Crawford County, Pennsylvania
History & Biography
"GAZETTEER OF TOWNSHIPS."
OIL CREEK TOWNSHIP
OIL CREEK was formed in 1820. It lies in the south-east corner of the county, bordering upon Venango and Warren counties, and contains 18,679 square acres. The surface is
broken by the deep valley of Oil Creek, which, and Little Oil
Creek, are the principal streams. The chief business carried
on in the township, outside the city of Titusville, is lumbering
and the interests growing out of that industry, prominent
among which are, Charles Hydes saw and planing mill, which
is situated on Little Oil Creek and is capable of sawing 8,000
feet of lumber per day, also his lath mill and sash and blind
factory located at Hydetown; Lewis G. Wardins saw mill,
situated on Little Oil Creek, one and one-half miles above
Hydetown, and capable of cutting 10,000 feet of lumber per
day; Shepard Knapps saw mill, situated on Mully Run, and
capable of cutting 3,000 feet of lumber per day; Andrew J.
Kerrs saw mill, situated on Hyde Creek, with a capacity for
sawing 2,000 feet of lumber per day; Patrick H. Powers saw
and lath mill, situated at Hydetown, which gives employment
to ten men and is capable of sawing 10,000 feet of lumber per
day; and Silas Kerrs steam saw mill, which is situated on
road eleven, (see map,) employs six men and is capable of sawing 5,000 feet of lumber per day.
The township is traversed by the Oil Creek & Allegheny
Valley, Union & Titusville and Pennsylvania Petroleum railroads, the latter of which is under construction and all of which extend along Oil Creek within the township.
The population of the township (exclusive of the city of
Titusville,) in 1870, was 2,041, all of whom, except one, were
white, 1,768, native and 273, foreign.
During the year ending June 3, 1872, the township, exclusive of the city, contained thirteen schools and employed fourteen teachers. The number of scholars was 502; the average
number attending school, 395; and the amount expended for school purposes, $4,842.64.
TITUSVILLE is beautifully situated upon Oil Creek, and about
the center of the south line of the township. The city proper,
or that part of it representing the principal business and popu
lation, lies upon the north bank of the Creek, from which the
south bank rises abruptly. Upon the north the valley of the
Creek stretches out about a mile in width, and is terminated
by a similar bluff. For a mile to the westward and nearly three
miles to the eastward, when the view is obstructed by a series
oi elevated table lands, the valley presents a landscape of pleasing and varied beauty. The western bounds of the city still exhibit evidences of the swamp which originally characterized
that part of it lying west of Franklin street, but which a
thorough system of drainage has transformed into eligible building sites.
From the insignificant village of a quarter of a century ago,
when it contained about two hundred inhabitants, it has
rapidly grown with the development of petroleum, until today, with a population of about 10,000, it is the recognized metropolis of the oil region. It was incorporated as a city in
1867. In 1870 it had a population of 8,639, distributed among
its four wards as follows: in the first, 1,905; in the second,
2,334; in the third, 2,275; and in the fourth, 2,125. The city
presents an attractive and solid appearance. Its principal
streets are wide and handsomely graded, and adorned with
sightly stores, mostly brick structures, and fine residences,
elegant in style and elaborate in finish. The thoroughfares are
well lighted with gas and kept in good repair. During the
past yearsince July, 1872more than a mile of wooden pavement has been laid in the principal avenues, (Spring, Diamond, Franklin, Pine and Washington streets.) It contains about
a dozen churches, representing the various denominations, and
has four public schools, one in each ward, two of which are
large and substantial brick structures, that have cost not less
than $30,000 each. It has a public park. It is supplied with
water by the Holley system of water works, which have just
been completed. There are five banking establishments, a
Board of Trade, an Oil Exchange, three newspapers, (the
Herald and Courier, each published daily and weekly, and The
Sunday Morning Press.) It possesses important manufacturing
interests, prominent among which are two large iron working
establishments, (the Gibbs & Sterritt Manufacturing Co., and
the Titusville Manufacturing Co.,) employing hundreds of men
in the manufacture of engines and boilers, oil well tools, car
tanks, oil tanks of immense capacity, &c. There are other
industries of less capacity, Adam Goods brass foundry and
machine shop, being among those deserving special notice. In
addition to these Titusville has eleven oil refineries. Its hotel
accommodations are second to no town or city in Western
Pennsylvania. It has an opera house, which, for size and
beauty, is not excelled in this portion of the commonwealth.
