Historical Markers
Oil Creek Historical Marker
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Oil Creek

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
Smock Blvd. (PA 8), Titusville

Dedication Date:
September 30, 1954

Behind the Marker

Oil Creek most often extends 25 to 50 yards from shore to shore, but it is 75 yards wide in some spots. Many runs or small streams feed the creek seasonally. At the far north, Clear Lake, near Spartansburg, runs into the creek from an elevation of about 1400 feet. A narrow Oil Creek then winds 35 to 40 miles to the Allegheny River at Oil City. Without giving much up to tributaries, Oil Creek then joins Thompson Creek and Church Run before draining into Pine Creek near Titusville.

Though oil is found in many places around the globe, this network of streams in Pennsylvania introduced it to America. As Oil Creek wended through this area of odd geological fissures, oil seeped from below the surface of the earth and pooled along the waterway's edge. The river valley became a place where petroleum could be found. Therefore, the waterway was given the name Oil Creek.

Native Americans of the Seneca nation skimmed the surface of Oil Creek to gather the pooling oil for various uses. Once American entrepreneurs had struck the first well in 1859, the creek became a commercial thoroughfare. During the 1860s, much of the oil was moved in long boats, known as skiffs, on Oil Creek. For much of the year, however, the creek's water level was too shallow to float the loaded skiffs. Enterprising oil barons decided to employ the same method of pond freshets (overflows) used to move lumber to transport their fuel. Once all the skiffs in the valley were loaded, mill owners were paid to breach their dams in sequence from north to south. The level of Oil Creek would rise and carry the loaded skiffs toward the Allegheny.

The use of pond freshet gave credence to Oil Creek's name. Three out of five oil skiffs were crushed en route and their contents were dumped into the creek. After particularly destructive freshets, leases were taken out to sponge off the creek, which had literally become a creek of oil.

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