Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Pennsylvania’s oil boom began in Venango County, one-half mile south of Titusville, late in the afternoon ­of Saturday, August 27, 1859, when Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880) perfected a way to drill for oil and extract it horn the ground. Initially, production was centered in the valleys of Oil Creek and the Allegheny River.

In 1865, Isaiah N. Frazier and James Faulkner, employees of a nearby refinery, independently leased sixty-five acres of the Thomas Holmden farm in nearby Pithole Creek Valley to drill for oil – on a flimsy hunch that the precious “rock oil” could be found outside the Oil Creek Valley. By May 1865, the Frazier Well, often called the United States Well – Frazier and Faulkner had joined Frederick W. Jones and J. Nelson Tappan in organizing the United States Petroleum Company-was producing 250 barrels a day.

The success of the venture attracted swarms of fortune seekers, drawing speculators from near and far. One settlement, christened Pithole City, sprang up almost immediately and swelled to a population of fifteen thousand within six months! By September 1865, Pithole City boasted a water system, railroad line, restaurants, fifty-seven hotels, a daily newspaper, theaters, churches, saloons, dance halls, even brothels. Its post office was among the busiest in the Commonwealth, routing fifty-five hundred pieces of mail daily. But Pithole City declined as rapidly as it had developed.

Oil supply petered out, in part because oilmen sunk wells too close together. Pithole’s population shrank – by the end of 1866 the number of residents had plummeted to less than two thousand – and the hastily-constructed wooden buildings began to deteriorate and disappear. Today, nothing remains save impressions of cellar holes in a hillside meadow.

In 1957, James B. Stevenson, publisher of the Titusville Herald and member (and later chairman) of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) purchased the site of Pithole City. Stevenson cleared the overgrown area and marked the long-vanished streets and buildings (see “Pithole City: Boom Town Turned Ghost Town-An Interview with James B. Stevenson” by Kristin R. Woolever, Summer 1984). He later donated ninety acres of land, encompassing the site of Pithole, to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The historic site is administered by the PHMC’s Drake Well Museum and Park, a popular attraction along the Pennsylvania Trail of History. Visitors may walk the grassy paths of the former streets and examine a scale model of the city at its peak on view in the visitor center, which is open from “Boomtown Day” (held the first Saturday of June) through Labor Day. Visiting hours are Wednesday, noon to 5:00 p.m., and Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The Drake Well Museum and Park and Pithole City chronicle the tumultuous history of Pennsylvania’s petroleum industry (see “Survival of an American Boom Town” by Gregory DL Morris in this issue). for more information, write: Drake Well Museum and Park, 202 Museum Ln., Titusville, PA 16354; telephone (814) 827-2797; or visit www.drakewell.org on the Web. There is an admission charge for both attractions.