Three railroads enter the citythe Oil Creek & Allegheny
Valley R. R., which connects at Corry with the Atlantic &
Great Western and Philadelphia & Erie roads; the Union &
Titusville R. R., which makes a similar connection at Union;
and the Dunkirk, Warren & Allegheny Valley R. R., which is
at present completed only to Titusville, though its prospective
terminus is Oil City, to which point the road bed is nearly
completed. This number will be augmented by the Pennsylvania Petroleum R. R., when completed, and which is now in process of construction. These roads with their connections
afftord easy and rapid communication with all desirable points.
Titusville possesses all the advantages and attractions of a
growing western city. It has wealth and its citizens evince a
fair degree of enterprise and thrift, which bespeak its future prosperity.
The public schools of Titusville are organized under the general school laws of the State. They are under the immediate control of a Board of Directors consisting of eight members,
two from each ward. The term of office is two years, and one
member is annually elected from each ward. In accordance
with the amended school laws a Superintendent of Public Instruction was elected June 1, 1872, who holds the office for three years. The schools are thoroughly graded and have attained a high degree of excellence in study and discipline. The departments are Primary, Intermediate, Grammar and
High. The school buildings consist of two new and elegant
brick structures and two wooden ones, valued at $90,000.
Twenty-two teachers are employed, and the number of scholars
in daily attendance is about 1,000. The High School is the
fortunate possessor of a rare and valuable cabinet of Geology,
Mineralogy and Lithology, the gift of Jonathan Watson, Esq.
of Titusville. It was purchased of Prof. Henry Ward, of the
University of Rochester, and put in position under his special
supervision. It is probably excelled by no cabinet in Western
Pennsylvania. The course of study pursued in the High
School is thorough and complete, and affords opportunities for
culture in Higher English, French, German, and Latin and
Greek as far as required for admission to the best colleges in
Titusville Soldiers Orphan School was instituted in Titusville
in 1867, and removed to its present location in 1871. It is eligibly situated upon moderately elevated ground in East Titusville, outside the city limits. The buildings, though incomplete,
owing to the lack of funds, are projected on a scale calculated
to ensure the health, comfort and convenience of its inmates.
The rooms, especially the study, recitation and sleeping rooms,
are spacious, light and airy, and their arrangement has heen
made to conform with the sanitary requirements of the pupils.
An abundant and unfailing supply of pure, cold, soft water
rises in springs upon the premises. The moral and religious
culture of the children is sedulously cared for, and the scholastic instruction afforded is of a superior character. Prof. Joseph N. Beistle was the first principal. In 1872 Mr. Gurdon S. Berry, its proprietor and founder, assumed its management.
The school has 175 State pupils besides private day scholars
and boarders. This institution is doing a noble work and is
eminently worthy of the moral and pecuniary support of those
who have so generously contributed of their means for the furtherance of its objects. The management is laboring under financial embarrassments which necessarily curtail its usefulness to a very great extent. The citizens of Titusville and vicinity owe it to themselves and the brave men whose representatives claim their charity and fostering care, to see that this
asylum does not languish for want of substantial aid.
The Young Mens Christian Association of Titusville maintain
free reading and assembly rooms in the Second National Bank Building.
The Titusville Oil Exchange is organized to regulate the
transactions in the sale and purchase of petroleum, which has
become a vast and important interest in this city.
