Oil City, Pennsylvania

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Oil City, Pennsylvania
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"A Special Blend of People"
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Location of Oil City in Venango County, Pennsylvania.
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Oil City, Pennsylvania
Location of Oil City in Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Coordinates: 41°25′42″N79°42′26″W / 41.42833°N 79.70722°W / 41.42833; -79.70722 Coordinates: 41°25′42″N79°42′26″W / 41.42833°N 79.70722°W / 41.42833; -79.70722
Country United States
State Pennsylvania
County Venango
Incorporated (Borough)1862
Incorporated (City)1871
  MayorWilliam P. Moon, Jr.
  City ManagerMark G. Schroyer
  Total4.84 sq mi (12.53 km2)
  Land4.49 sq mi (11.64 km2)
  Water0.34 sq mi (0.89 km2)
(2019) [2]
  Density2,140.66/sq mi (826.60/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
  Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 582 starting May 1, 2021; 814 Exchanges: 208, 271, 428, 493, 516, 657, 670, 671, 673, 676, 677, 678, 758
FIPS code 42-56456
Website www.oilcity.org

Oil City is a city in Venango County, Pennsylvania known for its prominence in the initial exploration and development of the petroleum industry. It is located at a bend in the Allegheny River at the mouth of Oil Creek.


Initial settlement of Oil City was sporadic, and tied to the iron industry. After the first oil wells were drilled in 1861, it became central to the petroleum industry while hosting headquarters for the Pennzoil, Quaker State, and Wolf's Head motor oil companies.

Tourism plays a prominent role in the region by promoting oil heritage sites, nature trails, and Victorian architecture. The population was 10,557 at the 2010 census, and it is the principal city of the Oil City, PA Micropolitan Statistical Area.


Fleet of Oil Boats at Oil City, 1864. Tarbell 1904 Fleet of Oil Boats at Oil City 1864.jpg
Fleet of Oil Boats at Oil City, 1864.
Ice jam on Oil Creek near Oil City, during mid/late 1970s. Allegheny River Ice Jam.jpg
Ice jam on Oil Creek near Oil City, during mid/late 1970s.

The Cornplanter Tract and Oil Creek Furnace

In 1796, the state of Pennsylvania gave Cornplanter, [3] chief of the Wolf Band of the Seneca nation, 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) of land along the west bank of the Allegheny River in Warren County, Pennsylvania, [3] as well as a small tract on both sides of the mouth of Oil Creek, [4] in compensation for his services during the American Revolutionary War. [3] The first white settler in what became Oil City was an unknown individual who cleared and farmed about 400 acres (1.6 km2) on the west side of Oil Creek upstream from Cornplanter's land. [5] Francis Halyday [5] (or Holliday) [6] purchased this land in 1803, and settled there with his family. [6] The first white child known to be born in what became Oil City was James Halyday, born January 13, 1809. [5] Three or four other families soon settled on the east side of the creek above the "Cornplanter Tract". [7] Cornplanter sold the eastern half of his tract to two white settlers, William Connely and William Kinnear, in May 1818. Connely sold his quarter of the original tract back to Cornplanter in October 1818, but the land was seized by the county for nonpayment of taxes and sold at auction in November 1819 to Alexander McCalmont. McCalmont sold his land to Mathias Stockberger in the spring of 1824. [5]

On June 25, 1824, Kinnear, Stockerberger, and settler Richard Noyes formed William Kinnear & Co., a company which swiftly erected an iron bloomery, foundry, gristmill, and several warehouses. [5] A mill race provided water power for the furnace. [7] Homes were built for workers, and a steamboat landing constructed on the Allegheny River. This settlement was called Oil Creek Furnace. [5] Settler James Young opened the first general store in town, and operated it in the 1850s. [8] The original incorporators were bought out by brothers William and Frederick Crary in January 1825. The company was purchased in February 1835 by William Bell, who changed the corporate name to W. Bell & Son. He and his son, Samuel, operated the furnace until 1849, employing about 40 men. The poor quality of iron ore in the area made their operations unprofitable and the furnace closed in 1849. [5] The settlement was soon deserted, except for two families (the Bannons and the Halydays). [8]

Deserted Oil Creek Furnace

The bend in the Allegheny River at Oil City slowed the speed of the river's waters, providing a spot for barges and rafts to land easily. For many years, the Bannons and Halydays rented rooms in their homes and space in their barns to bargemen and rafters using the landing at Oil Creek Furnace. [8] About 1852 or 1853, Thomas Moran settled in the area and built a large inn [9] (Moran House) [7] next to the Bannon home. It proved popular and soon expanded, and became a local landmark. Samuel Hopewell opened a second inn shortly after Moran, and in the fall 1852 his brother, John P. Hopewell, opened a third inn and a new general store on Main Street. Settler Hiram Gordon opened the Red Lion, the area's first saloon, about the same time Hopewell's store began operation. [9] Located near the mouth of Oil Creek, [7] the saloon provided live entertainment. [9] In June 1856, 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of the property was sold by the Bell heirs to Graff, Hasson & Company. James Hasson, son William Hasson, and William's family took up residence on the tract and began farming. [5]

