TOP IMAGE © Michael Henderson
Pennsylvania’s Oil Region is rich with history. The birthplace of the Oil Industry not only changed the area—it changed the world. What was once the site of the world’s first commercially successful oil well, gritty and industrial, is now a picturesque, biodiverse, second-growth forest with several cold water fishery creeks.
The Oil Region National Heritage Area
With impressive Victorian architecture dating back to the mid-1800s, there’s history and beauty to be found behind every corner. Experience all that the region has to offer, from museums, lively local arts, brewpubs, shops, and a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities—the Oil Region has something for everyone.
One of only 55 National Heritage Areas in the U.S., Congress designated the ORNHA in 2004 because of the significant influence the oil industry’s start had on the regional culture and world history. The ORNHA is managed by the nonprofit Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism (ORA). The ORNHA consists mainly of the communities of Oil City, Franklin, and Titusville and their surrounding areas.
Founded on land given to Seneca Chief Cornplanter as a thank you for his support during the Revolutionary War, Oil City has three historic districts. Contributing buildings/resources include the National Transit Building and Annex, an 1890s headquarters for a Standard Oil subsidiary now home to an entry mural on the history of oil and gallery and artist studio spaces, and the Venango Museum of Art, Science & Industry, housed in a 1905 former post office, featuring regular and changing exhibits.
The Scheide House in Titusville is a historic home, once owned by John Scheide. The Scheide family were avid bibliophiles and built a collection of rare books, including a 1455 Gutenberg Bible, an original printing of the Declaration of Independence, and Shakespeare’s first folios. The collection was donated to Princeton University, constituting their largest single donation to date, valued at $300 million. Princeton keeps the collection in a reproduction of the Scheide House’s fireproof masonry library wing on campus.
Investigative journalism pioneer Ida Tarbell grew up in Titusville during the oil era. She wrote The History of the Standard Oil Company, a scathing exposé of John D. Rockefeller’s business that led to anti-monopoly legislation. Her historically preserved childhood home is now a house museum and site for special events.
In 1753, young colonial officer George Washington was assigned to deliver a message to the French, who had a string of forts in what would become western Pennsylvania. He and his contingent traveled from Williamsburg, VA, pausing at what is now known as Riverfront Park in Franklin. Their final destination was Fort LeBoeuf in Erie County. They returned via a waterway that Washington named French Creek. The full trip took 14 and a half months to complete. His route is now known as Washington’s Trail and can be followed through western PA to the Maryland border. A new visitor center on Liberty Street in Franklin’s retail core highlights this story.
The Drake Well Museum & Park commemorates the exact location of the first commercially successful oil well. The museum and grounds celebrate “the Valley that Changed the World,” and showcase how the discovery of oil impacts every day and every life since August 27, 1859.
The Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad (OC&T Railroad) is the best way to tour the valley and experience the rich wildlife! The three-hour tour starts at Perry Street Station in Titusville and follows Oil Creek by Drake Well and through Oil Creek State Park to the turning point at Rynd Farm.
Discover How the Birthplace of a World-changing Industry Has Become an Amazing Place to Get Away & Explore
Travel the Oil Creek valley via the OC&T Railroad or explore the Oil Creek State Park Trail. Once home to the epicenter of the oil industry, this scenic park is now a treasure trove of outdoor recreation. The 9.7-mile paved trail is part of more than 65 miles of paved trail and hundreds of miles of multi-use trails throughout the region.
Fishing enthusiasts enjoy world-class fly fishing on Oil Creek and the pristine French Creek, recognized as the most biologically diverse stream of its size in the state of Pennsylvania! French Creek was also named the 2022 PA River of the Year. They fish for smallmouth bass, walleye, musky and flathead catfish on the Allegheny River. The Allegheny Wild and Scenic River Water Trail, a 107-mile section from Kinzua Dam to Emlenton, is ideal for paddling, jetboating, bird watching and more for the whole family.
Oil Region National Heritage Area looks to the future:
The Oil Region Alliance has recently received multiple grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up and redevelop brownfields, properties that may be harmful to the environment due to the potential presence of a hazardous substance. This allows the ORA to take an active role in reclaiming lands once damaged by the early petroleum industry and turn them into contributions to community vitality. Oil Creek State Park is a beautiful example of how this process took place naturally over the better part of a century. The ORA hopes to speed up the timetable.
To learn more about the valley that changed the world, visit OilRegion.org/Tourism
Our historical significance is as the birthplace of the oil industry. While the Oil Region Alliance oversees the Oil Region National Heritage Area, the ORA works with local governments, business and cultural agencies, and many volunteers to serve as stewards of this impressive history and setting.