and dance halls. A newspaper, the Bradford Era, published a weekly and then a daily. Several pipeline companies laid gathering lines to the wells. Fire burned the early structures to the ground to be quickly replaced by handsome brick buildings. Early buying and selling of crude oil was centered in B. C. Mitchell’s Bradford House. Lewis Emery, “Judge” F. S. Johnson and Dr. Book held court on the Bradford House second floor where hundreds of big oil contracts were concluded. The United Pipe Lines opened a handsome brick structure in 1879 where the Bostwick Agency, later the Joseph Seep Agency, bought oil for Standard Oil.
Numerous historical photos of early Bradford exist. The site of the United Pipe Lines office is now a parking lot for National City. Nearly all the early buildings are gone.
(1875) Lewis Emery
Lewis Emery gained his experience and some early success at Pioneer on Oil Creek in Venango County. He was in debt $100,000 when he migrated from the lower oil region to Bradford in 1875. Emery bought the 5,000 acre Quintuple Tract south of Bradford. A test well on the Tibbets Farm three miles south of Bradford confirmed Emery’s opinion of the property. In July 1876, Emery & Co. brought in a well on the nearby DeGolier Farm. The production of the Quintuple Tract made Emery an early Bradford petroleum millionaire. Emery in the ensuing years constructed a large commercial block in downtown Bradford, built a refinery and a pipeline and organized a newspaper, the Bradford Daily Record. He ran a large hardware store on Main Street for many years and owned the Bradford Hardwood Lumber Co. Emery was a lion in the community and elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate several times. During the course of his long, influential life, he was a vocal, vigorous opponent of Standard Oil.
Historical photos of Emery’s commercial block and refinery exist as well as his big home on Congress. A number of images of Emery exist.
(1879) Bradford’s Two Oil Exchanges.
The Bradford Oil Exchange was organized on March 26, 1878. Charles Wheeler was the first president. A handsome new brick building was opened on Main St. at Congress in February 1879. A second Bradford exchange, the Producers’ Petroleum Exchange, was organized November 21, 1882. David Kirk was named president. The Producers’ Exchange commenced business in temporary offices in the Armory Building on January 2, 1883. The Producers’ Exchange built a handsome structure very near the Bradford Oil Exchange and occupied it January 2, 1884. Most prominent oil producers were members of the oil exchanges where the oil men both socialized and speculated on the daily price of oil certificates more for sport and pleasure than for business.
Several historical photos of both oil exchange buildings are available. Both buildings were demolished.
To provide additional storage and another outlet for the growing production of the Bradford Field, the United Pipe Lines began construction October 1878 of a 4 inch pipeline to Kane on the Philadelphia and Erie Rail Road. By April 1879, the United completed four large 25,000 barrel iron tanks at Kane and began pumping crude through their 4 inch line from Bradford. Kane grew and became a center of storage and shipment in the next decade. A large 6 inch line from Kane south to Turkey City (refer to Clarion County) was completed in 1880. The Kane Pipe Line flowed by gravity to Turkey City and down to Bear Creek Station. (See Armstrong County.) With this pipeline’s completion, the Bradford Field was connected by pipeline to the storage tanks in the southern fields and Standard Oil’s refineries in Oil City, Franklin, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
In later years, oil was found and the oil fields developed around Kane.
Historical photos of the Kane storage tanks and railhead exist. The railroad right-of-way exists.
(1879-1880) Early trunk pipelines, Rixford and Colegrove.
The Tidewater Pipe Line Co. completed the first trunk line out of the Oil Region summer, 1879. The line originated at the firm’s great pumping station at Rixford and coursed across remote farms east over the mountains to Williamsport. In 1880, Standard Oil began construction of a 6 inch line from Olean (refer to New York) along the existing right-of-way of the Erie Rail Road with Standard’s refineries at Bayonne and Long Island on New York Harbor as the destination. That same year, a second 6 inch line was started from the big pump station at Colegrove and coursed southeast, following the Philadelphia and Erie for a distance, to reach Millway near Lancaster and ultimately Standard Oil’s refineries in Philadelphia and Baltimore. The United built immense iron storage tank farms at both Colegrove and outside of Olean. In 1881, the National Transit Co. was organized by Standard Oil. The National Transit Co. immediately bought all of United’s assets.
Historical photos of the Colegrove tank farms exist.
(1880’s) Bradford area early refineries: Kendall and Emery Manufacturing Co.
The Kendall refinery on Kendall Creek was established in 1881. The refinery took its name from the creek, failed several times, and was not formally organized as Kendall Refining Co. until 1906. Initially a very small refinery with a capacity of just 300 barrels a day, Kendall was destined to absorb its rivals in the area in the twentieth century. In 1888, Lewis Emery organized the Emery Manufacturing Co. It, too, was a very small refinery with an initial capacity of just 200 barrels a day. By 1900, the Emery refinery had grown to a capacity of 1,200 barrels a day. A separate wax plant produced 7,000 pounds of paraffine wax a day. Kendall purchased the assets of the Emery Manufacturing Co. in the early twentieth century.
Early historical photos exist.
(1921) South Penn Oil, Bradford.
In 1921, water flooding of depleted oil wells was legalized in Pennsylvania. This recovery technique was widely used by South Penn Oil in its vast oil property acreage in Pennsylvania. The Bradford oil field once again produced crude in quantities that rivaled the large numbers of the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. South Penn moved its corporate headquarters to Bradford where its handsome office building still stands. South Penn bought a 51% controlling interest in Pennzoil in 1926. South Penn joined with the Tidewater Oil Co. to organize the Bradford Transit Co. in 1929 to operate both firms gathering pipeline systems in the Bradford Field. In 1955, South Penn bought the remaining stock of Pennzoil. That same year, South Penn moved its corporate headquarters back to Oil City where it was originally organized and located in 1889.
(1923) McKean County Refining, Farmers Valley and Smethport.
The McKean County Refining Co. was organized in 1923. The refining plant was located at Farmers Valley where it could be supplied by gravity lines serving the Rue, Coleville and Bordell sections of the Bradford Field. Smethport families were involved in the McKean County Refining enterprise. The refinery became part of the new Quaker State organization.
(1937) Music Mountain. To everyone’s surprise, drillers for Niagra Oil struck a flowing well 3 miles south of Lewis Run on August 24, 1937. The first well flowed about 1,000 barrels a day. Some 200 producing wells along the narrow Music Mountain producing sand were drilled by 1941. One well reportedly started flowing at 600 barrels an hour. The gas pressures were immense. Music Mountain is now legend and the stuff a driller’s dreams are made of.
The Witco Chemical Co. merged its Amalie refineries in Franklin and Petrolia with Kendall Oil in Bradford. The firm operated as Witco Chemical marketing both the Kendall and Amalie brands.
(1970) Penn Brad Museum.
This 72 ft. tall replica of a late nineteenth century oil derrick and the related museum were built in 1970 in anticipation of a 1971 Bradford area 100 year anniversary. The site was damaged in a 1998 tornado and rebuilt.
(1997) American Refining Group.
The American Refining group bought the Bradford refining property of Witco Chemical. The Kendall brand was sold to Sun Oil Co. several years previous. American Refining introduced its Brad Penn brand March 5, 1997. American Refining renewed Northwestern Pennsylvania’s faith in the local oil industry after too many Pennsylvania wells and too many Pennsylvania refineries shut down.