Although the village of Oil Creek Furnace was largely deserted, settlement continued in the area. On August 6, 1840, Benjamin Thompson patented nearly all of what is now Oil City east of Oil Creek and north of the Allegheny. This land was quickly subdivided and sold to other settlers. [8] With the death of his mother in 1844, James Halyday sold his land about 1846 to Dr. John Nevins and several other settlers. [8] Nevins was a physician, the first to practice medicine in the area. [6] [9] James Hollis patented 200 acres (0.81 km2) of land [8] on the south side of the Allegheny River [10] in 1851, and purchased the remainder of Thompson's land on January 3, 1853. Hollis, in turn, sold all his land on April 25 to Henry Bastian. [8]

Laytonia, Cottage Hill, Imperial City, and Leetown

Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well in nearby Titusville on August 27, 1859. [11] Oil was struck on the Downing farm south of the river [10] by Phillips & Vanusdall in April 1861. [8] Oil City had fewer than six families living there in 1859. [7] The discovery of oil changed that. By 1868, a number of boomtowns had emerged in the region, including Oil City, Petroleum Center, Pithole, Rynd Farm, and Titusville. [12] By 1860, the oil trade was far and away the dominant industry in the Oil City area. [8] A machine shop (which constructed pipe fittings), warehouses, and other industrial structures were built on the west side of Oil Creek. [10] Barges were used to transport oil down Oil Creek and into Oil City, where it was transferred to steamboats or bulk barges to continue on to Pittsburgh and other locations.

In 1859, Nevins sold his property to the Michigan Rock Oil Company, [lower-alpha 1] which built Main Avenue, [14] platted an unnamed town around it, and erected a few buildings. [15] On March 26, 1863, Henry Bastian sold his land to William L. Lay. [8] Lay established a ferry near what is now the foot of Central Avenue. Lay platted a town of 80 lots near his ferry's landing on the south shore, and named the town Laytonia (sometimes referred to as "Laytona" or "Latona"). [8] [lower-alpha 2] The same year, Charles Haines and Joseph Martin bought out the Hassons (who had continued to farm their land), and graded Grove Avenue. The two built a number of homes along the street, calling their settlement Cottage Hill. [14] The United Petroleum Farms Association purchased part of Cottage Hill as well as an adjoining 300 acres (1.2 km2) in 1864. The company subdivided the land into lots and swiftly built homes here. [14] In 1865, Vandergrift, Forman & Company, a petroleum exploration firm, bought the property of a number of settlers around the north landing of Lay's Ferry and established a town the company called Imperial City. [14] [lower-alpha 3] West of Laytonia, Charles Lee established a settlement called Leetown. [14]

Founding of Oil City

In 1862, residents in the area obtained a charter from the state, uniting the area north of the river as a borough named Oil City. [16] South of the river, in particular, growth continued to be haphazard. Streets there often did not match up, hindering transportation. Residents realized that there were too many names in use for this area, which was causing problems. In 1866, the citizens of the borough south of the river petitioned Judge William G. Trunkey to give their borough a common name. He selected Venango City. [14] By 1866, Venango City had a population of more than 1,500, [16] and more than 4,500 people lived in Oil City. [14]

Oil City began platting extensive areas of land between 1869 and 1872. This included the upper and lower south side, Palace Hill, upper Cottage Hill and Clark's Summit. [14] A 1,600-foot (490 m) long funicular ascended the 460-foot (140 m) high hill. Built in 1872, the Panic of 1873 devastated home sales on Clark's Summit. The funicular company went bankrupt, and the track was removed in 1879. [17]

By 1870, residents of Oil City and Venango City desired unification of their joint, growing metropolis. They sought a town charter from the state, which was granted by the legislature on March 3, 1871. [10] [16] Oil City was the name of the unified boroughs. The first Oil City elections were held in April, and the first mayor, William M. Williams, and 12-member city council sworn in on April 11, completing the act of incorporation. [18] Oil City replaced her charter with a new one in January 1881 after the state implemented a new township charter law. [16] A city hall was erected later that year on Seneca Street. [19]

Post-charter Oil City

The city was partially destroyed by flood in 1865 and by both flood and fire in 1866 and again in 1892; on this last occasion, several oil tanks that were struck by lightning gave way, and Oil Creek carried a mass of burning oil into the city, where some 60 lives were lost and property valued at more than $1 million was destroyed. Oil City grew into a thriving community through the later half of the 19th century and into the 20th century. By the 1990s, Pennzoil, Quaker State, and Wolf's Head had all relocated their headquarters elsewhere. However, some oil wells continue to produce a steady supply of quality petroleum.

