Pithole City is now a quiet, grassy hillside. The grass is neatly mowed where the city's streets once bustled with horses, carriages, buggies hauling equipment, and people. Scattered on the hillside are a few old pieces of machinery. In a few places, the remains of an old cellar or foundation can still be seen. At the bottom of the hillside is the former city's origin, Pithole Creek, named for the deep crevices which oozed a then somewhat mysterious black substance, called Seneca Oil.
There were stories about the crevices. Some of the early farmers, trappers, loggers and frontiersmen of sorts, thought they reached down into hell itself. Some even heard the wailing sounds of the damned. Others were convinced the black, slippery ooze had wonderful, even magical, curative properties and future financial possibilities. Centuries later, history would show elements of truth in both points of view.
When the Seneca Oil, or crude oil, was first commercially pumped successfully in nearby Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859, the site of the future Pithole City, America's first oil boom town, was still a rural, isolated farm about six miles away. But the first successful oil well at Titusville by Edwin Drake spurred a lot of interest and thousands of workers and investors flocked to what is known as the Oil Creek Valley region Oil was in demand for machinery, and new refining processes made lightning popular.
Soon after Drake's first successful drilling attempt to bring oil to the surface in huge quantities never seen before, discoveries of other pockets of the black gold were discovered. Soon thousands of barrels were brought to the surface every day.
While Drake's Well created a lot of excitement, it would be Pithole's distinction to boom into history.
Just after the Civil War, in January, 1865, a huge deposit of oil was tapped in Pithole Creek; the price of a barrel of oil sold 10 cents a few years earlier, but in 1865 the price jumped nearing $10 a barrel. Even more wells were discovered and tapped in the Pithole Creek region, and a city was born.
Within months, it boasted a population of 15,000 people, a newspaper, churches, saloons, opera houses, luxury hotels, like the Bonta House which cost $60,000 to build.
There were dozens of supporting industrial shops, mechanical shops and barrel makers, the Pithole Valley Railroad was completed as were a water reservoir and water pipes. The post office at Pithole soon became the third busiest in the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Land prices soared, and in one week over 20 oil companies were formed with a total investment capital of nearly $13 million. The price per barrel continued to soar and approached $30 per barrel. It was happening at Pithole, a boomtown filled with legendary and colorful historical characters, some savory, some not so savory.
Black crude filled the nearby creeks and mingled with the muddy streets. It gushed so furiously from some wells it couldn't be contained and barrels were in short supply. It was a unique, first time experience. Pithole worked and lived, 24/7 as millionaires were made almost overnight.
The furious pace didn't last long, by 1867, the population began to dwindle, the oil began to run out and a series of destructive fires destroyed large sections of the once oil capital of America. Speculators and investors lost millions of dollars in the oil gamble.
Buildings were torn down and hauled to other places; like the elegant Bonta Hotel which sold for a mere $600 which was rebuilt in Titusville. Another hotel, the Danforth House, built for $30,000
was sold for firewood for $16.
By the 1870's, there were hardly 250 people living in or around Pithole and at the turn of the century, just a few dozen inhabitants. Pithole was gone, now just a memory.
Today, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission operates a museum which sits on top of the hillside with a panoramic view of the once upon a time boomtown. A larger more fully staffed state museum is open at the historic site of Drake's Well at Titusville which this year begins to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the origins of the oil industry.
The museum at Pothole is staffed by a small group of volunteers including the longtime mayor of the now deserted town, who seems to win every election during an early summer celebration called "Boomtown Days". He mows the now grass streets, claims the ballot box is never stuffed, and says he never saw a ghost in the place.
Both places, along with other smaller oil communities in the Oil Creek Valley region, like Petroleum Center, Plumer and Oil City, are the beginnings of world's commercial oil history, a history of tragedy and fortune, an unfolding story even to this day..