September 16, 2022

Updated: Sep 18

Temporary Feel. The attack on civil values today exemplified by two mid-19th Century U.S. towns: Pithole City and Reno.

The oil commercial industry historic story began in North-West Pennsylvania. Edwin Drake had drilled the first commercial oil well in 1859 on Watson Flats along Oil Creek near what is still named Titusville, which the latter was made a borough by the state of Pennsylvania in 1849 (incidentally the same year as the California Gold Rush). When you think oil today (and thus gasoline), what you may not know, is it all began with Drake's Well. There is a museum at location with a replica of Drake's wooden engine house well.



Spring-pole drilling (left) is the earliest drill technology and was first used in 1802 to drill for salt (food preservation). In West Virginia (then Virginia) and Western Pennsylvania these first drillers for salt as opposed to "digging" provided the technological origins for oil drilling.


In reference to the image below, various sizes of these wooden tanks populate the hills and valleys today and are seen on pretty much every hike or bike ride through the woods in the Oil Region. It is common place to have to hike over a pipeline or two; the remaining pipes on trails are so low to the ground one's gait does not change a whole lot in traverse.


[below: Pithole City Oil Tanks (note: teamsters and pipelines)]


[Below: Pioneer Run (photo's labeled) is a tiny waterway giving the location's name; the run flows into the much bigger Oil Creek not pictured. I imagine the person who took the photo is standing closer to the creek. This is part of the 16 mile stretch I mention below where the oil industry first started. All woods today.]

(Below is a close-up of the above building on the right)

After Drake's successful well (Aug. '59), Oil Creek (approx. total length: 47 miles) in six months time on a 16 mile stretch from Titusville south, down creek to the Allegheny River had more than 500 wells drilled on both sides of the hilly, creek valley. By June 1860, 1200 barrels a day were filled from all the wells. Towns sprung in that stretch of the beautiful valley but are gone.


Pithole Creek is situated about 6 miles east of Drake's Well at Oil Creek. Oil speculators leased land from farmers by Pithole Creek in 1864 and established the United States Petroleum Company drilling the first well at Pithole in July of 1864 called U.S. Well or Frazier Well (had two names). By May, the town Pithole City began taking shape with First Street starting right by Frazier Well and 500 town lots went up for sale with 1000 buyers on site. With the U.S. Civil War over, the U.S. headed into the Gilded Age literally fueled by Pithole and other places.


At Pithole City in 1865-66 within a 1 mile radius, 75 hotels had been built (5 extremely elegant any city would envy). Theaters (one seated over a thousand with an orchestra pit), Opera House, boxing matches, gymnastic entertainments, singers, musicians, dance halls, and ballrooms disclose the exuberant framework to the small city. Bars, prostitutes, red light district, spontaneous brawling fights, erratic blasting of guns into the sky, and criminal riders quickly in and out of town characterized the underbelly of "temporary" feels only conquerable by God and His civil men. Today's porn industry and the latest U.S. drug crisis, fentanyl, are part of the continuing underbelly inducing and enticing "temporary" feels. Classier restaurants, supply stores, newspapers, liveries, banks, lady fashion stores, blacksmiths, numerous organized clubs, water company, doctors, lawyers, oil jobs, carpentry, and churches vined upward out of the Pithole muck for those disposed to more wholesome lifestyles, necessity, and leisure. Undoubtedly, some found themselves vining upward while at other times amongst the underbelly - depends.


Pithole City was lived as if it was temporary, which it did end-up that way, but some like Charles Culver envisioned families living in his planned town of Reno along the Allegheny River just downriver of Oil Creek (.5 miles) with Pithole Creek further upriver [over 9 miles due to bends in the river (5 as the crow flies)]. Culver's Reno would have manufacturing (not completely oil dependent), well-built houses to last (most Pithole buildings went up so fast the cracked light through the exterior boards gave the town a unique night imagery and imagine the frozen, wilderness winters), and neat yards to raise families (instead of the mud and sewage at Pithole). Culver would pay to build and maintain churches until they could sustain themselves and offered to build a school. Reno is there today but not in the way Culver envisioned it's ties with Pithole as funds for the railroad dried up and costly engineering projects over rough terrain brought the railroad track just outside Pithole's borough limits but Culver's track was never to be completed (other's were). I will return to Culver's effort to rid the "temporary" feel.