OIL CREEK BOROUGH (Hydetown) is situated on Oil Creek, three and one-half miles above Titusville, and on the Oil Creek &
Allegheny Valley and Union & Titusville railroads, and on the
proposed line of the Pennsylvania Petroleum R. R. It contains
a school, three hotels, four stores, two milliner shops, a meat
market, two blacksmith and wagon shops, three cooper shops
and had in 1870, a population of 428. It possesses a good water power. It was organized as a borough in 1869.
KERRS HILL is a hamlet located one and three-fourths miles from Titusville, and contains two churches, a school, a store, a
blacksmith and wagon shop and twenty-five houses. It derives
its name from the Kerr family, who were early settlers in that locality.
Settlement was commenced soon after the Meads and their
associates located at Meadville. Among the first settlers was
Jonathan Titus, (in whose honor the city of Titusville was
named,) who came here about 1790, and soon after, in company
with Samuel Kerr, purchased from the Holland Land Company
a tract of some 1700 acres, which is embraced in the city limits.
A temporary shanty was erected and served as a shelter for both
families until better dwellings could be built. The house built
by Mr. Titus was the first permanent residence constructed in
this vicinity. It stood in the rear of the present Ralston and
John Thompson and Wm. Fulton came here the latter part
of the last century and settled at Kerrs Hill. Fulton sold to Wm. Alcorn, who in turn sold to Andrew Kerr, a native of Ireland, who had previously settled on road 12, whence he moved to Kerrs Hill. Previous to his settlement here Mr. Kerr had
resided a short time in Huntindon county. James Kerr, also
a native of Ireland, came with his father to this country at the
age of ten years, and settled below Pittsburgh. In 1799, at the
age of twenty-four, he removed to Oil Creek township, and located a tract of 500 acres, now occupied by Isaac Weed, on road 18. He died suddenly about thirty-one years ago, being in apparent good health five minutes before he died. John Gilson emigrated with his father, Wm. Gilson, from England to Maryland and removed thence to Bedford county in this State. In 1800 he set out for French Creek, with the intention of settling
in that locality, but having reached Oil Creek he accidentally
cut his knee while chopping a tree on which to cross that
stream. He retraced his steps to Hydetown, where he met with
Daniel Titus, with whom he stopped. He subsequently settled
the place now occupied by his son, John B. Gilson, and returned
to Bedford county. The following year, having then attained
his majority, he removed his wife to the place he had selected,
and built a log hut, which he covered with bark. The same
year (1801) his father came to this township with his family,
consisting, besides John, who was the eldest, of his wife and five
boys and three girls, named respectively, William, Thomas,
Richard, Peter, Benjamin, Sarah, Charity and Martha. All the
girls, except Martha, are dead, and only two of the boys, Peter
and Benjamin, are living. Peter was eighty-one years old in
June, 1873, and Benjamin, seventy-nine in August of that year.
Thomas Mitchell, a native of Ireland, moved here with his
family, consisting of wife and four children, from Hollidaysburg,
Blair county, May 6, 1803, and settled upon the place now occupied by his grand-son, Joseph Henderson. Mr. Mitchell died
April 21, 1805. His daughter, Rebecca, now Mrs. Samuel Henderson, is still living. She was 84 years old Jan. 22, 1874.
She was married May 17, 1814. Her husband died April 14,
1855. With the exception of a five years residence in Portland,
Chautauqua county, N. Y., she has lived here since 1803. John
McIntyre settled at an early day on a tract of 400 acres, where
his son, James, now lives. He emigrated from Ireland to Juniata and removed thence to Pine Creek, Crawford county,
where he remained about two months, when he came to this
township. He died in 1813, aged forty-five years.
The first settlement at Hydetown, was made in 1796, by Daniel
and Peter Titus, brothers of Jonathan Titus. Each took up
400 acres. The first saw mill at this place was built by Chas.
Ridgway, who came from Brownville, Fayette county, in 1797.
