There was never any first discovery of oil. Petroleum had been known for thousands of years, gurgling from oil springs or seeps bubbling to the surface. It was used as medicine and for light in its natural state despite a nasty odor. In the early 1850s a number of people began experimenting with refining crude oil to improve its burning properties and eradicate its foul smell. They were successful enough that the demand for kerosene to outstrip the supply of oil.
The Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, leased land in western Pennsylvania and skimmed petroleum off oil springs in the region. In 1858 Edwin L. Drake was sent to Titusville, a town founded in 1800 by two former surveyors for the Hoeland Land Company, Jonathan Titus and Samuel Kerr who purchased land and established residences, to find a way to increase production. At first he tried digging but soon decided to drill a well, similar to the way saltwater was sometimes excavated. Progress at first was slow; the soft glacial till around Oil Creek kept caving into the hole. Drake finally hit on the idea of driving a pipe down to bedrock and drilling inside it.
It was not long before Drake’s ingenuity paid ff. On August 27, 1859, 69 feet inside the earth, he struck pay dirt in the worlds first oil well. Drake was lucky. had he drilled a few yards in either direction along the creek he would have had to go down another 100 feet to tap his oil reservoir. a pump was attached to his well and soon Drake was producing about 20 barrels of oil a day, double the rate of production of all existing sources at the time. Speculators soon lined Oil Creek with derricks and pumps.
The world had never seen anything like it. Boomtowns burst into existence overnight. One town, Pithole City, went from a farm to a city of 15,000 people to a ghost town all in a span of 500 days. Titusville reigned as “Queen City” of the region for little more than a decade before the action drifted away. Drake himself made no fortune from oil. The glut of oil drove the price so low by 1862 that he and his partners went out of business. he processed leases for speculators and later lost money in oil speculation. He died 30 years after his historic strike, a poor and forgotten man.
The first great development period in Titusville was lumber related and the lumber industry did not end with the oil boom. The early oil boom years only served to increase the demand for wood used in the production of shipping barrels, the construction of derricks, workers home and other community buildings.
Our walking tour will visit the Titusville Historic District, nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, that is a compact representation of the town’s development from the beginning of the oil industry through the turn of the 20th century...
Western NY & PA Railway Station
west side of South Perry Street, south of Mechanic Street
The Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad was formed on February 14, 1883 from the consolidation of the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railway, the Buffalo, Pittsburgh & Western, the Olean and Salamanca Railroad, and the Oil City and Chicago Railroad. By 1887 the line was in receivership and sold at foreclosure, eventually to be taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1900. The freight station was renovated in 1988 to serve as a short-line freight line.
TURN LEFT AND WALK NORTH ON PERRY STREET.
Titusvlle Iron Works
Once used to manufacture oil industry engines and boilers, this facility was the major supplier of big artillery guns and shells to the Navy during World War II. Today, buildings on both sides of the street house Charter Plastics Company.
bounded by Perry, Central, Washington and Spring streets
John Scheide was a Titusville businessman and world-famous book collector. He created this greenspace by demolishing all the buildings on the block except the Second National Bank. The park contains a gazebo, a fountain, a time capsule to be opened in 2096, and memorials to military veterans from George Washington to Desert Storm.
Church of Christ
221 West Main Street, southeast corner of Perry Street and Main Street
The Universalist denomination was one of three churches in Titusville prior to the birth of the oil industry in 1859. It is a unique example of Greek Revival architecture with Italianate elements. Constructed of red brick with arched windows and door moldings, the wooden octagonal clock and bell tower were originally topped by a dome and a spire.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
James P. Thomas House
224 West Main Street
James P. Thomas, born in Genesee County, New York was elected Mayor of Titusville, on the Republican ticket, on February 19, 1884. After seeing considerable service in the Civil War and being wounded both at Antietam and Gettysburg, Thomas came to Titusville in 1865 and engaged in the business of producing oil with the Roberts Torpedo Company. Thomas shot his first oil well with nitroglycerine in 1870 and was involved with many patent infringement suits brought by the company. The three-story red brick structure with dark woodwork in the Queen Anne style was built about 1890. It incorporates a gabled roof with iron balustrade and sandstone key and end stones on window heads.