The vagabond "temporary" feel was not only measured by the people who came looking for a job and ended up leaving in short time, but millions of dollars flowed in and out of town over Pithole's short existence. If not physically through Pithole, then through the exchange that took place between speculators in some distant city or town. When Pennsylvania finally granted Pithole borough status only 150 people in Dec. '65 met the legal qualifications to vote. Pithole had thousands of people, but hardly anybody had lived there long enough to meet voting qualifications. With borough status, comes a legitimate law and order system capable of pooling public money (taxes) to pay for civil affairs. If one was a resident, the "temporary" feel amped a thousandfold knowing the burden to make Pithole civil fell to you and a very small number of others.


Additionally, fresh fruit (except at apple harvest), fresh vegetables and fresh meat all had to be transported into Pithole. Even from Titusville six miles away, the expense and short supply was great. In these examples of the "temporary" feel, one may glean a lack of self-sufficiency as increasingly experienced in the U.S. today [e.g. manufacturing continues to decline, farm costs rising (89% U.S. farms subsidized by non-farm income], and domestic oil and natural gas projects stymied by politics). Culver tried to stabilize Pithole by attracting middle class families to more hospitable conditions and economic diversity, e.g. his manufacturing plans for Reno. His solution was to inject an external remedy, but the "temporary" feel in Pithole extended to backbone institutions: law and schooling. Both eventually came into being at Pithole, though continually hampered by challenges and hardships, one major one being a lack of tax funding. How do you collect taxes from vagabonds? Do you burden the 150 people with high taxes to maintain a place built for thousands who cared less about the place and more about getting their share and moving on? If you've read The Revolt of the Elites by Christopher Lasch you get the idea this is similar to what NeoLiberals (Globalist) have been doing in various countries worldwide unchallenged [until Feb. 2022 by Russia (Donbas) and BRICS], especially since the 1990's when the U.S. gained unipolarity when the Soviet Union dismantled itself. NeoLiberals have projected an influential vagabond, "temporary" feel during their 3 decade foreign and domestic pillage. Those in Pithole who tried to make a home were up against transit forces that defied every making of a home. I'm not even going to get into today's constant stirring of illegals pounding against sovereign stability cause I'll never finish this post, but it is another modern-day example of "temporary" feel.

(Holmden Street; one of numerous streets in Pithole City)

In Pithole, the school's early beginnings note the teacher complained to the press the rented school building was adjacent to a busy brothel, eventually the school changed location with the help of a local church. The law's early beginning needed help from citizens to break up criminal activities. One example, a Methodist preacher garnered vigilantes to rescue, spurred by the mother's plea, a young woman when nobody else would help; the preacher and his buddies entered a brothel, guns drawn, and forced the owner to cough her up. Initial denial very quickly changed tune when justice, not some whimsy, was soon realized on the other end of the barrel; immorality caved. The daughter was locked upstairs in the wicked establishment by deceiving her into the building all the way from New York by a false account in the want ads claiming the business was a wholesome establishment needing workers. The added adventure in the wilderness beguiled the unsuspecting, naïve youngling. Thankfully justice showed up that day and a distraught mother full of love - family - and her story of finding out about her daughter all the way in New York - I have to end it there.


Pithole began to vanish in 1867. The high-low pendulum in population and oil totals went something like this: (a) highs of 2,240 barrels a day in early '66 swung to less than 150 barrels a day in 1870, (b) population of 15,000-20,000 in September 1865 dropped to 4,000 by January 1866 and in the summer of '66, the population swelled back up to 8,000 to wane once again with lowering oil production never to see those population numbers again. A census taken in 1870 counted only 281 people, 54 of the 300 buildings in use, and 44 families. In 1885, only two buildings remained. The last building, Pithole Methodist church, was recorded standing as late as ca. 1935 then gone. Foundations of some buildings are still seen in the woods and old wells like this one:

None of the workers were professional; everything was new. All the basic petroleum problems of production, transportation, and marketing used by the future oil industry were solved at Pithole to only be made more sophisticated. The only oil related raw products not solved at Pithole were natural gas and oil refining (oil refining had already existed).


The "temporary" feel of Pithole was real and expressed by people who lived there at the time. The underbelly was literally unsettling; making a home did not take root. This post is not an argument on how Pithole should have survived; it just was not to be, and extremely wonderful benefits to larger civil society, due to Pithole, immensely and thankfully impact us today. There were good Americans from all sectors of Pithole society who wanted to make Pithole a home. Pithole could be considered a conundrum. It's failure may unsettle others. A just blame key to some. All of these are significant and desire their own attention. My hope was to bring to remembrance the importance of civil values. The "temporary" feel in Pithole is an example of what would happen to any place that decided to go the way of Pithole.




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