An early settler in the vicinity of Titusville was Capt. Sheffield, who came here in 1816 and opened a store and trading post, which was the first in this locality. He trafficked principally among the Indians for furs, &c., this point being on the line of march from their trading station on the Cussewago to their encampments at Sandusky, Ohio. After conducting the business
some years he sold his store and goods to Joseph L. Chase, the
son of a Presbyterian minister, who came to this region in 1812.
A post office was established in 1818, and Samuel Kerr was
appointed post master, a position which he filled for ten years.
It is a noteworty fact that Mr. Kerrs commissions averaged
from $1.25 to 13.75 per quarter.
The first church here was the Oil Creek Presbyterian Church,
which was organized by Rev. Amos Chase, (father of Joseph L.
Chase,) who during his active life in this region formed thirty-three churches in the counties of Crawford, Venango, Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, Mercer and others in Pennsylvania, and several in the State of New York.
In 1847, William Robinson, John M. Titus and Salmon P. Chase were appointed Commissioners to survey, define and
mark out, within the tracts Nos. 27, 28, 29, 33 and 34, the
boundaries of a borough to be called Titusville. The village
had at that date a population of 275, and derived its chief support from the lumber traffic carried on in this section. Joseph Case then had a grist mill, double saw mill and a woolen mill
with machinery for carding and weaving jeans. There was also
a saw mill owned by Brewer, Watson & Co. From this period
until 1859, nothing of importance, connected with the growth
of the village is to be recorded. On the 28th of August of the
latter year the Drake oil well was completed and oil obtained.
This event gave an impetus to its growth which it still perpetuates, and has given it a world-wide notoriety from the development of the vast hidden wealth of the oil regions of Western
Pennsylvania. The oil from a spring on the Watson flats, a
short distance below Titusville, had attracted the attention of
of the early settlers, who collected and sold it as a medicine,
known to commerce as Seneca Oil; but they little dreamed
that a few feet below the surface existed a mine of wealth greater
than the famed gold fields of California and Australia. It was
reserved for the prescient mind of Geo. H. Bissell, of New
York, to fathom old Mother Earths hidden treasures and give
to the world a light with all its beneficient and civilizing influences, and a commodity whose possible value is as yet but faintly appreciated. Mr. Bissells attention was first called to the subject of petroleum in 1853, in which year he saw at the office of Prof. Crosby of Dartmouth College a bottle filled with this substance which was found by Dr. Brewer of Titusville, upon his lands on Oil Creek, and given by him to Prof. Crosby. He became greatly interested in the product and about six months afterward sent Mr. J. G. Eveleth, his partner, to Titusville.
They bought together one hundred acres in fee simple, and took
one hundred and twelve acres on a lease of ninety-nine years
duration, for which they paid $5,000. These lands are situated
on Oil Creek, about two and one-half miles from Titusville,
and were then thought to be the principal oil lands of Pennsylvania. In 1854, they organized The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which was the first petroleum company in the United
States. The capital was $500,000, and most of the stock was
owned and retained by these gentlemen, who were the officers
of the company. The company proceeded to develope its lands
by trenching them and raising the surface oil and water into
vats. The supply was limited, amounting to, perhaps, a few
barrels in the season. The oil was sold for $1.50 per gallon to
parties who sold it for medicinal purposes. In the spring of
1855, Prof. Silliman of Yale College was employed to analyze
the oil, Messrs. Bissel & Eveleth furnishing the apparatus for
his experiments and paying the entire cost of the analysis.
Prof. Sillimans report, published in the fall of that year,
attracted attention in New Haven, and led to the re-organization of The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company with that gentleman as its president.
