Along Oil Creek, just south of Titusville, Colonel Edwin Drake struck oil at a depth of 69.5 feet in August 1859. Three words -- “They’ve struck oil!” -- thundered triumphantly throughout the valley. This statement changed the world forever and marks the birth of the world’s oil industry.
The New York Tribune stated, “The excitement attendant on the discovery of this vast source of oil was fully equal to what I saw in California when a large lump of gold was accidentally turned out. When California 49ers came into the valley they claimed conditions here were crazier than any they’d ever seen.”
Drake’s discovery caused thousands of people to pour into the valley in search of liquid gold. Boomtowns sprang up instantly as derricks replaced trees and the valley filled with people. “The boomtowns spring up as of from the touch of a magician’s wand, are swept away by fire, or disappear only to reappear miles in advance of their last location.”
Oil and mud soon mixed together throughout the valley. Roads were impassable. When J.H.A. Bone got off the train at Petroleum Center he wrote: “…pull up your legs when they disappear from sight, remembering that if you descend deep enough, you may strike oil.”
Others wrote: “The creek was covered with oil, the air was full of oil…we could see, hear, smell, nothing but oil.” “Mud divided our attention with oil, wagons, men and animals were submerged in mud.”
By 1871, production in most boomtowns was dwindling. Drillers, speculators, and others went to other areas in their endless search for oil as “black as a stack of ebony cats,” and the valley was allowed to return slowly to the state it is today.
Scattered ruins dot the landscape of Oil Creek valley. Remnants of old refineries can still be seen, old wells abound, and crumbling stone walls that once protected wells still stick up in the middle of Oil Creek.
The wooded hills of Oil Creek Gorge look almost as they did before the boom. A few wells are still active in the park, pulling the last bits of oil and natural gas from the earth which nature laid down millions of years ago.
“The oil rush changed the pace of the world, and greased the wheels of the machine age. It lit up the future, fueled wars, speeded peace and is still flowing strong.”
References: Unless stated otherwise, the above quotes are from Paul Giddon’s book “Early Days of Oil.”