W.H. Abbott House
215 West Main Street
In December 1865 William H. Abbott acquired a part interest in the Van Syckel pipeline from Jonathan Watson, oil operator and officer of the First National Bank of Titusville. W.H. Abbott and Henry Harley formed an important company in 1866 by combining Harley’s Benninghoff Run - Shaffer pipeline and Abbott’s share of the Van Syckel pipeline. This was the beginning of the Abbott and Harley pipelines - America’s first great pipeline company. Abbott established a market for oil in New York, invested in the Miller Farm to Pithole Railroad, and contributed to the Pithole/Titusville plank road. His house was designed in 1870 by his son-in-law H. E. Wrigley, an oil region cartographer. Robert McKelvy, a director of the Commercial Bank of Titusville, purchased the house across from his parents in 1903 and radically altered the house, removing its Victorian cupola and refitting the house in the popular Colonial Revival style of the day. The house has a front pediment and lunette, and a large porch with fluted Ionic columns and semicircular pavilion.
214 West Main Street
This clapboard Queen Anne adaptation dates to 1884 and has a multi-gabled slate roof with iron cresting and wooden shingle trim. Oilman John H. Scheide was educated at Princeton University and by 1880 had amassed a personal library that included a Guttenberg Bible. Part of this valuable collection was given to Princeton and part of it became the foundation of the Drake Well Museum Research Library.
J.L. Chase Home
204 West Main Street
J.L. Chase was a lumberman and retail merchant who became a partner in the Chase and Stewart Block in 1896. His Queen Anne home is one of the oldest brick residences in Titusville. It was later owned by Byron Benson who organized the Tidewater Pipeline Company in an effort to avoid Standard Oil’s transportation monopoly.
Isaac Shank Home
118 West High Street
Isaac Shank was a retail merchant who moved into lumbering. When he died at age 97 in 1936, he was one of Titusville’s oldest citizens. His Colonial Revival-style home, built in the early 1900s, features a gabled roof and dormers, a projecting central pavilion with front columns and two-story porches. Today, it is Titusville Apartments.
TURN LEFT ON FRANKLIN STREET AND WALK ON THE WEST (LEFT) SIDE OF THE STREET.
201 North Franklin Street
This two story Italianate brick house, dating to the 1860s, has wide eaves lined with paired brackets, a cupola with eyebrow cornices and window heads, flat-roofed open porches, and carved panels over the doors. Built on property owned by Jonathan Titus, the home was owned by Charles Hyde, founder of the Second National Bank and stockholder in the Tidioute and Warren Oil Company. It was later purchased by oil producer John Fertig and donated to the YWCA. This house and the Chase residence are the oldest brick homes in Titusville. The white oak tree in the yard was standing before the founding of Pennsylvania.
Benson Memorial Library
213 North Franklin Street
This two story red brick Colonial Revival style building is reminiscent of the carriage style library. It has a hipped roof, sandstone entablature, paired Ionic columns supporting the pediment, and a Palladian style entrance. The vestibule is made of Knox and Italian marble.
CROSS THE STREET AND TURN TO WALK SOUTH ON FRANKLIN STREET.
First Presbyterian Church
216 North Franklin Street
The early Scots-Irish established a small Presbyterian congregation in 1802, the first in Titusville. They began by worshipping outdoors or in barns. By 1815 they had built a primitive log meeting house, which was soon followed by a larger structure of hewn logs. The third building of framework was placed on land donated by Jonathan Titus. He and Samuel Kerr, co-founders of the town, were original incorporators of the church. The population continued to increase during the oil boom. A larger church featuring a “battened” style of construction was built at the corner of Franklin and Walnut streets. By 1887 plans were completed for yet a larger building. The battened church was moved southeast on the lot and continued to serve as a chapel and social hall. In 1888 the fifth, and current, church was dedicated.
St. James Memorial Episcopal Church
112 East Main Street at northeast corner of Franklin Street
The Bishop of Pennsylvania, deciding it was important to establish a mission in the boisterous new oil region, sent the Reverend Henry Purdon to gather a congregation. The first membership was small and, belying the objective of the mission, consisted mostly of women. Titusville was chosen as the location for a church and a charter was obtained in 1863. The cornerstone was laid on September 14, 1863 at the exact geographic center of town. The church became the town’s first permanent place of worship and may also be the first permanent building of any kind in Titusville. Edwin Drake serve as its first warden and treasurer. This Gothic Revival stone structure which, with improvements since made, cost about $20,000, has maintained much of its interior detail work, including the Tiffany windows in the baptistery.