The work of trenching the lands was continued until 1858,
when the question of boring an artesian well was discussed and
strongly advocated by Mr. Bissell, the idea having been suggested by the fact that Mr. Kier of Pittsburgh had obtained a small quantity of oil from one of his salt wells near that city, at
a depth of about 400 feet. A want of harmony was manifested
between the New York and New Haven stockholders, but after
much discussion and difficulty a contract was concluded between
the company and some of its members, by which the latter
agreed to lease the lands for a term of years and pay to the company a royalty of twelve cents per gallon on all oil raised. A new company was organized in New Haven, based on the aforesaid lease, and one of its members, Mr. E. L. Drake, was designated as superintendent and furnished with the necessary capital to carry out the projected idea, Mr. Drake proceeded to
Titusville and after encountering many delays and obstacles, on
the 28th of August, 1859, the first vein of oil was struck and
the first petroleum obtained from an artesian well, drilled on
Oil Creek, in the northern border of Venango county, under
the auspices of The Seneca Oil Company lessees of The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, the organization of which, and the first purchase and development of lands under it, were mainly
due to George H. Bissell; and through this agency Titusville
was transformed from an uninviting back-woods village to a beautiful and wealthy city.
The First Presbyterian Church of Titusville was organized as the Congregation of Oil Creek, in 1815, by Rev. Amos Chase, its first pastor, who continued his ministrations to this Society until 1830. From 1815 to 1826, Mr. Chase labored as a missionary, dividing his time between this and other churches. May 24, 1826, he was installed pastor of this Church, to which he devoted half his time till 1830, when the relation was dissolved.
He died at Centerville, Dec. 23, 1849, in the ninetieth year of his age,
and the sixty-third of his ministry. In 1838, the Society was incorporated
by the Supreme Court and its charter recorded in the office of the Secretary of the State under the name of The Presbyterian Congregation of Oil Creek in the County of Crawford. In 1870 the name was changed by the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County to that it now bears. The
number of members at its organization is not known, but the regular attendance numbered about 200, which is its present membership. Prior to the organization religious services were conducted by the Presbyterians, and Missionaries of that denomination were sent to this place, which was
then known as Oil Creek and sometimes as Tituses, in 1802 and
1803, and again in 1807. In 1809 it was reported to the Presbytery as
being able to furnish its own supplies, and in that year communion was
held in Mr. Titus log barn, by two Presbyterian ministers, Samuel Tait
and Richard Stockton. About ten members were present. A church was
built of round logs in 1812, but was never entirely finished. In 1815, one
constructed of hewed logs was commenced and was finished about 1823.
A framed house was begun in 1833, completed in 1834-5, and sold in 1863.
In 1864 the building of the present edifice was commenced and was completed the following year, at a cost of about $17,000. It will seat comfortably 536 persons. Since its completion permanent improvements to the value $3,000 have been added. The present value of Church property,
including parsonage, is about $20,000. The present pastor is Rev. Alexander Sinclair, who was installed in the fall of 1869.[Information furnished by Mr. Samuel Minor.
St. James Memorial Church, (Protestant Episcopal,) at Titusville, was organized with five members, in 1862, by Rev. Henry Purdon, the first
and present pastor. The building of the church edifice was begun in
1863 and finished in 1864. It cost $12,000 and will seat 300 persons. The
Society numbers 110 and its property is valued at $30,000.
This Church was erected to the memory of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Bordman, D. D., Assist. Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, who
died suddenly on his way to the Oil Regions at Freeport, on the A. V. R.
R., August 2, 186l.[Information furnished by Rev. Henry Purdon.
The First Baptist Church of Titusville was organized with eleven members, in 1865, and erected its house of worship, which will seat 400 persons, in 1868, at a cost of $20,000. There are 109 members who are under
the pastoral care of Rev. Andrew Murdoch, our informant. The first
pastor was Rev. Gundy. The Church property is valued at $25,000. The Sunday School connected with this Church has an average attendance of 180 scholars.
The M. E. Church, at Titusville, has 150 members. The pastor is Rev. A. Craft. The church edifice will seat 450 persons. The Church property is valued at $28,000.[We have been unable to get fuller data relative to this Society.
1 Hamilton Child, comp., Gazetteer and Business Directory of Crawford County, Pa., for 1874 (Syracuse, N.Y.: By the comp., 1874), pp. 118-19.