Regional governments and public organizations promote tourism by thoroughly educating the public about oil history. Oil City's location along the Allegheny River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains provides excellent opportunities for exploring Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Oil City Downtown Commercial Historic District, Oil City North Side Historic District, Oil City South Side Historic District, National Transit Building, and Oil City Armory are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. [20]


Oil City, Pennsylvania is located at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Oil Creek at 41°25′42″N79°42′26″W / 41.428280°N 79.707327°W / 41.428280; -79.707327 . [21] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.7 square miles (12 km2), of which, 4.5 square miles (12 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) (4.65%) is water.

Many layers of rock and sedimentary material containing fossils can be seen on the bluffs in and around Oil City. Oil City is framed by the surrounding foothills with the Allegheny River winding through downtown.

The Allegheny River and Oil Creek freeze occasionally during the winter, sometimes causing ice jams; although remediation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reduced ice formation via a floating ice control structure on the river and a fixed concrete weir on the banks of the creek. [22] Flooding of the river flats is a possibility throughout the year due to ice jams, excessive snow melt, large volume storms and hurricane or tropical storm remnants.


Historical population
1870 2,276
1880 7,315221.4%
1890 10,93249.4%
1900 13,26421.3%
1910 15,65718.0%
1920 21,27435.9%
1930 22,0753.8%
1940 20,379−7.7%
1950 19,581−3.9%
1960 17,692−9.6%
1970 15,033−15.0%
1980 13,881−7.7%
1990 11,949−13.9%
2000 11,504−3.7%
2010 10,557−8.2%
2019 (est.)9,618 [2] −8.9%
Sources: [23] [24] [25] [26]

As of the census [25] of 2018, there were 9,749 people, 4,192 households, and 2,614 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,548.4 people per square mile (984.9/km2). There were 5,289 housing units at an average density of 1,168.8 per square mile (451.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.3% White, 0.9% African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.4% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.11% from other races, and 0.57% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.63% of the population.

There were 4,192 households, out of which 30.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.8% were married couples living together, 12.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.4% were non-families. 32.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.99.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 25.8% under the age of 18, 7.9% from 18 to 24, 27.2% from 25 to 44, 21.6% from 45 to 64, and 17.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,060, and the median income for a family was $42,839. Males had a median income of $30,072 versus $19,697 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,696. About 16.2% of families and 19.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.3% of those under age 18 and 12.4% of those age 65 or over.



WKQW 1120 AM and 96.3 FM are Venango County's only locally owned and programmed full-service radio stations.


The Oil City Oilers were a Minor League Baseball team located in Oil City, Pennsylvania between 1940 and 1951. The team played in the Pennsylvania State Association from 1940 to 1942, and later moved to the Middle Atlantic League after World War II ended. The team began in 1940 when the Pittsburgh Pirates relocated their affiliate, the McKeesport Little Braves, to Oil City. The team stayed affiliated with the Pirates until 1947, when it began an affiliation with the Chicago White Sox. That year, the team's name was changed to the Oil City Refiners. The team's name was changed one last time to the Oil City A's, when they merged with the Youngstown A's, in 1951. The team then folded, along with the league, at the end of that season.

The Oilers name originated from an earlier team that represented the city between 1895 and 1907, in the Iron And Oil League and the Interstate League.

Notable alumni

Notable people

See also

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  1. "Rock oil" was an early term for crude oil. [13]
  2. Laytonia Street marked the western boundary of Lay's village. It is now called Reed Street. [14]
  3. Clusters of existing homes, one called Albion and the other Downington, were incorporated into Imperial City. [14]
  1. "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  2. 1 2 "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 Hauptman 2014, p. 14.
  4. Bell 1890, p. 432.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Bell 1890, p. 433.
  6. 1 2 3 Eaton 1876, p. 40.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Eaton 1876, p. 41.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Bell 1890, p. 434.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Bell 1890, p. 435.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Eaton 1876, p. 42.
  11. Sherman 2002, p. 7.
  12. Sherman 2002, pp. 14–15.
  13. Sherman 2002, p. 8.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Bell 1890, p. 436.
  15. Eaton 1876, pp. 40–41.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Bell 1890, p. 437.
  17. Bell 1890, pp. 436–437.
  18. Bell 1890, pp. 437–438.
  19. Bell 1890, p. 440.
  20. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  21. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  22. "Pittsburgh District – Oil City, PA Ice Control Structure". U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2005-12-09. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
  23. "Number of Inhabitants: Pennsylvania" (PDF). 18th Census of the United States. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  24. "Pennsylvania: Population and Housing Unit Counts" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  25. 1 2 "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau . Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  26. "Incorporated Places and Minor Civil Divisions Datasets: Subcounty Population Estimates: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 11, 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2013.