107 North Franklin Street
Nelson Kingsland owned timber land, cleared it, and sold the lumber in the early 1860s to the contractors building Titusville’s houses. The building was remodeled in Greek Revival fashion as the grand Bush Hotel in 1865. Likely added at the time were the large pediment supported byfull-height, fluted columns with prominent Ionic capitals dominates the Franklin Street facade. The small window with the semicircular hood seen in the pediment is inconsistent with the rectilinear and angular nature of Greek Revival. This structure has served as Titusville’s City Hall since 1872.
Chase and Stewart Block
west side of Franklin Street between Spring and Central streets
Built as three separate structures with Italianate treatment in the 1870s, the southernmost section became known as the Cohen Building, which housed a men’s clothing and haberdashery store. The middle section, completed last, has a unique slate mansard roof containing a spacious fourth floor. The E. K. Thompson Drug Store was established in this section in 1865. The northernmost section, known as the S. S. Bryan building, housed a hardware store until 1994. Famed oil photographer John Mather’s studio was located upstairs in the buildings.
First National Bank Building
northeast corner of South Franklin and Diamond streets
This three-story Italianate building is the oldest brick commercial structure in Titusville, erected in 1864. It has a wide, plain entablature, dentiled ornate eyebrow windows, and segmental hood moldings. It became the Western Union Telegraph Office in 1871.
TURN RIGHT ON SPRING STREET.
122-126 West Spring Street
This eclectic style building from 1891 has a corbelled parapet and projecting second floor bay windows. The second story housed the Midland Oil Company of J. L. and J. C. McKinney. J. C. McKinney was one of three businessmen who established the Titusville Trust Company.
Titusville Trust Company
127 West Spring Street
This Beaux Arts adaptation is characterized by massive stone construction, a parapet with central statuary, and segmental moldings around the windows. “There are few bank buildings in America which equal this in permanence and quality of construction...,” remarked architect Arthur Zimm. The Titusville Herald reported that “...few were prepared for the beauties revealed when its doors were thrown open...” The building featured specially selected types of marble, cork floors for the tellers, broad windows to “provide the best of ventilation,” and a vault “equipped with every known burglar proof and safety device.” Alfred Valiant painted the ceiling mural showing oil industry history around his memorial portrait of Edwin Drake. The basement housed a barber shop, locker rooms, ice-making plant, fur storage room, elaborate chandeliers, manicure and hair dressing rooms and public bath parlors.
site of the world’s first oil exchange
north side of Spring Street, northwest corner of Exchange Place
The Titusville Oil Exchange was formed in 1871 by independent oil producers, to strategize and stabilize a growing and highly competitive industry, sell shares of stock, establish prices, and enter into refining agreements. Before a formal exchange was formed, producers often discussed industry business along Centre Street and in nearby business establishments. A rail car was even outfitted - complete with cigars and whiskey - for such purposes. As the industry matured a new venue emerged and the Exchange was formally housed in the American Hotel that stood on this spot. It moved to other sites before returning here in a new three-story brick building in 1881. Eventually John D. Rockefeller’s South Improvement Company and its dominance of Pennsylvania’s oil industry negated the need for the exchange. It dissolved in 1897. The building was razed in 1956.
northeast corner of South Washington and West Spring streets
This two-story Victorian Gothic building with ornate brick work is distinguished by oriels, various corbel tables, niches, arches, and is unique for its distinctive corner turret with wooden shingles. Built in 1894, it was named from the last names of three owners: prominent building contractor Edward Allen, Samuel Grumbine, an attorney who trained himself well enough to be admitted to the bar in 1875; and wife of a local building contractor Hattie Nixon.
Second National Bank
northwest corner of South Washington and West Spring streets
This eclectic style brick and sandstone building with Gothic overtones from 1865 was originally four stories high with a mansard roof. The roof was eliminated in 1918 and replaced with its present remodeled parapet. The building, which housed Charles Hyde’s Second National Bank, is known today as the Park Building, but its former name remains elegantly engraved across the façade.
208 North Washington Street
This is the fifth site for The Titusville Morning Herald that published its first issue on June 14, 1865, the area’s first daily newspaper. Owner Joseph M. Bloss changed the name to simply The Titusville Herald in 1913 prior to its purchase in 1922 by E. T. Stevenson. Throughout most of its history, the paper was owned by those two local families. The first home of The Herald was a three-story structure on South Franklin Street in the Millers Block which burned in December of 1865. Its fourth home was the first in its own building, on the corner of Franklin and Arch streets. That move took place in 1873; operations in this building began in 1956.
WALK ONE-HALF BLOCK TO PERRY STREET AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.