Model of the city of Pithole.

A Town Named Pithole

Field review by the editors.

Pithole, Pennsylvania

In early 1865, oil was struck at the base of a wooded hillside in Western Pennsylvania. Within nine months there were 15,000 fortune-seekers on that hillside, and the woods had been replaced by a small city named Pithole. It was named after nearby Pithole Creek, which was named after a nearby stinking crack in the ground that was generally assumed to be a portal to hell.

That pithole is still here, although it's off-limits on private property. Pithole the city, however, has vanished. The price of oil dropped to $4.50 a barrel, the hoped-for underground ocean of oil turned out to be more like a puddle, the fortune-seekers left, and the buildings were burned down or broken up for scrap. Trees once again cover the hillside.

The production peak display.

A visitors' center and small museum has been built at the top of the hill, and volunteers "mow the streets" on the hillside so that tourists can stroll where the city once was. The center is usually open only on weekends during the summer, partly because the roads out here are treacherous in winter, partly because of a lack of funds. Director Barbara Zolli said that she'd consider selling t-shirts that read "Citizen of Pithole" or "Pithole USA" in the gift shop, which we think would bring in some money.

Barbara told us that one of Pithole's early investors was John Wilkes Booth, who owned a share in the Dramatic Well -- most of the early wells had names -- "Then he sold out and went off to assassinate Lincoln." The nearby Drake Well Museum has Booth's cane and a $5 bill that he used to pay his room rent, but they're not currently on display, and they can't be exhibited here because this place doesn't have climate control.

Pithole Becomes a City.

A Town Named Pithole

Pithole Visitors' Center

Address:
14118 Pithole Rd, Pithole, PA
Directions:
Pithole Visitors' Center. Take Hwy 227 either 5.5 miles north of Rouseville from Hwy 8, or six miles south of Pleasantville from Hwy 27. Then turn east onto Pithole Rd for 2.5 miles. The visitors' center will be on the right, at the top of a hill.
Hours:
Sa-Su 10 am - 5 pm Jun - Aug. (Call to verify)
Phone:
814-589-7912
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October 24, 2014

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